Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me: How to use storytelling to connect with the hearts and wallets of a hungry audience

by Greg Koorhan

Greg Koorhan’s main message is to “stop sounding like everyone else and tell your own, unique story.”

“A study by the Emory Institute in Atlanta… found that just thinking about an action triggers the same emotional and sensory area of the brain that performing the action does… So by telling a story associated with you or your business, you can trigger the emotions that make your customer feel, even for a brief moment, as if they’ve experienced the same benefit… Assuming it’s a good experience, don’t you think they’ll want more?”

“When looking at data, the language areas of the brain light up, but not the emotional and sensory areas. These areas are triggered only by stories. This means that your story can engage your audience in ways data can’t… When data and stories are used together, audiences are moved both emotionally and intellectually.”

“Your Story IS Your Brand… Your brand is actually tied closely to your values. And by nurturing your values, you develop a theme. And out of your theme grows your story… Start with your values, then your theme, character archetype and emotional tone. Once you’ve got the elements of your story in place, your entire marketing and advertising platform can grow out of it.”

“Honest feeling and emotion are the base building blocks of story… The story builds an aura of trust. The more the brand stays true to its mission, the more the trust grows. And there is an association of quality with that trust… But when our words and actions don’t align, it makes everything else harder… Not acting in alignment with that message makes it less believable… That inauthenticity shows up… The only ones we are fooling are ourselves.”

“When considering the characters for your story, use people who reflect the values of your market. Choose characters your audience can identify with… Whenever possible, use real customers and real employees.”

  • “A customer story… is one of the best types of stories because it emphasizes the benefits of your offering. When people read about another customer’s experience with your product or service, they can imagine themselves in the customer’s place and understand directly how your products or services can benefit them. Told authentically, these are some of the most powerful stories because they provide social proof—reducing the risk of making a buying decision, because someone else has done it first and benefitted.”
  • “Employee stories are engaging because they take people behind the scenes and add a human element to your business… These stories are also an excellent way to convey your corporate culture.”

The author cites the book The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker:  “Conquering the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth.”

“A well-structured story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. It is based around conflict and that conflict’s resolution. The conflict is what keeps us tuned in and engaged. It provides suspense and anxiety to move the story along. Even if we know it will turn out well for our characters, the resolution of the conflict (called the ‘climax’) at the end of the story gives us a sense of release and triggers positive emotions… Here’s a hint: your product or service is most likely the ‘new way’ of looking at things that shows up at the beginning of Act Three.”

Koorhan advises that “the best stories reflect the benefits of the product without actually saying it. The viewer will make that connection in their mind, and the connection is much stronger when they do it on their own.” The author adds, “If we’re being honest with ourselves, some vulnerability will come out. Vulnerability builds an emotional connection—and people buy on emotion. They may rationalize their purchase on logic, but people buy on emotion.”

“In my experience, in every company, big or small, the company’s story is tied to the founder’s or leader’s story. So that’s the place to start… Your brand and therefore your stories, will have a personality, or ‘voice.’ Ideally… it will be close to your voice.”

“Don’t try to sound lofty and ‘literate.’ Write using a simple, personal tone that’s easy for your audience to understand and relate to… It’s important to remember that honesty is endearing, and people don’t see jargon as honest… Authentic emotions will always connect better than spin.”

Koorhan writes about the importance of identifying your specific target audience. “Identifying and talking to a specific audience opens the possibility of creating a deeper emotional connection with them. And it’s only through that kind of connection that you turn transactional customers into loyal fans. That won’t happen when you are speaking generally, to a broad group… If your story is in sync with the attitudes and values of your audience, it will feel familiar and you’ll connect on an emotional level.”  You’ll also need to consider the format of your story. Some demographics prefer text, while others prefer images and video.

“If you create blog articles using personal stories, the key to making them work for you is to add ‘takeaways’ to the story, or tips or insights drawn from the story that can immediately help the reader… Your blog is also a great environment to test parts of your story. Each blog post can be a segment of the overall ‘plot.’ This gives your audience the feeling of making the journey with you. A shared journey can forge a powerful relationship.”

“If your story comes from you and you live congruent with your story, you create consistency with your brand. You create consistency with your ‘corporate’ culture. Your employees begin to adopt the story and help you grow. Then, your brand remains consistent with every customer interaction, every touch point. It’s reflected in customer service and in your product marketing.”

Koorhan, Greg. Dont sell me, tell me: how to use storytelling to connect with the hearts and wallets of a hungry audience. Wynnewood, PA: Crossbow Studio, 2016. Buy from

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