“Own your story…own your success…”

Usually, when I write about communications or public relations, it is targeted to a company, product, or an individual who has something to sell or a service to offer. While spending time on branding and image is important, I find I spend more and more time talking about “the story.” Tell me why someone should buy from you–or give to you–or believe in you. The facts need to be there, but in an overly communicated and marketing society, I believe it is those who tell the best story who will “win.”

When it comes to causes–nonprofit organizations, philanthropy–telling the story effectively is crucial. Why? Because people remember stories. More than statistics. Yes, you have to do your homework and have all the facts about how you can effectively use the donors’ dollars or how many more people will be served by a contribution, but that will only engage a donor’s rational brain after the emotional brain has been moved to give.

Don’t lead with statistics. Lead with people. Tell one story. Show a beautiful, realistic picture. It has been shown that if you do this, you could raise twice as much money as if you lead with facts and figures.

People want to have a personal connection to causes they support. We can understand facts and figures and dollars and numbers. But we want to have that feel-good feeling about the very personal step of writing a check or taking money out of our pocket.

When we share a story, we provide that personal connection–the whole brain gets involved. Not only do we feel that connection to the story, but also to the storyteller. If you are a volunteer with a nonprofit organization and your job is to get others to give, too, remember that. Step away from the statistics and lead with a story.

This holds true for business, too. Recently a company with a safety-related product came to me and said they had a problem. They needed to get to the decision makers about why they should engage with their company and buy their service. But they were having a hard time ‘making the pitch.’ They gave me lots of statistics and showed me bought high-resolution pictures of their service model. Nothing moved me. Not that I would ever say this, but I was actually getting sleepy listening to the pitch myself.

What could they do? What should the approach be? I asked them to tell me a story. Tell me what it would mean to me. My family. My friend. If I were “the boss,” what would it mean to my company and my constituencies? What would it mean if this safety service was not in place? What was the downside? What made this company unique and different? Where were the testimonials? Where were pictures of people? Not high-resolution stock images, but real people, in real situations? Can you give me some news clips, too, of what happened when this type of service was in place elsewhere? And the stories of when it was not?

A boring presentation suddenly became exciting. A whole new direction was created by asking them to tell me a story. The tools to do that can be the really good elevator speech. The oral presentation. Volunteers who are willing to tell their personal stories. Visuals. Effective audio. Powerful video. Great photos and compelling text.

Whether you are a volunteer for a cause near and dear to your heart, or if you work for a company or organization, once you’ve gathered all the statistics and they are there to back up your proposal, take a step back, put a face to your “ask,” and tell a story. Lead with it. That will engage the person to decide to give, to buy, to volunteer, to support. Follow up with the statistics which will help the person decide at what level they want to get involved.

Years ago when I worked at a hospital in a marketing role, a physician was all excited about raising money for a brand new piece of equipment that would measure bone density. Try as he may, he couldn’t explain why this machine was so much better than the machine they already had. Then I asked him to tell me what it would mean if my grandmother needed the test. How would her experience be different? And then I stopped talking. He looked at me for a bit and then he told me a story of what her experience would be like, how it would be better. “Ahhh,” I said. NOW we had a campaign. Many high-technical people have a hard time going from the rational brain to the emotional brain, and later I developed a pin that I wore when I was at work. It said, “Tell me a story….” I wore it every day and it became MY story, too.

When I began my own company, my slogan was easy, “Own your story…own your success.” You can–and you will!

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