This spring, something interesting happened. Millions of people who would not otherwise care who won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award flocked to YouTube to listen to 26+ minutes of an off-the-cuff speech given by winner Kevin Durant. Buzz surrounded Durant’s speech not because of who he is (a pretty amazing basketball player) but because of what he said. In his speech, Durant broke down, celebrated his hardships, shared his win with his teammates, and gave praise to his family. In short, he showed us he was as human as everyone else.
In his speech, Durant thanked his mother for his childhood. “When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate,” he said. “You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.” Not a dry eye in the house after that line.
Regardless of if you know or care about Durant, his team, or the NBA, if you watched his speech, you couldn’t turn away. Aside from causing a few tears and reminding us what really matters in life, Durant unexpectedly gave a lesson in marketing. Here’s why: a good story can sell anything.
Make a Connection with Your Words
I don’t mean to suggest that Durant’s speech was a marketing ploy. Far from it. But it’s a great example of how marketers can engage with their target audiences. It’s not about facts and data. It’s through a well-crafted story packed with emotions, personal feelings, and experiences that we’re able to make a point.
How Do You Choose the Right Story to Tell?
A good writer does not necessarily make a good marketer. The greatest story on earth might not make a good marketing strategy. That’s because behind every story in marketing is legwork, research, and skills demonstrated by savvy marketers. Here’s what I mean.
1. Know your audience. Marketers know this is Square One. You really have to know your audience. But this doesn’t just mean on-paper demographics (you know, aged 20-35, income of between $XXXX and $YYYY, subscribes to So and So Magazine). It means really getting to know your target audience. That requires you to discover how your current customers found you and why they buy from you. What is it about you that made them say “yes”?
2. Establish your emotional drivers. Emotional drivers aren’t those road-raging folks you see on your way to work. Emotional drivers are key factors that encourage your prospects to convert into customers.
3. Be authentic. Any parent will tell you that kids can smell lies from a mile away. So can consumers. Durant’s MVP speech meant something to everyone who watched it because it was authentic (in fact, he later admitted he had intended on saying a quick “thank you” and leaving the stage). There were no cue cards, no teleprompter. Just Durant, his emotions, and the moment. For marketers, this means not forcing the story. Just because you can create something doesn’t mean you should. Make sure the story rings true. Your audience will know if it’s just marketing hype.
4. Bail on stale. Stale words have no place in your storytelling. Be vivid. Be specific. It’s hard for anyone to really connect to the idea of a desk. But what if you talked about the steam coming off the hot cup of coffee you just placed next to your keyboard? People relate to that. We all know desks exist. We just don’t pay them much mind. Get us to notice the desk in other, more personal ways.
5. Use your senses. Remember that cup of coffee I just talked about? Chances are that you can imagine the warmth of a past coffee cup. You can smell it, almost taste it. A cup of coffee engages our senses far better than a simple desk. In regard to Durant’s speech, a simple “thank you” is nice, though it means little to us. But telling us how one of his teammates left an encouraging note in his locker after a team losing streak . . . well, we see—and sense—that much better, and thus we better understand where Durant is coming from.
6. Add some credibility. Facts and figures don’t connect an audience to your product or service, but they do lend some credibility. People believe in data. If you’re able to tell a compelling story and support it with facts and figures, you’ve just won over both the hearts and minds of your audience.
7. Don’t tell the whole story. Think of your marketing story as a movie trailer. Would you go see a movie if the trailer spoiled the ending or gave away major plot points? Probably not. The whole point of your marketing efforts is to get your audience to buy into your company. Use your story as an introductory tease—a trailer—that gets customers into the theater, buying oversized bags of popcorn and waiting with bated breath for the rest of the show.
Even in the day of 140 characters or fewer, you still can tell a compelling story that gets your audience to buy into your message. In fact, social and digital media introduce new and exciting ways to tell a story that sells your brand. In the end, if you successfully stimulate the minds and emotions of your prospects, you’ll be rewarded with a more engaged audience. Oh, and for folks who haven’t yet watched the Durant speech, I encourage you to do so . . . with a Kleenex or two nearby.