A Good Story Will Outsell All Your Facts

Facts tell, but stories sell” — Jim Doyle

A good story is a great sales tool

It’s amusing to watch the political left and right — especially those at the extremes — argue each other. Each side has its own set of facts. Each is firmly convinced that if the other side just accepted these facts the argument would be over.

And each believes that the other side’s “facts” are lies.

[bctt tweet=”Those of us who work in marketing and sales are in the persuasion business.”]

In 2011, Seth Godin discussed “The Limits of Evidence-Based Marketing”, using as an example an acquaintance who is firmly convinced that the vaccine for polio is harmful. Stacks of information and studies from the Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization — “evidence-based marketing” — would not change the acquaintance’s mind.

“…evidence isn’t the only marketing tactic that is effective. In fact, it’s often not the best tactic. What would change his mind, what would change the mind of many people resistant to evidence is a series of eager testimonials from other tribe members who have changed their minds. When people who are respected in a social or professional circle clearly and loudly proclaim that they’ve changed their minds, a ripple effect starts. First, peer pressure tries to repress these flip-flopping outliers. But if they persist in their new mindset, over time others may come along. Soon, the majority flips. It’s not easy or fast, but it happens.”

Four years after Godin wrote those words, a measles outbreak briefly got the attention of some the public and some state legislatures. The hook wasn’t necessarily the re-emergence of a disease that had been nearly eradicated. Plenty of scientists had been predicting that something like this would happen sooner or later.

The hook was that the outbreak was linked to Disneyland. A story of measles at the Happiest Place on Earth was much more powerful than all of the statistics about herd immunity combined.

A similar phenomenon occurred during the Ebola epidemic last year. It wasn’t the thousands of deaths overseas that got America’s attention — it was a nurse climbing onto an airplane. When it became known that Amber Vinson had flown from Dallas to Cleveland and back again after being infected, panic ensued.

Schools were closed in Cleveland, kids from Rwanda were banned from a school in New Jersey, and parents in Mississippi took their children out of school because their principal had traveled to Zambia.

Zambia and Rwanda are thousands of miles away from the Ebola hot spots, but no matter. The story out-persuaded the facts.

Those of us who work in marketing and sales are in the persuasion business.

That’s why testimonial advertising works so well, and why I advise the television salespeople I coach to replace the charts and graphs with stories of clients who’ve used the station and won. 

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