Sell with Storytelling: Real-World Examples

Sell with storytelling

I’ve been writing about copywriting, specifically how (and why!) to sell with storytelling. In the last Whole Team Habits, we talked about the neuroscience data that links telling a good story to brain activity that makes your dream clients want to buy from you, financial sponsors want to fund your project, and great employees to work for you. Storytelling is the kind of copywriting that persuades.

Why we can sell with storytelling:

  1. Stories cause your brain to produce oxytocin.
  2. Oxytocin makes us more likely to buy.
  3. Audiences reject stories that they find to be emotionally manipulative. Authenticity is key.

If you describe your business using a compelling story, you have your audience’s full attention when it’s time to ask for the sale.

Here’s an example of how to use storytelling to sell.

My Hurricane Katrina Experience 

photo of Bridget Brown, founder of Create That Copy & Marketing
Houston, September 2005. Yes, that was my real hair.

In 2005, I was a Red Cross disaster responder posted in Houston after Hurricane Katrina. 

My job was communications at the Red Cross’s Astrodome shelter, the largest evacuation site in North American history. While in the shelter, I met an evacuee named Mr. Smothers, who was 90 years old. He asked me if I could help him find some glasses. 

It turns out he lost his glasses when he was floating in the floodwaters in New Orleans, clinging to his refrigerator for 2 hours. He was rescued by a National Guard helicopter, which let him off at a highway overpass with a number of other evacuees. He slept under that overpass for two days until he managed to get a ride to Houston, where the Red Cross was able to house him and, more importantly, reconnect him with his family. 

Twenty years later, Mr. Smothers is almost certainly no longer with us, but I often think about his courageous story.

When it came time to update donors on the situation, I sent a media release that began with Mr. Smothers’s story rather than the list of statistics that usually comprises post-disaster media releases.

You can see for yourself how a powerful story like Mr. Smothers’ helps get the details of your message across. (Unrelated side note: I have another Katrina story about how I convinced Evander Holyfield to give Mr. Smothers’ daughter-in-law away at her wedding, but that one will have to wait until I find a way to connect it to marketing. Hell of a story, though) 

Instead of using Mr. Smothers to frame the story, I could have offered a list of facts. As many as 30 thousand people were sleeping in the Dome after the hurricane. People gave more than 750 million dollars to support the Katrina relief effort. Canada sent around 100 specialist volunteers (including me) to help in critical areas. 

However, the “just the facts” approach doesn’t hook the audience like the storytelling approach. 

The stories we use to sell don’t have to be as dramatic as a senior’s life-or-death struggle. It simply has to resonate with your audience. And the easiest way to do this is to make your copy about the audience, not you. 

Here’s what that might look like in real life. These are examples of the main line of text on a small business website:

“The ‘Me Time’ you’ve been searching For” (yoga studio)

“Commuting is the Worst.” (rideshare service) 

“Feel like you’re talking to a friend, not a banker.” (investment company)

“Your goals are within reach.” (coaching service)

Once your audience feels like you “get” them, they’re motivated to keep reading.

These are the steps to sell with storytelling:

  1. Imagine your ideal buyer’s story. 
  2. Introduce what you do by telling that story.
  3. Follow up with facts. 
  4. Be authentic.

The final part of my “sell with storytelling” series is coming up next week: How to sell with story in ten words or less.

picture of author bridget brown