We all know that storytelling is one of the most valuable tools you have in your copywriting kit bag.
There are short parables that create vision and convey ideas. And there is the larger mythology of brand, to which these parables contribute.
Both are like the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. They allow you to wrap a sales pitch in a delicious outer coating that people are eager to consume.
But what makes them compelling? What makes a story so seductive it literally forces your prospects to step out of themselves and into the world you’ve made?
And how do you embed buying conclusions in the threads of your stories?
The first thing to understand is that great stories all have a common DNA. Cultural anthropologist Joseph Campbell, in his seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces called this DNA, The Hero’s Journey.
The central thesis of Campbell’s book is that all enduring myths and legends, regardless of their origin, share a common structure.
Because this structure is rooted in the very fabric of what it means to be human, stories that follow this structure remain eternally seductive. Embedded within the stories are crucial life lessons that get passed from generation to generation.
Contained within the DNA that is the hero’s journey, are the essential elements that help to make stories interesting.
These elements are in large part interesting to us because they affect us emotionally.
- They evoke our curiosity about new information… new worlds of possibility … and new human relationships.
- They give rise to profound empathy… allowing us to connect with a character and feel what they feel.
- And they impact us viscerally, striking fear in the pits of our stomachs… anger bristling up the backs of our necks… love bursting forth from our hearts… and so much more.
It is almost as though we are instinctively wired to respond to these elements.
The Hero: The word “hero” comes from Greek, and translates loosely, “server and protector”. The hero is the good guy or gal who grows in strength, power, and capability — often through adversity — for the betterment of others.
Ultimately, one of our greatest human desires is to feel needed and important. We desperately want to be a hero in our children’s eyes… in our parent’s eyes… in our spouse’s eyes. For a great many of us this desire extends to people we don’t even know.
Every great selling story needs a hero — a regular person who starts with a problem, but who ultimately becomes exceptional in his or her ability to serve and protect — as a result of your solution.
While you or some other character may play the hero in your sales story, your prospects must quickly project themselves into the shoes of the hero if your pitch is to be effective.
Your prospect lives vicariously through your hero.
Your hero must therefore be driven by the same primal drives and desires that dominate your prospect’s thoughts when reminded of the problem you solve.
Is it a desire to be loved and understood… to belong … to right wrongs … to be right … to seek revenge … to succeed … to be free … to survive? Whatever it is, this is what allows your prospect to identify with your hero. They want the same things.
The prospect admires the hero for having achieved them. Beyond this, the hero is likeable. He or she shares the same ideologies, beliefs, likes, dislikes as the ideal prospect. And stands for (and against) the same things.
But the hero should never be perfect …
If your hero is to be accepted, he or she must be vulnerable in some way. The hero’s mistakes … errors in thinking … character flaws … and baggage from the past, should be strategically revealed.
Weaknesses, imperfections and vices make a hero more appealing. The more neurotic our heroes, the more we seem to like them.
The Transformation: When the hero grows and evolves, we remain emotionally involved. The story is in essence a journey from failure to success … from sickness to health … from victimhood to victory.
In a rich and engaging story of transformation… even the hero’s character grows. The hero may gain a new found ability to love and to trust… an increased capacity for courage and decisiveness… an enhanced appreciation for learning … whatever is necessary to foster the sale.
People love to watch heroes grappling with their shortcomings and overcoming them. You can indulge this natural curiosity by showing your hero conquering some self-defeating personality flaw that typically stands in the way of solving the problem you help solve.
By so doing, you are injecting a character-building moral into your selling story that helps your prospects to deal with and overcome common emotional roadblocks to the sale.
Of course no transformation of circumstance or character takes place overnight. The hero must suffer setbacks, and slowly grow in confidence for your sales story to feel satisfying and authentic.
Heroes are often initially reluctant to rise to the challenge. It usually takes some dire circumstance to push them over the edge. The hero reaches a fork in the road, and is forced to leave the ordinary world and embark on a bold adventure.
Almost always, he or she is coaxed by another crucial fixture of the hero’s journey …
The Mentor: As a seller, you wear both the hat of the hero and the mentor in the mythology that is your business.
As hero you have your own mentors who took you by the hand and educated you … inspired you… protected you… and gave you special gifts and powers that allowed you to prevail in your own personal quest.
And as a mentor, you are ready to do the same for your prospect …
Part of the mentor’s job is to light a fire in the hero’s belly and jolt him out of his reluctance to take up the cause. The mentor “sells” the hero on the journey with his enthusiasm… goading the hero to action… infusing the hero with courage and confidence.
Once the hero commits to the journey, he or she must traverse a threshold into the unknown, where the familiar and the comfortable give way to strange new challenges and experiences.
The hero will be tested and must pass a series of escalating trials that prepare him or her for the ultimate challenge. And the mentor (as one who has gone before) is there at the hero’s side to provide assistance along the way.
The word “mentor”, comes from the Greek word “menos”, which means “mind”. Mentors work on the minds of their heroes, redirecting their will… expanding their consciousness… and strengthening their resolve to face and overcome the ultimate ordeal. Menos also means courage.
The Enemy: The enemy is dedicated to defeating the hero and ensuring he or she never reaches their goal. The enemy can be a thing… a person… an organization… a social structure … or even an aspect of the hero’s personality. The enemy exists to thwart the hero’s desire.
Desire is what motivates people to read your copy and buy your products. It is therefore, the backbone of your sales story. When an enemy gets in the way, it creates conflict. Conflict creates emotion. And emotion inspires action.
As hero, you do battle with the enemy. And you prevail. As mentor, you stand together with your prospect, as brothers in arms, ready to do battle.
The hero must travel towards his or her goal through a strange new world dominated by the enemy. The enemy’s henchmen have littered the road with smoke and mirrors … clever traps… and tall blockades.
In the hero’s attempts to obtain information and make sense of the strange new world, he or she trips the enemies alarm system and triggers a chain of threatening events.
And the conflict begins.
The hero must quickly learn who can be trusted and relied upon… and who is not to be trusted on the road to the inmost cave where the key to his or her heart’s desire is ensconced.
And having obtained the key, the hero must then return to the ordinary world with the enemy in hot pursuit. The enemy attempts to prevent the hero from obtaining the key and sharing it with others. The key is of course, your product or service.
Naturally, there are many more elements to the hero’s journey. There are allies and sidekicks, heralds and tricksters, and many more plot elements than I’ve mentioned.
But from this broad stroke look at the main building blocks of the hero’s journey, you should be able to begin fashioning a powerful mythology for your business.
And you should be able to pull parables out of that mythology that tacitly make your sales arguments.
When you do… you’ll find it much easier to engage your market. Your sales arguments will become infinitely more persuasive. And you’ll be able to sell against far less buying resistance.
For the full story on selling with stories, click here.
Until next time, Good Selling!