Every product, service and business has a story worth telling.
The trick is to discover what that story is and how best to relay it to consumers, says marketing whiz Terry O’Reilly.
The host of the popular CBC Radio One/Sirius Satellite radio show, The Age of Persuasion, was at the Prestige Hotel Friday morning to present The Power of Storytelling at a breakfast seminar hosted by the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.
“The thing about a great story is it makes you feel something. It’s aimed at your heart, not your head,” said O’Reilly, an award-winning copywriter and co-founder of Pirate Radio & Television.
“A great story lasts. It parks in the heart and they’ll carry it with them. It isn’t just a barrage of information.”
An avid advertising history buff, O’Reilly says some of the best marketing ideas were laid in the first half of the 20th century. Through his own experience, he realized early in his 30-year career that storytelling would become a powerful tool in his advertising arsenal.
“The times I would do it would be enormous successes, and the times I didn’t would be hit and miss,” he said.
“Every time I was able to find a great story I could express creatively, the return on that was always much bigger and much more consistent. Over time, I just started connecting the dots.”
One look at O’Reilly’s night stand confirms his quenchless thirst for knowledge. On his current reading list are: Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History by historian Bill Laws; a publication on great obituaries; a biography of the Smothers Brothers; and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ latest autobiographical offering, Life.
“I’m innately curious. I love to ask questions and I’m endlessly fascinated by the human condition,” said O’Reilly.
As he addressed the packed Prestige conference room, O’Reilly made sure to differentiate between products and benefits, and what they mean to consumers. He used an example of a tool shop selling 3/4-inch drill bits, facetiously suggesting they would be better off selling 3/4-inch holes.
“You have to turn features into benefits for the customers. They don’t buy your product, they buy the benefit,” he explained.
O’Reilly has a knack for delving into his potpourri of wisdom and taking two seemingly unrelated concepts and putting them in context. He cited Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species and put a marketing spin on it.
“Even the tiniest advantage in a plant or animal was conclusive enough for that animal to survive. So if you have a small benefit (in business), celebrate it. If you have a big benefit, hallelujah,” he grinned.
O’Reilly disagrees with the notion that consumers have shorter attention spans these days. He countered by saying it has more to do with the amount of information society is bombarded with on a daily basis.
He urges marketers and business owners to spend more time engaging clients and presenting a genuine story about their companies and services. He likened it to sitting through a two-hour movie in the theatre. If the movie is good, the time flies.
“If your story is good, they will listen,” said O’Reilly. “Every product and every service has a genuine story built into it. Stories can add value, value creates margin, and margin creates profit.”
To those just beginning to unearth their stories, O’Reilly offered: “One place to start is with your customers. Listen to your customers, ask them questions… ‘What brought you here, what have you heard about us, what do you like about us, what don’t you like about us?’
“Think about your own history. Why did your company start? What was the vision of the founder? What were some of the great things on the way? What’s unique about your product or service that you do a little bit different or better than my competitor?”