You have to admit, it’s rare to see Newt Gingrich and President Barack Obama putting out the same message, but that’s exactly what happened this year. That’s because, during the primary season, Gingrich's main goal was the same one as Obama’s is now—defeat Mitt Romney.
The tactic both men (or at least their Super PACs) used? Relate how Romney’s former company, Bain Capital, bought out businesses and closed them down, putting middle class Americans out of work—more specifically, by telling the story, through those people’s eyes, of how their lives were affected (you can check out one of Gingrich's ads here and one of Obama’s ads here.
We won’t argue the validity of that story or the politics involved here—there are more than enough talking heads on cable news to handle that wonderful task—but what we will argue is that both men effectively used an approach that we implement on our clients’ behalf everyday—story-selling.
As Arianna Huffington argued in a July 16 post, “Is Storytelling the Secret Weapon of 2012?”, using stories to persuade people has become the dominant strategy of political campaigns. Even Obama has finally recognized that fact. When he was asked what the main mistake of his first term had been, he answered, "The nature of this office is…to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times."
That’s right: the President of the United States thinks his biggest blunder wasn’t related to the economy, he thinks it was not telling a good story.
Obama learned the hard way, but the rest of us don’t have to. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a professional, or the head of a business (or whatever kind of effort you may be spearheading), it’s important to create a narrative that attracts the people you want in as powerful a way as possible. There are several reasons why stories work as well as they do for this purpose.
First of all, our brains like stories. They help unify seemingly random facts into an understandable whole, which our minds appreciate. They can mark that particular item as a closed case and go back to working on all our day-to-day duties, crises and challenges.
Second, stories tap into our emotions in a way that old school marketing can’t—how else can you explain grown men reduced to tears by Toy Story 3? There’s a reason Coca-Cola brings out those cute Polar Bear commercials every Christmas—the viewers go “awwww,” they feel a warm spot in their hearts, and associate Coke with sentimental holiday feelings. Stories create empathy and cause people to identify with us and our causes.
Finally, stories enable us to control how people perceive us. When a story resonates with the public, it immediately becomes what pops into their minds when they hear your name (or the name of your product or service). When a competitor tries to plant a negative story about you with your customer, they have to battle the default story you’ve already put out there. You already have the advantage in that fight, if you’ve done the right story-selling first.
One final note: For a story to really be effective, it has to have a high degree of authenticity and it has to be believable. Unless you’re playing off the elements that are genuine to you and your business, you stand a good chance of being called out on it, or having your story rejected altogether.
There are volumes that could be written about story-selling—we’re working on a book about it ourselves—but it all comes down to one undeniable fact: stories are the foundation of mankind, and to not use this formidable tool is a huge mistake. As the writer Reynolds Price said, “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens—second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives.”
When you consider all that, is it any wonder that whoever tells the best story now, wins in November?
JW Dicks (@jwdicks) & Nick Nanton (@nicknanton) are best-selling authors who consult for small- and medium-sized businesses on how to build their business through personality driven marketing, personal brand positioning, guaranteed media, and mining hidden business assets. They offer free articles, white papers, and case studies at celebritybrandingagency.com.
[Image: Flickr user Mutasim Billah]