Stories within stories within stories

Stories create value.

The value of a thing is not what the thing is made of, but what people believe the thing will do for them.

How the thing will help them tell their story.

If I buy a necklace and walk down the street with a sky-blue Tiffany bag in my hand, my story is I’m in love. And people will see I’m worthy of being loved.

The story of the Tiffany box is worth more than the cardboard the box is made of.

There are really only three stories.

·      Their story – the story your customer wants to tell about themselves

·      Your story – how your thing helps them tell their story

·      The story inside your story – the story they tell their friends.

Their story…

… is usually the story they want the world to believe about them.

They’re smart, successful, handsome, powerful, sexy, fun – whatever.

If I buy a BMW, the story I want to tell is I am more successful than someone who buys a Skoda. (Full confession. I know a couple of Skoda drivers. They’re way more successful than me. On almost every scale you can name.)

It’s not about the facts.

Facts don’t sell. Facts are important, but only to justify the sale.

It’s what we believe about the facts that matters.

The facts help make the story believable, but the only thing your customers will want to believe is how your thing makes them look.

Your story helps them tell their story. Your task is to shape their perception of your facts. Because perception is the only metric that matters.

The story you tell your customers…

… connects their real needs with your thing.

The story a BMW buyer might want to tell about themselves is, ‘I’m successful.”

The story a BMW seller tells them is, “Being successful means being able to have the best of both worlds. Choose a BMW – it has luxury and high-performance.”

This story then allows you to tell the story within your story.

The story inside your story…

… is how they justify their purchase. It’s the story they can tell their friends.

It supports your big story and provides perspective on each of the facts you’re so proud of.

The story within the story should still strike an emotional chord.

Consider the facts.

BMWs have airbags.

They have fancy tech – at the top end of the range.

They crash-test the car.

They have multiple braking systems.

They have leather steering wheels.

The facts alone aren’t enough.

They need context.

Buying a BMW could show how smart I am. (Which is why I’m so successful.)

So, I tell my friends how a BMW is ultimately a smarter decision because the cost-benefit equation of buying a superbly engineered car outweighs the initial savings of buying a cheaper machine, when measured over the life of the purchase.

Buying a BMW could show how responsible I am. (Successful people embrace responsibility.)

The BMW has more airbags, and the engineers crash the car 1000 times before releasing it, so it can save the life of your family. More than once. It has a leather steering wheel – because leather lasts longer and is easier to grip in emergencies. And it has four different braking systems, because other road users’ safety matter too (and luxury should never, ever come to a shuddering halt).

People who sell BMWs never just sell the car. They sell success.

Which is why the buying experience at BMW is surrounded by leather and real coffee and sales consultants in perfectly tailored suits.

Draw a circle.

If you’re wondering how to create a story that creates value, try this.

Draw a big circle on a page.

Write down, inside the circle, why your thing is the same as everyone else’s.

As a rule, this list will be what customers believe about the category. 

It’s why they’re even considering your product in the first place.

Then write down, using a different colour pen, why your thing is different to everyone else’s. The good and the bad.

This will help you see the stories within your story.

A different machine.

A faster process.

Cheaper. More expensive. Whatever.

It doesn’t even have to be something you can prove.

After all, we’ll pay more for a coffee if it’s handed to us by a hipster with a tattoo.

These will underpin the story inside your story.

Then write down, outside the circle, as many reasons as you can think of as to why people want to buy your type of thing – why they want a coffee, or a burger, or financial advice or whatever.

There’ll be logical reasons: thirsty, hungry, need money for retirement.

And there’ll be emotional reasons: I’m sophisticated, I’m cool, I’m environmentally-conscious, I’m scared I’ll end up living in a gutter…

Now connect the dots.

Draw lines between what you do differently and why people want to buy your type of thing. And explain why you’re connecting them.

You should see a trend – the thing with the most connections.

That’s the basis of your story.

Your story is what connects your truth with their needs. It’s why they really want to buy your thing.

Tell them that story.

Then tell them a story they’ll want to tell their friends.