Storytelling By Email: 9 Best Practices

Storytelling By Email: 9 Best Practices

In the Brave New World, we’re all fighting for share of voice, as well as impact.  Email is no exception.

One way to cut through the clutter is to craft your email in to a short (very short!) story.

Storytelling became a hot concept in branding and marketing a decade ago.  Guess what.  It’s here to stay.  Because it works.

It’s the cornerstone of publishing, and it’s an essential part of TV programming.

Storytelling can make an online property go viral in minutes.

So why not “storytelling in selling”?  Why not in prospecting?

I know several salespeople who use storytelling in their approach emails, and they are getting good results.  I have started doing it, and I must report that I’m seeing an increase…

… in securing appointments and in turning follow-up phone calls from cold to warm.

Storytelling has been with us since the beginning of mankind.  In the Brave New information age, we have so much data, that “more information” can confuse us.  Stories, on the other hand, put things in context.  Great stories engage us quickly and keep us hanging to the end.  And therein lie some of my key points for storytelling in an email approach.

  1. Use a powerful title.  Don’t title your email “Product X” or “Solution Y.”  Instead, use some aspect of a problem that your product addresses; or link your solution to some greater good.  Don’t wait to be creative.  Be creative in the title, but be relevant.
  2. Keep it short.  Remember, you’re dealing with email here.  Don’t replicate “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”  In style, go for “The Old Man and the Sea.”  If you can end the email by the bottom of a normal computer screenview, with no attachments, you’ll increase your probability of being read immediately.
  3. Keep it simple.  Even beyond email: simplicity is catchy.  Within email, we’re all eager to click the “delete” icon, or “come back later” to things we never come back to.
  4. Get right to the plot.  Yes, that’s right, the plot.  El argumento.  It’s not a story if it doesn’t have a plot.  We salespeople don’t have the luxury of J.K. Rowling, with dedicated readers trusting us to commence the plot in the third chapter or so.  A plot requires a character and something to be achieved.  In email storytelling, you must set the scene and develop the plot simultaneously.
  5. Format concisely.  A good story with bad formatting is a killer.  One trick is to write in very short paragraphs, giving each paragraph a header like, “The User,” “The Gap,” “The Need,” “The Solution,” as simple (yes, simple) examples.
  6. Be careful with your intro.  You’ll be wasting space if you start with, “Dear Joe, Nice to see you yesterday. I’ve listened to your situation. This reminds me of a good story…”  Instead, consider putting that at the end, and getting right to, “Dear Joe, Darth Vader is at it again…”
  7. Tease me.  Please me.  Do you like the connotations of this point, you sexy devil?  Do you dislike the connotations of this point, you prude?  Either way, are you engaged?  Don’t feel you have to tell the whole story.  In fact, if the prospect/reader comes away from your snippet with, “I wonder how they do that?”, you’re in a good space.
  8. Align your story to the marketplace.  Even more important, align it to the specific target/prospect.  If it doesn’t align, choose another story.  Or choose another approach… one size does not fit all.
  9. Be human.  Now for the academia in one last point.  Sorry, but this really can put your story over the top.  Try to find the essence of the human condition.  No, don’t over-dramatize; after all, this is business.  But even business is human.  And so is your reader.  If you can tightly develop some aspect of human nature, you’ll have a huge advantage over a competitor who might be dumping a lot of data.

If the above were an email approach, it would be too long.  Keep it short and punchy, with a plot that compels your target, and you should get a better response.  You won’t do a complex deal with any approach email.  Your goal should be to pique curiosity and get a conversation going.  In essence, stories engage.

By the way, Luke Skywalker does overcome Darth Vader.  I knew you couldn’t wait for the ending.


Photo by Mike Baird