Should you be selling the product, or the story?

Sheaffer pen cap

Imagine walking into someone’s home, looking around and seeing a family photo on the wall.

Not a posed family portrait. More of a goofy shot. Not terribly well composed. Maybe even a little bit out of focus.

Seeing you study the picture, your host comes over and says, “Oh my goodness, let me tell you the story behind that photo!”

It isn’t the photo that has the true power… it’s the story behind the photo.

It’s the story that carries the true emotional punch.

Let me share a couple more stories with you… one personal and the other professional.

We’ll start with the personal story.

It’s an expensive pen.

About 25 years ago I gave a talk about writing for the web. It wasn’t a large audience… just a few people from an ecommerce start-up.

I don’t think I was paid a fee, but they did give me a beautiful Sheaffer pen set. I loved the fountain pen in particular.

Anyway… a little while back my wife asked if she could take it with her to a writing workshop. I said yes, of course, but asked her to be super-careful not to lose it.

I asked her to be careful not because of the pen, but because of what happened to the pen a couple of years after it was given to me.

One of my sons, in a moment of teenage angst, scratched the A for anarchy symbol on the top of the pen’s cap. At the time I was pretty upset. It felt like he had ruined the pen.

But today… that A etched into the pen cap is what makes it so precious to me. It defines a moment in my relationship with my son. When we talk about it now, we laugh.

That’s why I asked my wife to be careful. Not because of the pen, but because of the memory… the story.

OK… now for the business example.

I’m on the email list for Cirino’s Bloody Mary Mix.

Jerry Cirino is the boss of his own restaurant, as well as being the creator of the restaurant’s own brand of Bloody Mary Mix, which he sells online.

In his latest email he wrote about how he’d heard from one of his customers, who said she was a happy customer, but would no longer be buying his mix.

That’s an interesting opening to a story! There’s intrigue there… unanswered questions. Why is she no longer buying Jerry’s mix? And can Jerry save the day?

It turns out she has become a vegan and discovered there were anchovies in the Worcester sauce that is an ingredient in the mix.

She’s still happy to recommend the mix to her friends, but she won’t be ordering any more for herself.

This got Jerry thinking about what it would take to create a vegan version of his Bloody Mary Mix.

The point is… from the start to the finish of his email, Jerry was sharing this story with us… the story of a lost customer, and potential opportunity for the future.

This isn’t a big story… it’s a small, everyday kind of story.

But it reveals a lot about Jerry and his business.

He didn’t write and say, “We listen to our customers”. Instead, he told a short story about something that happened while he was listening to an individual customer.

He could have talked about how his company is committed to product improvements… the usual marketing blah blah blah.

Instead, he shared the story of his email conversation and showed to us that he really is interested in product improvements.

In the process, we got to know Jerry a little better. And we got to like him even more.

That means we are more likely to keep buying from him.

He didn’t write an email pitching his mix. He simply shared a quick story.

And it was a story that made us feel good.

Stories have super-powers…

In answer to the question I posed in this post’s headline… yes, you should sell the story, not the product.

The story behind my scratched pen packs a more powerful emotional punch than talking about the pen itself.

The story of Jerry’s lost customer is more engaging than talking about his Bloody Mary Mix.

We all love stories, and we are all touched by stories.

That’s why the ability to tell a good story is an essential skill for any copywriter.

Which leads me to my course… Selling with Stories.

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