The business world is a world of numbers, graphs, and charts. You can hardly succeed in any business environment if you don’t know how to design PowerPoint slides and create graphs and charts.
There is a heavy focus on data and statistics. While there is nothing wrong with numbers, graphs, and charts; they are neither concrete nor memorable. You know how many times you have struggled to stay awake in one of those presentations.
In the finance world, numbers, graphs, and charts are even more central. You probably believe that once you can show how the numbers work, the job is done. Many financial advisors rely on the power of the numbers to gain more clients and grow their business.
However, in today’s business climate, consumers demand more than being shown the numbers and hard facts. They want a brand that understands them, empathizes with them, engages them, and connects with them at a deeper level.
Consumers want to be partners rather than mere names in a CRM software.
How do you navigate this current climate? How do you connect deeply with consumers, engage them, and show understanding and empathy?
The solution is something that is common in human experience but often neglected within the business environment.
Why stories work
Most of the ideas that have stuck with us from childhood came in the form of stories. Whether those stories came through novels, advertisements, or other forms of art, we still remember them.
Why? Because stories are memorable.
You might not remember some of the things you learned from high school, but you remember some exciting stories you heard even as a child.
Stories are memorable because they are concrete. Concrete ideas stick. The more we can visualize and imagine it, the more memorable it is. Stories, written or visual, captivate us as we imagine and visualize them.
Visualizations and imagination are not even the most powerful features of stories. Stories draw us in. They invite us to see ourselves in the characters, our lives in the plot. We choose favorite characters, and as the story progresses, we even change them.
We quickly forget abstract ideas and concepts. You can remember without much thought some presentations you attended where you could not repeat the main ideas just a few hours later. Perhaps you attended lectures where you performed woefully when the instructor gave a test immediately after.
You are not alone. Abstract ideas and concepts don’t stick.
Stories lead us to make important life decisions. We don’t just remember stories; we act on them. They change our view of the world and ‘force’ us to think differently or reorder our priorities.
Emotion is the greatest driver of consumer decisions, and nothing gets us more emotional than a good story.
Below is an excerpt from an article by Charlie Claxton that exemplifies the power of storytelling:
The University of Pennsylvania wanted to find the best way to raise money for Save the Children. They created two versions of a marketing leaflet. One featured statistics about the problems children face in Africa; the second featured the same statistics, but also told the story of Rokia, a 7-year old girl from Mali struggling against severe poverty.
The university gave participants in the study $5 to read the leaflets. After this, the researchers asked if the participants wanted to donate to Save the Children. Participants who had read the story gave almost twice as much money as those who’d only read the statistics—$2.38 vs. $1.43.”
As important as numbers, graphs, and charts are in the business world, storytelling must take the central stage in marketing, advertising, public relations, and branding. Here are domains where our favorite number-crunching must submit to a higher Lord.
Your consumers love stories. Your consumers remember stories. Your consumers act on stories that connect with them.
How can financial advisors connect deeply with consumers, engage them, and show understanding and empathy? Storytelling.
So how can your financial advisory benefit from storytelling?
You can do this in two broad ways – by telling specific stories and using storytelling as a content strategy.
Four stories every financial advisor should tell
In a world where there are countless financial advisors, why does your financial advisory business exists?
To tell a good story that connects with your potential customers, you must move beyond the what (your financial advisory services) to the why (why your business exists).
Behind every business is a person or a group of persons with a passion. The passion is more often than not a product of certain events, circumstances, and interactions.
Did you start your financial advisory business because you were concerned about how many people could not survive the economic depression in 2008/2009? Was it the short term approach to investing that lead many people to lose their hard-earned money?
Perhaps you began to nurture the idea when you saw a friend’s parent struggle to live a good life in retirement. Maybe yours was the billions of dollars left to probate because people did not plan for their estate.
Take the time to craft your passion story in a way that will connect with your target audience.
If you do this well, you will make your target audience develop a personal connection with your business. Understanding the passion story behind your brand creates an emotional attachment that goes beyond what you do. Remember, the why trumps the what.
Most people want to be part of a cause; they don’t want to live an ordinary life. When you create an emotional attachment with your passion story, they incorporate your story as theirs.
They also see you as an authentic brand, beyond the numbers, graphs, and charts. As you know, authenticity is a big thing in today’s business world.
Once you have created your passion story, distribute it everywhere. Let it be on the ‘About us’ section of your website and your social media profiles. Use it in your press releases and newsletters. Tell it at networking events. Let everyone in sales, marketing, and PR make that story theirs.
Action point: Create a story around why you started your financial advisory business (the passion) and distribute it.
Your passion story is the foundation for your business story. While the passion story focuses on the why, the business story also includes the what and the how.
A good business story will answer questions like: why do you do what you do (passion), what are you doing (goals, mission, and vision), and how do you do what you are doing (products/services, processes/systems, core values).
For example, suppose you started your business because of the number of people who retire without enough money. In that case, your business story might follow this line: we help as many people as possible to retire well (goal) with a sound retirement plan (service).
Your passion story will inform your goals, which will, in turn, inform your mission and vision, your products/services, processes/systems, and core values. A business story helps you put your organization’s goals, mission, and vision in concrete terms that people can connect with.
If you can’t explain what you do to a non-technical audience, there is a problem.
Another critical point is that your goal/mission/vision should not be generic (we help you improve your financial life is dumb). It must flow from your passion story. You can’t copy and refine another advisor’s goal/mission/vision because their passion might not be your passion.
Your business story need not appeal to everyone. The whole world is not your audience. Make your business story appealing to your target audience rather than a generic audience.
You will tell your business story in various contexts, including your 10-second and 30-second elevator pitches and your “About Us” page.
Like your passion story, everyone in marketing, sales, and PR should have a good grasp of your business story.
Action point: Take your passion story and use it to develop your business story by answering the what and the how.
Since passions differ, products will vary. While there are general financial acceptable practices that every financial advisor imbibe, a financial plan from Advisor A will differ from B.
There will be similarities, but they won’t be identical.
Your product story covers how you came about the particular product/service you are selling. How did you come about the financial plan you implement for your clients?
For example, Dave Ramsey, a financial expert and author, came up with a program called “The Total Money Makeover.” A product story for Ramsey will cover the experiences, events, ideas, and circumstances that led to that program.
As a financial advisor, you should name your programs or plans. It’s hard to tell the story of a product that is not identifiable or distinguishable.
Your product story is similar to your passion story. The difference is that the latter focuses on the passion behind the business. In contrast, the latter narrows the focus to the passion behind the products the business uses to achieve its goals (which flows from the passion behind the business).
Telling your product’s story is an excellent way to connect emotionally with your customers. Purchase is a social expression as much as an economic transaction. When consumers connect with the story behind a product, they easily become loyal customers, providing you with brand equity.
Let your target audience peep behind the scene to appreciate the story behind your financial plans and programs. If you do it well, the story becomes their stories, and they move from customers to brand advocates.
Action point: Create your product story and share it on your website and social media, in newsletters and press releases, and at networking and marketing events.
Even when a potential customer loves your product, objections still persist. Will it work? Is it durable? Will it write a check it cannot cash? Will I get value for money?
Those questions persist and how (if) you answer them will affect your conversion rate.
A good way to overcome the objections of potential customers is to tell the stories of current customers.
But customer story does more than overcome objections. A good customer story can be a direct customer acquisition tool – no funnel, no lead nurturing. When your target audience sees the story of someone like them who have had a good experience, they want to deal.
You can tell your customer stories via testimonials on your website, case studies on your blog or as a downloadable lead magnet, videos on your YouTube channel, and snippets on social media.
Good customer stories can be the tipping point to turn doubters into customers, visitors, and leads to customers.
Customer stories can also help your customer retention efforts. By sharing their stories, customers feel valuable –part and parcel of your brand. It increases their sense of belonging and loyalty.
Your customer story should explain how your product/services, processes/systems, core values have led to the achievement of your goal in a particular customer’s experience.
For example, if your goal is to help people retire well, your customer story will highlight how your “it’s never too late to retire” plan led Mrs. Agnes to retire even though she started saving for retirement at 45.
Similarly, a customer story can be about your business as a whole (processes/systems, core values) rather than a particular product. A customer story might center on your customer service, trustworthiness, readiness to help, and things of that nature.
Action point: Take a sample of your customers and create stories about their experiences (general and particular) in a written and visual format.
Storytelling as a content strategy
However, storytelling goes beyond these four important stories. Storytelling is not what you do once and for all.
Successful financial advisors must use storytelling as a content strategy – creating content with a storytelling mindset.
Instead of having some static pages that tell your passion, business, product, and customer story, storytelling becomes an integral strategy behind your content creation.
How does this work?
Elements of a good story
To better understand how it works, consider the elements of a good story:
- Characters: Every story has characters. Generally, there are two kinds of characters: the protagonist (the main character pursuing some ends) and the antagonist (s) who opposes him/her.
- Conflict: A conflict arises when anything stands between the main character and his or her goals. A conflict can be internal – within the character himself- or external – another character, nature, society, technology, etc.
- Resolution: A resolution is how things eventually play out. In most cases, a resolution is how the main character overcomes the obstacle (conflict) and achieves his or her goals.
The Hero’s journey
In addition to this basic structure of a good story is a plot structure known as the hero journey.
According to Reedsy Blog:
“The Hero’s Journey is a classic story structure that’s shared by stories worldwide. Coined by academic Joseph Campbell in 1949, it refers to a wide-ranging category of tales in which a character ventures out to get what they need, faces conflict, and ultimately triumphs over adversity.”
The Hero’s journey is the plot of Star Wars and The Lion King.
There are also three essential elements to the Hero’s Journey:
- The departure act: The protagonist/hero leaves the ordinary world
- The initiation act: The protagonist/hero enters an unknown world and triumphs through trials and challenges
- The return act: The protagonist/hero returns home in triumph.
Brand-led, customer-centered storytelling
Your customer is the protagonist, cum hero. He is pursuing a goal that will change his life and make him happy.
However, there are obstacles on the way; he is facing challenges that prevent him from getting to that zenith. He has tried many things that didn’t work.
He needs information, a product, an inspiration, or a service to reach that goal and the happy life it brings.
Storytelling as a content strategy puts your business in the plot. Your business provides the information, product, inspiration, service that helps the hero overcome the trials and challenges, accomplish his goal, and achieve the happy life.
The customer is the hero, your brand, the guide. The customer is at the center of the story – his challenges, pain, struggles, and goals. But your brand is the one leading the customer to triumph (in other words, providing the resolution).
Using storytelling as a content strategy begins with a good understanding of your customers’ goals, challenges, trials, and pain points.
Next, you need to identify how your brand (through a product/service, process, or core value) solves the challenge, trial, or pain point and leads the customer to triumph.
Furthermore, you need to understand what triumph looks like for that customer – the happily ever after.
Once you have these three components, you can then create a story.
The story can follow this direction:
The life the customer wants (a) – the challenges, trials, and difficulties preventing him from enjoying that life (b) – your product as the solution to those challenges, trials, and difficulties (c) – the customer enjoying the life (d).
Creating content around this plot is a great way to connect deeply with your customers, engage them, and show understanding and empathy for them.
They see themselves in the story, and they can easily visualize how your product or service helps them. Moreover, they are the hero of the story. Who does not want to be the hero?
Storytelling can turn every content you create into a customer generation machine.
Let’s continue with the example of a company whose goal is to help people retire well.
What are the things that constitute challenges, trials, and difficulties for these heroes? No financial plan. Debt. Poor saving habits. Procrastination.
Let’s take the second one – debt. A financial advisor can create a story using the plot above.
- Retiring at 65 with enough cash to meet your expenses and live the life of your dream
- Too much debt and an addiction to credit cards make it impossible for you to retire at 65 or live that life of your dream. At this rate, you might have to work forever. You have tried other solutions to no avail.
- Here is how this program called ‘Freedom from Debt and Credit Card Addiction’ will help you clear your debt and overcome your credit card addiction.
- After following this program, you will be on course to retiring at 65 with enough cash to meet your expenses and live the life of your dream.
The program does not need to be a paid one. Remember, this is just one of the obstacles. By providing this program (above) for free (in the article itself or through a downloadable resource), you provide value and build a relationship.
Furthermore, you are creating a deep connection with your target audience. Now they know and trust you. By using the storytelling concept, you are paving the way for more customers.
At (c), you can use customer stories to show how other heroes have successfully used the ‘Freedom from Debt and Credit Card Addiction.’
This article’s title can be ‘a simple way to save yourself from debt and retire well.’
Stories are powerful. Because they are concrete and powerful, they compel us to act. As we see ourselves in the characters, world, and plot, they change our minds and influence our decisions.
Storytelling can help you gain more customers and improve your business. You can do this by creating your passion, business, product, and customer story.
You can also use storytelling as a content strategy by using the basic elements of a story and the hero’s journey to create customer-centered and brand-led plots. Through those plots, you can create content that will resonate with your customers and build connections that lead to more customers.
In the next article, we will see live examples of how financial advisors can gain more clients with storytelling.
Subscribe to my mailing list and stay tuned.
If you need help with your content marketing, feel free to contact me.