Getting to Better Selling Stories

We’re guessing that most of you have heard of Pixar? 

Either way, you will be familiar with their output - animated feature films.  They are the studio behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and many more.  Year in, year out, Pixar produce brilliantly entertaining and engaging films.

But did you realise that in each film, you are essentially watching the same story?

Each Pixar film is built around a core story structure.  This structure comprises seven sentences that starts with ‘Once upon a time’ and finishes with ‘Until Finally’.  The structure navigates the audience from first introduction of the film’s characters, through their subsequent adventure, to the film’s climax and “happy ever after” ending.

Since Pixar released their first film in 1995 they have grossed over $13bn in box office sales.  Off the back of one story…consistently told and retold very well.

So, why are we talking about this?  Well, in our industry, we have our own new releases every year - NPD.  It is around this time of year that we typically share this NPD with retailers, using what are commonly called ‘selling stories’. 

But are these stories clear and compelling enough?   We think not.  We think that too much attention is paid to the ‘selling’ and not enough attention is paid to the ‘story’.

Too often selling stories are overloaded with data – everything you need to know about the category, consumers, and the product.  Too often they spend lots of time setting out how brilliant the new product is.  Too often they lead with the bells and whistles – the funky location in which the meeting is held or the theatre of the big product reveal.

Bringing things to life is important, but only once you have a story to tell.  

To get to the sell, you need the story.  To get to the story you need a structure.  And at the heart of the structure is the selling story spine. 

Why do you need a Selling Story Spine?

A selling story spine is the framework you use to build your story.   It is a framework that your audience will never overtly see or notice – nobody walks out of a Pixar film saying “what a brilliant story spine”. 

It is made up of a few building blocks ordered in a way to maximise the flow of the story that you tell and the impact of the story the audience hear.

The Selling Story Spine should help you hit a sweet spot between your audience getting your story and getting excited about your story.

We think it helps in 3 key ways:

1. It makes it easier to write. It helps you get out of the blocks quickly – you know where to start.  It allows you to focus on the core narrative – the key things that you want to say.  It means you start with less not more.  It is a lot easier to add to the story rather than try to figure out which ten slides you need to cut.

2. It increases the chance that your audience gets it.  Because you deliver the key pieces of information in the order that your audience intuitively expects them.  This makes it easier to understand, easier to remember, easier to re-tell.  A simple story is one that the audience could re-tell a day later. 

3. It should help you deliver consistency.  It gives you an approach that you can use repeatedly and consistently across selling stories.  Not in a predictable way, but in a structured way.  Same Pixar structure, different story, every time.  This is important if you have a lot of stories to tell in a relatively short period of time.  It is important if different people are creating the stories.

What is a Selling Story Spine?
What makes a good Selling Story Spine?

A good Selling Story Spine is based around the following five principles:

1. Uses key ‘question prompts’ to frame the story. 

These prompts focus on the key information that your audience would expect to see and hear.  They are the questions your audience will or should be asking.  The answers to those questions form the basis of your story.  For instance, a question your audience will ask is how your NPD will challenge the current status quo and grow the category.  So, ask it for them.  Then answer it. 

So, think about the stories you share with your retailers.  Have you got the right balance between the ‘selling’ and the ‘story’?  Do you have a good Selling Story Spine that underpins your story?

Because if a simple story structure is good enough for Pixar - one of most commercially successful storytellers in the world - then it is probably good enough for the rest of us.

Jeremy Garlick

jeremy@insight-traction.com

07733 003100

Neil Munro

neil@insight-traction.com

07747 867645

Naomi Geffen

naomi@insight-traction.com

07968 840423

Ali Perkins

alison@insight-traction.com

07825 022998

If you recognise some of the things we’ve said or if you’d like to know more about our Selling Story work, we’d love to talk to you. Drop us an email or give us a call:

2. Orders these ‘question prompts’ to optimise the storytelling.

The order in which you share things is important.  The best order is the simplest and most intuitive order.  This means that your story should flow so clearly and predictably that the audience intuitively know what comes next.  You’re not going to ‘reveal’ the NPD before you’ve mentioned the burning platform, right?  

3. Applies a ‘one-sentence answer’ rule. 

This forces the storyteller to get to the nub of what they are trying to communicate.  To answer question prompts as tightly as they can.  A compelling story is as much about what you don’t say as what you do. These one-sentence answers can then be stitched together to form a ‘story in a nutshell’ that can be road tested with a colleague. 

4. Leads with the story, supports with data. 

If you lead with data you may never get to the story.  So, lead with the story.  The headlines that you want to share.  Then you can back those headlines with data.  A good selling story has data, but its role is to validate, not dominate.

5. Insists on simple language. 

This is key to creating a story that is easy to understand, easy to remember and easy to tell.  Never use jargon when you could use everyday language.  Never use long words when you can use short words.  Long words are clever.  Short words are smart. Would your mum understand it if you told it to her?

© 2020 by Insight Traction