Marketing Strategies

Tell a story, keep a client

Storytelling can be an effective tool to establish trust and credibility

Feb 21, 2010 @ 12:01 am

By Libby Dubick

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If you would like to use an effective communications technique to win over prospects, retain your best clients and inspire trust, tell a story.

Storytelling works well because humans seem to have an innate desire to understand experiences as a sequence of events with a beginning, middle and end. Even if we aren't natural storytellers ourselves, we all love good stories and want to hear them.

So how can storytelling work for advisers? Well, let me tell you how by means of a story.

T. Rowe Price Group Inc. recently decided to tell financial advisers about its research process. Rather than creating a traditional advertising campaign, the company hired Think Again Media, a filmmaking company specializing in corporate storytelling, to tell advisers about the firm's research process in a new and different way.

The company produced a film in which the fund's researchers told behind-the-scenes stories of their work. In this way, advisers got an in-depth explanation of what analysts actually do, from the analysts themselves, and how fundamental and quantitative research is conducted at T. Rowe Price.

“We wanted to move past the abstract concept of research and break it down into an engaging story,” said Josh Johns, Think Again's chief creative officer. “And in telling the story, [the analysts'] expertise in their industry sectors, commitment to collaboration and passion for their business came through.”

Judge for yourself at troweprice .com/behindthenumbers/.

For advisers, sharing a personal story demonstrates who you are and what you believe in.

For example, if you are dealing with a client caring for an aging parent, instead of merely saying that you understand the importance of family, you could tell a story about your father coming to live with you. Your story would be more effective for several reasons: It is concrete, memorable, and more likely to spur the client to tell his or her own story. Over time, the sharing of stories inspires trust and confidence.

Your stories may be about experiences in your personal or professional life. You may want to share what inspired you to become a financial adviser, or your most memorable mentors or clients. It could be about what happened on your best, or worst, day on the job.

Most of the time, your stories are likely to be about a success, though nothing can be more humanizing, or more memorable, than a story about failure in which a valuable life lesson is learned. The pattern of a story is usually the same — the situation being faced, the obstacle to be overcome, the resolution (the beginning, middle and end).

Some people, of course, are natural storytellers. For those of us who aren't so fortunate, here are a few guidelines:

Start with the truth. Not only is truth stranger that fiction, it's more credible. Your story must be authentic and tell the listener something about you they did not know before.

Reduce your story to its bare bones. Storytelling isn't a license to bore a client or prospect into submission. Be a judicious editor of your own experience and keep your story centered on the facts essential for the listener to understand what happened.

Add details, sparingly. Setting the place or time in which your story happens can add color and make a story more memorable. But don't overwhelm the listener — you want them to stay focused.

Consider where repetition or pausing may help. Repetition involves the listener and helps them follow the story. Pauses add drama and emphasis.

Practice. Tell the story into a tape recorder or to your family. Did they understand it and get the point? If not, go back to your story line and revise as needed.

Being a storyteller can also help you be more effective in presenting potential products and services. A client is likely to be more interested in a mutual fund after hearing an interesting story about one of the portfolio holdings, rather than a recitation of the fund's numbers. It is always easier to remember a story than a statistic.

Finally, storytelling works as well in print as it does in person, making it a natural tool for your website and newsletter. Whether it is a story about yourself in the “About Us” section of your website or an explanation of how ETFs work in your latest newsletter, think about how the listener might absorb the story and pass it along to someone else.

Keep your stories brief, reinforce their key points and remember to limit those points to three, which is the optimal number for retention.

Add storytelling to your skill set, and the next time someone says, “Tell me about yourself,” or, “What's interesting in the market these days?” you will have a memorable reply.

Libby Dubick is president of Dubick & Associates Ltd., a marketing consultancy for advisers and financial services firms. She can be reached at

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