The Feature/Story Gap— Using Stories to Increase Sales

by: | April 16, 2012

Think quick: When someone says cell phone, what’s the first product that pops into your head?

Was it the iPhone?

I would venture to guess for 90 percent of readers it would be. This is a powerful association, and it leads to significant sales for Apple. How have they created this association, and how can you do the same for your customers? What is Apple doing differently that you can learn from? What sets them apart from the scores of other cell phone companies out there?

There is no doubt they make great products (leaving aside the Mac vs. PC debate, of course), but a great product will only get you so far. The most powerful tactic they employ is the power of a compelling story.

  • The iPhone isn’t just a phone with great specs, arguably there are phones out there with better specs; it’s a revolutionary lifestyle gadget.
  • Apple doesn’t build tablets; they are “defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.”
  • They don’t just make mp3 players; they “lead the digital music revolution with iPods and iTunes.”

What sets these statements apart? The difference is in the storytelling, rather than simply describing features and specs. Does Apple talk about all the features the product has? Yes, but that’s not the focus of their message. Instead, they tell stories that create emotional connections for customers to their products.

The Feature/Story Gap

Most companies’ marketing touts the benefits and features of their products or services first and foremost. They talk about the storage capacity, the things it can do, how it works, why it’s better than competing products—in other words, the facts.

The thought is: people are rational and logical and will choose the item with the best specs and price. But there is a huge flaw in this thinking.

The truth is, we’re not logical at all. We make choices based on emotions. We buy products and services based on how we think they will make us feel. With this in mind, most marketers think people will be able to take the specs and features and make a connection in their heads to what the emotional impact of that product or service will be in their lives.

I hate to break it to you, but people don’t work like that. Remember this mantra: Facts tell, stories sell. This is the “feature/story gap”.

The Story Solution

So why do stories sell and how can you use them in your business?

Stories are so much more effective because they connect the dots between the features of a product and how it will positively affect your life. It completes the emotional connection by painting a compelling picture of how the product can directly impact you.

Apple’s impressive sales numbers are a direct result of their storytelling abilities. Think of Steve Jobs’ Keynote presentations. He would come out on stage and demonstrate their newest technology and product advances. But he wouldn’t just tell you what they are, or how they work, or compare them to the competition. He would demonstrate how it makes your life easier, better, and more enjoyable. It shows you how much better off you’ll be if you buy one.

It’s these stories that sell.

Using Stories in your Business

So, how do you use this technique in your business? There’s an easy way to craft these stories.

  1. Examine your product or service and write down the features or benefits.
  2. Next to each of the features and benefits, write down why a customer’s life would be better because of it.
  3. Then take each of those descriptions you just wrote and compare it to something they have an emotional connection to already.

Here are some examples:

People don’t buy interior decorating services because they want their house to look nicer. They want to create a living space that’s impressive. Tell them a story about how their house will make even Martha Stewart jealous.

People don’t just want the cheapest vehicle that can get them from A to B. They want cars that establish them as more successful and attractive than they are. Show them how you can improve their images.

People hire consultants not because they want extra knowledge. They hire a consultant because they want to look like a genius and the savior to their business. Paint them as a hero.

For further inspiration, check out this TED Talk with Simon Sinek, who distinguishes between what sets great leaders apart from the rest of us. Use these stories in your communications and marketing, close the “feature/story gap,” and you can watch your sales grow. If you have success with this, share your story in the comments!Marketing Zeus

Posted in: B2C, Branding, E-Commerce, Engage!

About the Writer:

Born in England and raised in the U.S., Charles Forster is the marketing director and partner at Vine & Grain, a company that creates management technologies for bars and restaurants. Prior to that position, he ran a graphic design company, Call Me Chaz, in Philadelphia, PA and Orlando, FL. He focused on branding, websites, print, video and marketing for small business clients up and down the east coast. He's a self-prescribed car nut and foodie. He's also the curator for This Is Visceral, a site devoted to poster art.

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