4 Stories That Sell

Last year, I bought my first-ever turntable: a dusty, 1980s Technics belt drive…that I found on Craigslist.

Why did I pick a vintage model over one of those shiny new Crosleys?

The seller told a great story. 

See, the seller was a retired house DJ. He told me that his turntable had seen the inside of a hundred famous clubs. Yes, it had been sitting in his garage for a decade. But if I bought it, I wouldn’t just be buying a turntable. I’d be inheriting a legacy.

And that’s what sold me. (Plus the fact that Technics is an amazing brand.)

In the business world, great stories can be powerful marketing tools. For potential customers, a good story is often the content ingredient they need to remember – and ultimately buy – your product or service.

That’s in part because of the neuroscience of storytelling. Reading (or hearing) a story lights up brain networks associated with emotional processing that play a key role in our decision making. The right story can even push readers to challenge their core beliefs.

Which type of story works best for your startup, though? Start with these four proven jaw droppers.

My SL-BD35 – as dusty as the day I got it.

#1: The Case Study

We all know case studies are a place to showcase your past work. But what takes a case study from informative to convincing? A story.

When we hear stories, we identify with the hero. So tell the story from the perspective of your customer who valiantly saves the day by discovering your startup. Readers will picture themselves doing the same.

One great example? Check out this case study from Upwork, a freelancing platform and marketplace.

Founder Arvita Tripati wanted to build a virtual speech coaching app for her startup, Loquere. She used Upwork’s platform to find an expert who could help.

To tell Trivati’s story, Upwork’s content writers used narrative language and plenty of direct quotes that positioned her as the star of the show. They even fleshed out the background of the expert she wound up hiring.

The Upwork team didn’t stop there, though. To make the value they offer clear, they explained the search process from Tripati’s point of view – and described the high-quality work that resulted from her using Upwork.

Case studies like Upwork’s can do wonders for your startup. That’s because they…

  • Make the customer the hero. This helps readers put themselves in the same shoes as the customer (kind of like putting yourself in the shoes of, say, Jon Snow or Luke Skywalker). They’ll imagine how they can overcome the customer’s problem and how your startup can help them solve it.
  • Position your startup as highly capable. When you show off your expertise, you can boost your credibility and attract potential customers (or clients, partners, or employees).
  • Allow you to highlight your startup’s long-term impact. Statistics are great for illustrating impact, but they’re also limited. Stories let you show broader, longer-term impact.

#2: The Road to Damascus

Ever heard the story of Paul’s conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus? (If you were like me growing up, you slept through a hundred sermons about it.)

A lot of B2B marketers riff on the concept to craft a compelling testimonial. A “road to Damascus” story describes the exact moment when someone recognizes the power or superiority of your product, service, or recommendation. They have a moment of clarity, and boom – they’re “converted” to your offering over the competition’s.

Not sure what that looks like on the page? Here’s a solid example from Chownow, an online restaurant ordering startup.

Restaurant owner Deborah Williamson was dedicated to creating an in-person fine dining experience. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

That first wave of lockdowns forced her team to “pivot and regroup their fine dining style to something more portable – something Williamson saw as a necessity in order to support their community.”

In other words, she quickly realized the value of a digital takeout solution.

Williamson first chose Caviar, a Chownow competitor. But she felt a tension around being a “slow food” restaurant in a fast-paced culture. She described a lot of mental gymnastics at play, especially when it came to ramping up her restaurant’s production and financials.

Williamson’s Damascus moment? Realizing that Chownow would enable her to stay true to her company’s values. Its takeout ordering platform was a better match for her restaurant’s budget, processes, and production capabilities.

Why do “road to Damascus” stories like Williamson’s work so well? Three reasons:

  1. They show that a competitor’s users “saw the light.” This positions your product or service as a better alternative to the competition.
  2. They highlight the compelling “why” behind the conversion. In Williamson’s case, Chownow helped her team better live out their core company values. Similar stories can convince folks on the fence to buy what you’re selling.
  3. They play nicely with a number of different content types. Notice how Chownow nestled Williamson’s Damascus moment inside a case study.

Share the moment when your user or customer “saw the light.”

#3: The Founder Story

Founders love to tell their startup’s origin story. When spun into a blog post, this type of story can quickly woo readers and boost sales.

One example we love: Paul Koziarz on why he co-founded Prisidio, a cloud-based digital vault for storing everything from wills to beloved family recipes.

A few years back, Koziarz and his wife were updating their wills. They needed to pull together all kinds of financial statements, legal documents, family valuables, and contact information.

That process highlighted the need for a specialized solution that could log, store, and secure this information for future reference – whether for himself or his loved ones. His idea: build a cloud-based vault that would hold everything and be accessible from his phone.

Founder stories work best when they…

  • Humanize the founder. A good founder story highlights common pain points among the founder and their audience (e.g., hunting down different documents in different places).
  • Boost the founder’s credibility. The founder comes across as an attentive leader who can spot problems and think up innovative solutions.
  • Show how the product solves real problems. The product isn’t the founder’s pet project. It’s an essential product that meets users’ actual needs.

If you’re going to tell your founder story, we’ll trust you not to retcon it like Mark Zuckerberg

#4: The Failure Story

We’ve talked a lot about stories that highlight your startup’s successes. But what about your failures? Sometimes, those make for the best and most vulnerable stories: the times you (or someone in your circle) tried something and screwed up.

We found a few of these stories over at Notarize, a digital notarization startup. 

Its team rounded up three ways theirs virtual legal proceedings failed during the early days of the pandemic, ranging from dress code malfunctions to “Zoom bombing.” In each scenario, they narrated the real-world slip-up before explaining what they learned from the experience.

How does talking about failure help you sell something that works? The right story can…

    • Show how your team engages with experiences. Your takeaways become valuable knowledge to share with prospects.
    • Allow readers to learn from your failures. They’ll get all the insights without any of the real-life stumbles.
    • Make you look like a magic genius. Why? Because you can turn bad into good.

Ignore Bojack – it’s okay to share your failures.

Got a Story in Mind? Find a Storyteller to Match

Storytelling is a powerful marketing tool that drives lasting engagement and boosts your sales. It’s what got me to buy my Technics turntable – I’d buy anything that DJ sells.

But to get your story right, it’s important to have an expert storyteller as a partner.

That’s what content marketers are – and that’s what we do at Propllr. Our team will work with you to tease out a narrative and shape it into a story that wins. Want to learn more? Drop us a line – we’d love to chat.