5 Signs Your Stories Aren't Working

by Joe Fontenot

5 Signs Your Stories Aren’t Working

Storytelling has become big in business. And it seems only to be growing.

And there’s a good reason for it: story is captivating. Wrapping a client or lead into a narrative is one of the strongest ways to capture their attention.

But with all this story talk (I’ve seen quite a few “professional storytellers”), I see only a few that are actually getting it right.

Donald Miller wrote a book called Building a StoryBrand. It’s about using the power of story to clarify your message so customers will listen.

Here are five signs that you might not be telling the right story:

1. Are you the hero? Or the Guide?

Who’s story are you telling? Is it yours? If it is, that means you are the hero.

The problem with being the hero is that this puts you in competition with other heroes. (Who’s this story about, anyway?) Each of us play the hero in our story. If you grab a microphone and start going on about how great you are, who’s going to be interested in that?

The better option is to play the guide.

For many, just making this one change will double your impact. The reason this works is because the guide is a trusted ally. The guide is Dumbledore assisting Harry, or Gandalf guiding Frodo.

By being the guide, you’re building trust and authority into your standing with your customers.

2. Are you selling the internal problem?

Steve Jobs was the master at this. He didn’t sells specs and performance, he sold lifestyle.

Let me put it another way: is Apple making the best computer on the market? Well, that depends on who you ask. If Apple is a gateway for me becoming the person I want to become–then it is absolutely the best computer.

Your product solves an external problem (I need a computer), but your customers buy based on an internal problem (I want to belong).

That means that if you want to tell the right story, it needs to be about your customer’s internal problem.

3. Does your story have a crystal clear plan built in?

In his book, Don talks about giving people stepping stones across the river. It’s not enough to talk about the benefit of crossing the river. To be effective, we have to do the work of giving them a path to follow.

“If you’re like me, you know you need to start exercising. It’s too important to ignore any longer. But it’s hard. The solution is to get into a routine. Here’s what you need to do: find a friend who will keep you on path, commit to a 20 minutes three days a week, and be willing to forgive yourself when you mess up. If you do these three simple steps, you’ll be on track to getting in shape and living a better life.”

It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

Have you built a plan into your stories?

4. Are you calling your customer to the right action?

Don uses the analogy of information as bowling balls. Every new piece of information you give your customer is like handing them another bowling ball. And how long can that go on?

The solution is to simplify. Are you clearly asking your customer to do one thing?

I can’t tell you how many websites I’ve seen that ask their audience to do about forty things–and that’s all before they scroll down.

This is confusing. And confusion doesn’t sell.

What you need to do instead is find the one thing that will make the biggest impact (buy now, subscribe, download, or whatever), and move your customers toward that. Everything else will come.

5. Is your success seasoned with failure?

Talking about failure is hard.

If all you ever talk about is failure, you’ll turn people off. In, on the other hand, you never talk about failure, then why are we talking at all?

There’s a delicate balance. But it’s an important one, because failure is the key to success.

Failure is the stakes with which everything else hangs on. Because without failure, success doesn’t mean anything.

So, how do you talk about failure?

Think of it like salt. And then season to taste. That means you have to know your audience. And you have to know what they fear and how in tune they are to that fear. You can’t ignore failure, but you can use it.

Use failure as your justification to get to the good stuff: why your customer’s world would be if they bought in. That’s success.

You can read more about how to do this in Donald Miller’s new book: Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message so Customers Will Listen. Or, if you’re already familiar with StoryBrand, you can contact me about working more with your organization. I’m one of their certified guides who can help build and implement a marketing plan that works.