According to Lisa Johnson, author of the e-book Story Juicing, “being influential is about connecting emotionally with your audience and bringing your ideas to life.” Problem is we’re unimpassioned CPAs with no emotions for audiences to connect with. We tend to barf data into our customers’ laps and hope they’ll be moved by our data puke.
That’s why we need to incorporate simple yet effective story elements into our presentations.
Dramatic change of circumstance
Powerful, influential stories illustrate a vivid before and after. That’s why Divine Design, Pimp My Ride, and p90x infomercials are so powerful and influential. In p90x infomercials, bodies go from “please cover that” to McConaughey. On Divine Design, living rooms go from how yours looks right now to how Martha Stewart’s looks when she’s under house arrest. On Pimp My Ride, Honda Civics go from Honda Civics to Honda Civics with a Best Buy crammed into the glove box.
And at your firm, customers go from not having a tax return completed to having a tax return completed. Epic story fail.
Our stories pretty much suck. There’s a reason there are no reality shows about CPA firms. It’s mostly insurmountable privacy issues. But the lack of dramatic changes for the rank-and-file customers is also a big part of it.
You need to tell a new story, the story of how your firm transforms its customers.
Hopes and Dreams
Good stories begin by highlighting the unfulfilled desires of the story’s hero. Powerful, influential stories highlight unfulfilled desires that are shared by the hero and the audience.
The summer blockbuster Man of Steel is powerful because we hope that there’s something about us that is both innate and amazing, an effortless excellence that makes sense of the ways that we’ve been marginalized throughout our lives; something that is just waiting for the right time to reveal itself. We all want it. We all feel that. Watching it unfold for Clark Kent is moving.
In contrast, Dora’s El Dia de las Madres is not so powerful because few people have the unfulfilled desire to make a Mothers’ Day cake with a monkey.
You need to tell a new story, one that taps into your customers’ unfulfilled desires.
Focus on an Individual
Powerful, influential stories are “told from the vantage point of one hero who acts as the surrogate for the audience.”
Consider the following. In 2011, the FBI reported 1,572 hate crime victims targeted based on a sexual orientation bias, making up 20.4% of the total hate crimes for that year. That information makes me sad and angry. But when I stop to think about why, it’s because my brain structured a story about an a–hole beating somebody up for being different and multiplied that by 1,572. We have to disaggregate data for it to have a visceral effect.
But I recently heard that Bruce Lee used to pretend to be gay, hoping that a–holes would start fights with him. But since he was Bruce Effing Lee, he would send them to the hospital, bringing down justice upon the a–holes and heaping extra humiliation upon them. I don’t even know if that story’s true, but it makes me want to go to a redneck bar and make out with a dude.
Stories about individuals are powerful, but we tend to shy away from telling them. We report to potential customers that 87 percent of the clients who use our outsourced CFO services benefit from a 371 percent increase of free cash flow, no one cares because they stopped listening.
Instead tell them about a customer who was frustrated and confused because he saw that he was profitable every quarter on his income statement, but he was bouncing payroll checks to his employees. Now that he’s using your outsourced CFO services, he’s not bouncing checks, and he even has enough cash and confidence to pay himself a bonus every quarter to take his family on much needed vacations. Now people are listening.
In conclusion, 36.1 percent of firms that include storytelling in their marketing campaigns see a 45.8 percent increase in marketing efficiency based on the ratio of new customers to dollars spent on marketing. Epic conclusion fail.
Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Provo, Utah, with his wife and two kids. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.