Regardless of your religious beliefs – or even your lack thereof – stories shaped who you are today.
Perhaps you learned Bible stories from your grandmother’s knee. Devoured Greek mythology. Read stories about Muhammad retreating to a cave in the mountains for reflection outside Mecca, or about Buddha sitting under the lotus tree seeking enlightenment.
The purpose of this post isn’t to argue which of these might be the true path to God or to present a case for why you should adopt my faith. There are plenty of other references for that.
Religions are inherently well marketed concepts
My point is that stories are a powerful force for communicating. Without stories, these religions would not have been passed down from one generation to another over the centuries. In fact, in the case of Greek and Roman mythology and other ancient religions, the stories have far outlived the active practice of the religion.
It’s because stories transcend the three-dimensional plane. They allow us to “see” things that are intangible and talk about things that are indescribable. Consider perhaps the master storyteller of them all, Jesus. He used parables – stories – to make his points. Simple, everyday stories, but they were about concrete things and people.
The world’s great storyteller
Who hasn’t heard the story about The Prodigal Son and felt themselves, at one time or another, in each of those three roles – those of the wayward son, the loyal son and the parent? What an incredible example he used to teach about greed, jealousy, forgiveness and family strife!
And then there’s the one about The Good Samaritan, the “outcast” who was the only person to come to the rescue of an injured traveler along the road. Another powerful lesson in showing kindness, extending ourselves in the face of possible rejection, loving our enemies, knowing who our friends really are and a host of other lessons in this muti-faceted story.
I seriously doubt that Jesus, the Jewish upstart with no pedigree, would have caught on if he hadn’t been so adept at storytelling. Then, of course, there’s his own story – full of pathos and drama – that is still told around the world today, more than 2,000 years later.
The power of storytelling
OK, so what am I getting at here?
You’ve got to embrace your story to be effective. It doesn’t matter if you’re marketing religion, your parental authority or ball bearings. The power is in the story.
People care about people. They don’t care about corporations, businesses, institutions, buildings, IT systems, delivery trucks or anything else you’ve got – except for how all of those things fit into your story.
I don’t believe your yada yada yada.
And it better be consistent. By consistent, I mean true. Don’t say stuff like, “our people make us different,” or “our customer service is #1.” It’s all B.S. I don’t believe it. Forget the trite ad lines.
Tell me a story. About you. How you got up before dawn as a teenager to deliver papers to help support a single-mom head-of-household. How you figured out a way to cut that delivery time in half by riding through yards on your dirt bike, and how you apply that same idea to getting your office supplies to your customers two days before anyone else can do it.
Or tell me about an employee, by name, who has lost both breasts to cancer, and who has inspired your company to form nine teams in the cancer walkathon and raise $50,000 in her honor.
These stories show me that your people are different, that your customer service is tops. Don’t tell me anything. Show me!
That’s what stories do. They show. Jesus showed, he didn’t tell.
So go read a Bible and learn a little bit about marketing. Or, maybe you can find some good stories in the Qur’an.
Photo: from hotzeplotz