It feels risky to put the words story and selling side by side in the same sentence. ‘Selling’ someone on something has had a bad rap since the days of snake oil salesmen with their bogus claims, snappy taglines and half truths designed to make people buy more of the average this or that. Although ‘selling’ is often seen as manipulating people into doing something they don’t want to do, the truth is that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, as soon as you get out of the shower every morning, you’re selling a story.
All markets, industries, tribes, leaders and individuals sell stories. We have to.
We don’t have a choice, because stories are how humans read each other.
My husband has been a doctor for over 25 years. He was a medical student when we met. We’ve had many a long walk punctuated by a conversation about what makes people tick. He’s told me stories of examining babies and the way they look deep into your eyes, searching, as you press the cool metal of the stethoscope on their chest. Already looking to make sense of the story. And in that moment they create an association between the stethoscope and the person who has earned the right to wear one. It turns out that we are more likely to trust a man wearing a stethoscope, than one who doesn’t. Doctors sell trust by getting the grades to go to medical school in the first place, by doing the time and then behaving in a way that reinforces our worldview.
Medicine doesn’t sell cures, it sells trust. The lottery sells hope (it might be you) and many brands sell a promise of a better version of ourselves. Tiffany sells mattering, BootsnAll sells non-conformist adventure, Facebook sells belonging and Wholefoods sells nurturing and self-love.
You are not selling coffee, concert tickets, books, lipstick, yogurt, entertainment or information.
You’re selling a story. It’s never been more important to know which one.
Image by Les Taylor.