4 Storytelling Lessons for Marketers from Author Michael Bosworth

4 minute read

Upland Admin

Inspired by the book What Great Salespeople Do, I joined 20 other professionals for a two-and-a-half-day Story Seekers™ workshop with the author of the book, Michael Bosworth. After this workshop, I felt like an expert story-crafter and realized there are many lessons marketers can take away from his training, too. Here are a few:

1. Speaking to the Emotional Brain Pays Off, Literally

In any purchasing decision, emotions matter more than logic and reason. In fact, there’s scientific evidence that supports the fact that decision making and emotions go hand in hand. 

Paul Zak studied how feelings (i.e., the emotions elicited when you’re told a story) actually change your brain structure. He found that even the simplest narrative can elicit powerful empathic response by triggering the release of oxytocin—and those who release this neurochemical donate money more generously. 

We often don’t realize it, but the facts we use to make decisions actually support the emotional component of the decision.

Takeaway: Emotions matter more in purchase decisions.

2. Stories Can Be Used to Humanize Marketing

Stories are a way to trigger emotion in our buyer. Professor on the topic, John Kratz, said it best: A story is a fact wrapped in emotion that empowers people to take action.

Ask yourself, what point are you trying to get across? Here’s an example of how a subtle change can dramatically shift your narrative:

Bosworth challenged a glue salesman when he introduced himself the class. The salesman starts to talk about his glue: its viscosity, its strength, etc. As expected, the group immediately tuned out. Bosworth asked him to change the word “glue” from a noun, to a verb. The story changed, and instead we heard how and what his customers glue. 

Changing what you do from a noun to a verb is only the first step. Now, use that verb in a story where your customer is the hero—nope, not your product or company—and you’re on your way to triggering emotion in your buyer.

BONUS: Tell a story, and you automatically eliminate sales jargon that turns buyers off, like “best-of-breed,” “robust,” “solution,” “industry-leading,” etc. 

Takeaway: Turn what you sell into a verb, and use it in a story with a customer as the hero.

storytelling lessons for marketers

3. Never Say “You Need”

Marketing often highlights expertise; after all, it’s what differentiates us from the next guy. But there’s a fine line between teaching and preaching.

One of the marketers in the room put it like this:

Imagine two marketers on the trade show floor.

Marketer 1: “We’re Acme Corporation, known for our industry-leading anvils. Our robust, end-to-end solution has best-of-breed features and can help increase business results for you by 2X. You need to learn more!”

Marketer 2: “May I tell you a story about another person like you who is faced with challenges like yours?”

No one is convinced when they hear, “You just need to…” Go ahead, try it out on your spouse, co-worker, or friend. Stories are a great way to build a vision for the change your buyers need to make without telling people what to do.

Takeaway: In marketing, focus on teaching instead of preaching.

4. Stories Are Applicable Everywhere

You might be tempted to think stories are customer case studies, or that stories are only applicable for one stage in the buyer funnel. However, one marketer put it this way: “A story could act as the lead-in to the meat of what you’re sharing and applicable to any content created.”

In short, stories can:

  • Give your buyer hope that their problem is solvable
  • Disarm a skeptical buyer
  • Make their problem relatable
  • Help them understand what you do
  • Humanize your company
  • Enable them to introduce other influencers and buyers to your brand
Takeaway: Think of new ways to use stories. The opportunities are everywhere.

Hopefully, these lessons help you move away from preachy, jargon-littered content, and toward authentic stories that inspire emotion, trust, and purchase decisions.

Looking for a framework for building stories? Bosworth’s book and workshop are a great place to start!

Reliable products. Real results.

Every day, thousands of companies rely on Upland to get their jobs done simply and effectively. See how brands are putting Upland to work.

View Success Stories