One early afternoon, I turned the corner onto a quiet side street near my office. I was walking, and he was driving a mail truck. As he drove past me with the sliding door open, we nodded to each other––in that not unfriendly, but not particularly inviting way that men here in New England are famous for.
Something about him was familiar. Before I could figure out what it was, I heard the truck abruptly stop behind me, and an upbeat voice yell, “Hey, Mr. Katz, is that you?!” You won’t be surprised to learn that yes, that was me.
Dave had delivered mail to my office six years earlier. Nearly every morning –– I can’t remember how long –– he’d walk in the door, hand me the mail and wish me a nice day. As it turns out, he was transferred to another town for six years and had only recently transferred back.
He looked about the same: a little older, quite a bit heavier. We had a few laughs, shook hands, and away he went.
That’s when I was struck by a fascinating insight (you’re welcome).
Letter carriers live at one of two extremes: Either you’re in incredibly good shape, because you walk 10 or 12 miles a day, or you’re in astonishingly bad shape because you sit in a truck for eight hours.
Dave used to be in great shape. His route was in the downtown area. The houses and offices here are relatively close together, so he parked the truck and walked most of the time.
When they transferred him to the next town over, they gave him a neighborhood route. The only work-related exercise he got was reaching out of the window to open and close mailbox doors. The same job – delivering mail. Two entirely different approaches.
Take your audience on a journey
Why am I sharing this? My encounter with a familiar postman is an example of how you can use an opening story to capture attention and stand out from the crowd.
You can utilize storytelling in all of your content (i.e., newsletters, blog, sales presentations, content marketing, etc.)
A few things to notice:
If I were to continue this article as I usually do, my next step would be to find a way to connect the letter carrier observation (one job, two different approaches) to an insight related to the subject matter of my newsletter (i.e., professional services marketing).
So, for example, I could talk about:
- the contrast between relationship marketing and cold calling
- the difference between hourly and flat-fee pricing
- the relative benefits of including the entire text of a newsletter in the email itself vs. requiring a click to a landing page
As long as I talk about the tradeoffs between two separate approaches to achieving one goal, my opening story has relevance.
Am I wasting people’s time by using an opening story instead of just getting to the point?
Well, I’m taking more time. And yes, you will lose some people as a result. But I’m not wasting it.
Humans are hardwired to pay attention to stories. Stories are easy to follow, and we can’t help but want to know how they turn out. When you start with a story, your audience perks up and comes with you.
If you offer nothing but “information,” you’re making it harder for me to engage––with both the topic and with you. It’s a burger without the bun. It’s sports scores without the game.
Here’s the problem with a marketing strategy that includes content creation and sharing in the absence of storytelling: You don’t know anything that your competition doesn’t know just as well.
So sure, maybe you’ve got a little tweak of insight here and there. But if you sell a professional service (e.g., financial planning, consulting, recruiting, coaching, etc.), chances are, your knowledge is pretty much the same as everyone else’s.
The only thing that’s truly (and noticeably) different, frankly, is your story and experiences. Dave, the letter carrier and I are the only people on Earth who can tell the story I told you earlier. It is unique.
Storytelling creates unique value
When you wrap your unique life experience or observations around useful (even if it’s unremarkable) business insights, you’ve created a little package that’s both valuable and one of a kind (kind of like you, if I may be so bold).
Here’s the bottom line. I don’t tell stories in my newsletters and presentations because it’s fun. I do it so that I don’t have to do any research.
I’m kidding! I do it because I know that it’s the most effective way possible to share information and stand out from the crowd in a positive, memorable way.
Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service providers talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here.
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