Our guest blogger this month is Michael Hammond who writes about the strategic use of stories in relationship marketing. This article originally appeared in “The Briefs” published by the Orange County Bar Association.
“Tell Me A Story …”
Pat Conroy, the well-known American novelist, once said: “The most powerful words in the English language are, ‘Tell me a story’”. Why do stories have such power over us? Perhaps, it’s because long before humans were writing, we were telling stories and these stories – told, memorized, repeated and embellished over millennia – became the wellsprings of human development. Our innate love of telling stories seems to be almost as powerful as our love of listening to them.
In the modern world stories are everywhere. They provide the plots for books, movies, theater, and television shows. The twenty-four hour news channels bring you the stories of the day. The best teachers, leaders and communicators have always recognized the importance of storytelling and have used them to convey lessons, messages and inspiration. Just think about Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s recent Academy-award-winning movie. A well told story has the power to conjure strong images and evoke a powerful emotional response in the listener.
Think about it, whether we’re meeting an old friend for a drink or a complete stranger on a plane, our interaction is largely defined by the exchanging of personal stories. Dr. Jonathan Gottschall, an English professor at Washington & Jefferson College and the author of “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human”, said in a recent interview: “We live in stories all day and we dream in stories all night. … Storytelling is a key competence because it’s the most powerful method we know of riveting the attention of others and of connecting with them emotionally.”
What’s Your Story?
Because telling and listening to stories is hard-wired into our psyche, they are one of our most powerful forms of communication. Harness the power of storytelling in your word-of-mouth marketing and you will tap into the innate receptivity of those you want to educate about who you are, what you do and why. Use stories in conversations with potential clients to demonstrate your expertise, with referral sources to illustrate how you can help their clients, and in social settings to educate people about your firm.
Richard Stone of the StoryWorks Institute advises lawyers to “Look for the drama in your everyday actions to formulate your stories. Just as a good author can find a story where others see only the commonplace deeds of ordinary people, it’s possible for each of us to frame our work in heroic terms. Stories are your narrative assets.”
According to Stone, a well-crafted story about why you became an attorney, why you feel compelled to help people or how you fought to succeed in spite of great difficulty, becomes an important conversational strategy. These stories are like verbal commercials for you, your practice and your brand. Once discovered, these narrative assets can become the hidden gems of your word-of-mouth marketing program.
Finding Your Voice
How do you transform your own many and varied experiences into well-crafted stories?
Read the following prompts and write down the first ideas that pop into your mind when you hear them:
- I became a lawyer because…
- I’m passionate about my practice area because…
- The type of people (your primary client) I like to help is…
- The reason I like to help these people is…
- I make a difference for people because…
Recall other stories that convey your effectiveness as a lawyer. Don’t bore your listener with a thinly disguised list of your accomplishments; instead, tell them about how your clients have actually benefited from your professional skills. Tell them a story about:
- A case you just won.
- An award you just received.
- Your background or upbringing.
While not yet full-blown stories, whatever came to mind as you read these prompts could be promising and may warrant further thought and development. Once you’ve found your basic story idea, it’s important to flesh it out, expand upon it and add color to it. To add structure to your story, think about the three elements of every typical tale – context, characters and climax.
One criminal defense attorney tells his story this way: “When I was young, I got into trouble with the law. But before I went too far, an attorney who was an old family friend intervened and set me straight. My practice is dedicated to that man – I want to do for other people what he did for me.”
At Atticus, we call stories the “stealth bombers” of strategic conversations. On the surface they may enlighten or entertain the listener, but they are also educating them, connect them to your background, highlight your values and reveal your motivations. In short order, the information these brief narratives provide can portray you as an empathetic human being and, because they require a certain amount of self-disclosure, deepen your intimacy with the listener.
Whether you employ long, rambling stories or simply divulge small glimpses of your personal history, having a variety of brief narratives you can use at different times and in various situations can be a valuable addition to your marketing assets. Stories can be helpful in conversations with potential clients trying to gauge your breadth of experience and your depth of compassion; with prospective referral sources trying to determine how well you would serve the clients they could refer to you; and in social settings to educate people about who you are and what you do.
Remember, stories that are humorous show that you are human. You don’t have to be the hero in every story; in fact, stories that portray you in a self-deprecating light can be engaging, heart-warming and among the most memorable.
The Three Cs of Storytelling
Way back in 1982 in his watershed book “Megatrends”, John Naisbitt posed a paradoxical prophecy: “The more high tech we create, the more high touch we want.” How much more high tech have we become in the last thirty years? How much more do we yearn for high touch today? For human connection? Perhaps this accounts in some way for the psychic pull and the mesmerizing effect that storytelling still has on us.
Jim Blasingame, a leading expert on small business and entrepreneurship, says that we should deliver high touch to our clients through the telling of stories and reminds us of the Three Cs of Storytelling:
Connect – Use stories to connect with prospects and convert them to clients.
Convey – Use stories to convey your experience, expertise, humanity and values.
Create – Use stories to create a client’s memory of you and generate top-of-mind awareness.
Learn the art of storytelling and tap into the power of a good story, told well. You’ll know you’ve been successful – that you’ve really connected with someone – when they tell your story to others.
Michael Hammond is a “founding father” of Atticus and is a Certified Practice Advisor. A licensed attorney since 1983, he has spent his entire career either practicing law or supporting and promoting the practice of law. Michael has a depth of experience in lawyer marketing, one-on-one business coaching and strategic planning.