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Do people need stories anymore?

David Hayden Photography

Stories. What’s yours? How can we tell it to boost your business?

What do small children, infomercials, great movies, and National Geographic all have in common?


Ask a child, “what happened? You spilled your milk.” You get a story. We are wired up to create them and we are wired up to listen to them.

Other than that, did you enjoy the play Mrs. Lincoln?

Facts fill our brains, anecdotes change beliefs, motivate us, stick with us. Did you know, even in today’s wild environment, the chances of getting shot in a theater is about 1 in 10,000,000. However, if you spent an afternoon with Mary Todd Lincoln on April 15, 1865, her comments would be far more persuasive and compelling than any statistical facts.

An over generalized marketing principle

As businesspeople, we learn we have but a few seconds to get a potential customer’s attention, and that people have short attention spans. The goal is to get in, get out, make the sale and get to work.

I am of the mind this is only partially true. Yes, we absolutely need strong headlines and compelling imagery to get the attention of our market. And Yes, we need to give enough information to quickly answer four questions lurking in our customer’s mind: (Thank you Mark Joyner for this insight. 1)

· What are you selling here?

· What’s the cost / How Much?

· Why in the hell should I believe you?

· What’s in it for me?

Seems like a great plan, how is it over generalized?

I’ve no doubt that if you or I have a market hungry for what we offer, with a high ROI offer we would be off to the races. Imagine small business needing compelling photography and I offer the following:

“Compelling images delivered in 1 week guaranteed to boost your sales in 30 days or less!”

Do you think that would be a powerful offer?

Here is the rub. For any photographer, copyrighter, designer, or agency to really help your business, we need to be able to tell a story that resonates with your customers’ unspoken desires. To do that, we need to know the hunger that drives your market. Only then can we use our creative talents to best serve you.

Enter Robert Collier

A true master at reaching markets and driving sales was Robert Collier. He was a famous marketing genius who lived from 1885 to 1950 and is considered one of the fathers of direct mail marketing. (If you grew up with the Encyclopedia Brittanica, it might be because of Robert Collier’s direct mail campaign.)

One of his specialties was creating desire in the mind of his readers. He did this by understanding basic human psychology, the often-unconscious drivers that motivate people to do the things they do. He would weave human experience into his marketing letters with simple language and stories. Collier was a master at painting word pictures. Take for example his description of the Harvard Classics.

[Think of it! The world’s civilization on a bookshelf! All that mankind has done, thought, gained or been - - within the compass of a five-foot shelf of books! Can you afford not to look at it?] -Robert Collier 2

What you need to do to promote your business.

Before you type your next advertisement, take a food or product photograph, or hire an expert, you need to find the story that speaks to the heart of your customers’ ultimate desires. People don’t go to nice restaurants, stores, or coffee shops to satisfy obvious basic needs. There is something deeper. Maybe it’s a need to reward themselves, to feel special, to fit in, to impress others, to save time.

First, take time to learn, and speak to, the underlying needs of people, then create your images, designs and text in ways that tell stories that bring those desires to life.

Storytelling is a powerful way for us to connect with people on an emotional level. We can use it to inform, persuade, and inspire. In the world of photography, well-conceived and executed images tell stories that resonate with the viewer on a deeper level.


1 Joyner, M. (2005). The irresistible offer: How to sell your product or service in 3 seconds or less. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN: 0-47173894-8

2 Collier, R. (1937). The Robert Collier Letter Book. New York: Prentice-Hall. ISBN: 0-912576-20-0.

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