The 9C Storyselling Framework to Grow Your Business

In my last article, we discussed at length why storytelling is the key to producing more effective copy.

Though I highly recommend you check out the earlier article, especially for the myth busters I did, but because I value your time, here’s the TL:DR version.

When you use Storyselling in your business…

#1. Your Brand STICKS

Ever tried recalling a story you’ve heard or watched before a couple of times (or sometimes in the hands of a master storyteller, only once), and you can easily remember the key points of the tale even till today? 

#2. Your Brand SPREADS

When your message sticks, it’s easier to be passed around. Before the invention of paper, stories were told and passed on from one generation to another. Heck, whenever you see a movie adaptation of a book, it’s also a form of spreading the message, just in different mediums. (Of course, I’m aware of the fact that the Hollywood execs are also trying to score big paychecks on the original work that already, well, worked!)

#3. Your Brand SELLS

When you effectively use storytelling in all your branding and marketing campaigns, you draw in the prospects and buyers, and you will influence a sale or two from them. And you know how they say getting a customer is TEN times harder than keeping one? Well, using stories, you will be able to retain their loyalty, and perhaps, they may even become your raving fans one day.

Remember the last time you bought something, and someone questioned your purchase?

If the company had a good brand story, whether it’s one that creates social impact like Toms 1-for-1, or it projects prestige like a Patek Philippe, did you realize it’s easier for you to justify your purchase?

Sometimes, your customers know they need to buy your products or engage your services, but they don’t want to be caught in a situation where they can’t justify the transaction. You can help them when you have a good story.

Ok, that’s a nutshell of what we covered in the last article.

Let’s get to what we’re supposed to do today.

The Making of A Good Story (That Sells)

The key to any good story, whether it’s one that entertains the prospects or seals the deal for you, must contain a few of these elements.

I said a few, but of course, if you can incorporate all nine elements, then #boom you got a story that goes beyond just selling!

As I said, you do not have to include all the elements. (A for effort though). While you can switch the order of the elements around in your sales story, what I have below is what works for me, and many others who use storytelling in their selling.

Ready? Let’s get rolling.

The 1st C – CONTEXT

What’s the background, the premise, the setting?

While some readers can relate directly to your story, setting the context is always critical if you don’t want to leave anyone out, especially potential customers who may need a nudge in the right direction.

Don’t you just hate it when someone added you to a WhatsApp conversation without giving you a heads up? #samesame

In a business setting, here are a couple of examples:

  • For digital marketing agencies: Millennials check their phones up to 150 times a day! That’s a lot of opportunities for you to grab their attention, inject your brand name and even drive a sale. In this video, I’m going to show you the top 3 strategies for you to use in 2020.
  • For insurance consultants: For every TWO Malaysian you meet on the street, did you know that only one of them have any form of insurance coverage? Yup, that’s how “prepared” we are for medical emergencies and accidents. Don’t be a statistic, and let’s have a look at some options that work for you now.
  • For health care professionals: Did you realize that your children fall sick more frequently (and take a longer time to recover) compared to you?

You can use statistics, a simple statement, or a prompting question to set the context. Some master storytellers may even achieve the first C by incorporating the second, which is:

The 2nd C – CHARACTER

One of the easiest ways for your target markets to relate to your business, is by introducing characters in your marketing materials. We’ve seen this done with brands – Digi’s Yellowman and Ronald McDonald come to mind.

The characters can be real or made up, or have their names changed in your case studies and white papers, with a simple use of the asterisk*.

Example: (For an Air Conditioning brand)

Five seconds after Kelly stepped into the crowded room, she was gasping for air. Having 20 people crammed shoulder to shoulder in a space that’s designed for 8 was definitely not her favorite way to start the presentation. The scorching evening sun glaring through the glass panes was not on her side as well. The impatient looks on her colleagues’ faces made her so nervous as she struggled to locate the PowerPoint file, and her boss, Mr. Johnson’s, constant glance at his watch wasn’t helping at all.

How often have you been in situations like Kelly’s? Well, we’re glad to say that for our “cool” clients, that was a thing of the past. With our rapid cooling technology, all it takes is just 2 minutes to bring the temperature down in the room, no matter if it’s a comfy conference call for 3, or an ad-hoc all-hands briefing for the entire company. After all, with you’re in Kelly’s situation, you and I know you’ll hardly be in your best mode to wow the crowd and win them over.

Adding characters in your brand story helps boost relatability, because the readers – your customers and prospects alike – will be able to put themselves in the characters’ shoes. While you can immediately address the concerns of your readers, having a character serves as a bridge for your incoming pitch later.

The 3rd C – CURIOSITY

Ah, the dash of drama, the sprinkle of suspense. Curiosity had led to more sales than cat deaths. 🙂

You see, human beings are wired to pay attention to anything that stands out, whether it’s a sound, a sight or a statement.

Case in point:

  1. 8 out of 10 men are secretly gay (and we’ve got the research papers to prove it).
  2. Asians have a 50% higher chance of being passed on for promotions, and their home-turf advantage is useless.
  3. Mary lost all the weight she gained during the pregnancy, using this ancient technic employed by the Orang Asli (aborigines) of Borneo using a unique concoction of rare herbs and plants.

The element of curiosity is the reason why, compared to a textbook, a novel is such a page-turner.

A quick tip: using passive voice (Cat killed by a car) instead of an active voice (Car killed the cat) is also a technique used to stimulate curiosity and excitement. Most novels are written in passive voice to heighten the suspense, baiting readers to read lines after lines, trying to figure out what will happen to the characters they have fallen in love with.

Disclaimer: no cats were harmed in the writing of this section.

The 4th C – CATALYST

#bam

The context changed, and that sparked an event. Whether it’s an outbreak in the science lab or a meteor the size of Australia heading our way, the catalyst is when something shifted in the routine, and that in turn sparks the shift in the story.

Example: (For a portable battery brand)

Imagine this: You’re on a roll! You’ve just wrapped up your third sales meeting and is ready to log in to the evening reporting call to share the great news with your management. Your performance had been low over the couple of months, and closing three sales in a day broke all the sales records set by the previous employees over the last 5 years!

With a little bounce in your step, you found a quiet corner, reach for your headsets, and that’s where you realized the screen of your phone… was blank.

You cautiously tapped on the screen a couple of times, nothing worked. You pressed the power button, and as you held your breath, you caught a glimpse of hope when the phone booted up… only to show you the low battery icon before going dark again. For good.

You looked around and couldn’t locate a wall socket. Your heart was still beating faster now, but it’s no longer from excitement, but from anxiety. All you need is for your phone to have the power to call home and get that virtual pat of the back you’d been working for months.

You glanced at your watch. 5 minutes had passed since the scheduled call…

In the business context, try to think of Catalyst or triggers that has happened to your customers, or potentially will. The key here is not only to draw their attention, but to create urgency (codename: drama)

The 5th C – CONVERSATION

To add another level of realism to your story, you can consider adding dialogues among the different characters in your short.

Keep it as conversational as possible.

It can be as simple as: (For a fitness trainer targetting working parents)

Ahmad: “Hey Sally. Can I ask you an honest question?”

Sally: (Curiously raising an eyebrow) “Sure, what’s up?”

Ahmad: “You’re a single mom, and you have two kids and a full-time job.”

Sally: “Ok….?”

Ahmad: “Seriously, I see the energy you have at the office, and I want to know how you keep it up! I have way lesser stuff in my life and I don’t even have half your energy! Tell me what’s your secret!”

Don’t you want to be like Sally, a leading example at work and at home? With our 8-minute morning fitness routine, you, too, can discover the “energy reserves” you never knew you had.

The thing about conversations is, we tend to lean in into it. Think of the last time you were at a cafe and you sneakily (and totally unintentionally) perked your ear towards an exciting conversation. Having conversations in your marketing pieces allow your prospects to have to chance to be included in the story, and see the benefits from their point-of-view.

The 6th C – COMPLICATION

This is the result of the 4th C that we spoke earlier. Complications are the outcomes of the Catalyst.

That’s where the plot thickens, too.

In this section, talk about the problems, obstacles and challenges that your audience can relate.

Here are a couple of examples:

  1. For a health food company: Ever watched your children sleeping peacefully at night, and suddenly, you’re stuck with the fear of losing them? Not by accident or by the terrors of nature, but by the food that you feed them every day. Don’t let the guilt and doubt affect the love you have with your children. Check out our range of healthy food your kids will love so much, they would pick ours over fast food, anytime, anywhere!
  2. For an insurance company: You heard your colleague in tears after finding out that she has no way to pay for her father’s medical bills. As you go over and comfort her, you realized that the very same thing could happen to you too. I mean, you’ve seen the statistics that medical expenses have been increasing every year, and the last time you looked into your savings, you trembled with fear. All it takes is one major incident and it will cripple you, and your family’s lifestyle for years. Tired of being gripped by this fear? Let’s talk.
  3. For a corporate coach or trainer: You’ve been promoted. Yay! But after the celebration and as you retreat into your new office, you suddenly feel the shortness of breath. You quickly closed the door behind you and peeped through the blinds at your subordinates, smiling and happy. Little did they know that behind your smile, you masked the tension you had on the inside – you lack the confidence to lead them, and you know you’re only promoted due to seniority, not because of your ability as a leader. Good news is, most of my clients felt the same thing when they got promoted. And in just a few sessions with me, they found the confidence was inside them all along. They just don’t know how to tap into it. If thousands of managers have done it using my 3-step plan, you can too.

Of course, you may not need to plug your services like what I did in the examples above (can’t help myself from selling something…).

Sometimes it’s good to let the problem “simmer” in the back of their minds. Once you know the pain that resulted from the complication, remind them of the negative emotions they will or are feeling, and aggravate them. That adds a whole level of realism to the story now, because they have an emotional connection with your marketing piece. 

If you’d ever had a breath or two stolen away from you just because you read something, you know what I mean.

The 7th C – Change

Ah, the ray of hope shines. As your customers look up towards the light, they see your business offerings extending their hands, lifting them out of the dark, dark well. Now, you can position yourself or your business as the savior – the solution provided.

But if you want to take it to the next level, as recommended by best-selling author Don Miller and creator of probably one of the best story branding frameworks I’ve seen…

make your customers the hero, and you or your company, the guide.

In Don’s book, he stresses that in the story of your company’s offering, your customers are the hero (Character), and they are on a journey (Catalyst + Complications). And in their times of trials, you show up not as the hero, but as the guide. Remember, there can only be one hero in this story, and if you want loyal customers, it has to be them, not you). Just like Yoda to Luke Skywalker, Alfred to Batman and Gandalf to Frodo, Don’s advice is for you not to show how great you are, but how you can make your customers greater from where they are.

Regardless if you want to play the hero or guide, Change means offering a decision to your readers, which leads on to the next element…

The 8th C – CONSEQUENCE

In every decision that your customer makes, there are at least two outcomes. One stems from them not using your products or service, and the other, yes.

Remember how we talk about aggravating the pain? Well, you’ll need to double-down and future pace their pain if they pick the first option (of not engaging your company). Turn up the dial on the negative emotions, and add excruciating details to the already grim picture of their future.

Of course, if they were to pick the better option, which is to work with your company, then do a 180-flip into the land of rainbow, sunshine and unicorns. Use positive feelings to reinforce the hope that comes along with them making the “right” choice, throwing in the powerful emotions like admiration, love, assurance and peace-of-mind.

The key point here is simple:

Use our products – heaven. Don’t use us – hell.

The 9th C – CONVERSION

Now this is not necessarily a “Maverick” special, but I believe in every content that you create, there has to be an action to be taken. After all, if you scroll all the way up to the title, it’s Storyselling, not Storytelling.

And no, it doesn’t have to be all about sales; it could be a reply if they are keen to know more, a click to download your brochure, or a social share on their accounts.

This last C is critical because, let’s face it, if they have taken their time to go through your story (even though it’s actually a cover for a sales pitch), they are, without a doubt, vested in what you have to offer.

While there is a lot I can cover on CTAs and conversions alone (which I’ll reserve for another dedicated article), for now, here are a few quick tips to help build the anticipation for the actual article launch ???? (Scroll to the PS to find out how you can be among the first to know when the Killer CTA guide is launched)

  • Use active voice – readers have to be lead or told what to do. No more suspense or insightful questions here, unless that is the CTA is for them to question themselves. Be precise and ask what you want them to do.
  • Ask for ONE thing – don’t ask for a click, and a reply, and a share, and a forward, and a comment, and a YouTube Subscription, and a Facebook Page Like…(you get the idea). Keep it simple and ask for only one outcome.
  • If you’re selling, create urgency by using words like “limited units left”, “only…” and “while stocks last”
  • You can ask for the ONE thing multiple times in multiples ways at multiple junctions of the story, as long it leads to the same desired outcome for you.

CONCLUSION (No, this is not the 10th C)

Now, as I mentioned at the start, you do not have to go use all the Cs. Most of the time, I only use 3 to 5, depending on the length of the marketing material and the target audience. Of course, the last C – Conversion – is a must, while Character, Conversation, Change can be optional.

Do use this framework the next time you’re preparing any form of marketing copies, may it be written articles or videos, and let me know how it has helped you.

So, Mav, what’s your Conversion for this longa$$ guide for me?

Glad you ask.

Here’s the thing: Think of one or two friends who may need help crafting compelling sales copies. They may be entrepreneurs, marketers, business owners or perhaps even NGOs. Help me help them by tagging them in the comment below, or just share this to them on WhatsApp/Messenger. Heck, if you want to print it out for them, go ahead as well. Just promise me you print it on recycled paper though ????

Thanks in advance, and stay awesome.

PS. Watch out for more educational pieces from my team at Authority Institute. Me, I’m on marketing, but you’ll learn tons from Dato’ James Foo on business models and new profits (seriously, this guy started over 80+ business in 13 industries and 4 IPOs!), and PR, operation excellence and where to get a good cup of coffee from our CEO, Candy. If you’re the type who don’t wanna miss a thing (a bow to Aerosmith), you can drop your email here and you’ll get a copy sent to your email the moment it’s out of the oven.