A common theme derived from sessions at the NAMM Show that I attended, or participated in, was building customer engagement. After taking time to let this sink in, it occurred to me that there are two sides to doing this. First, it’s crucial to the livelihood of a store to build its customer base continuously. With all the tools available to retailers today (many of them free), there has never been a better time to reach prospective and current customers, and to do so easier, faster and more effectively than ever. Second, it takes a focused and dedicated staff to remain committed to identifying and performing the activities required to build successful customer engagement.

An effective way to build engagement is to tell a better story. Well before computers, generations of people found creative ways to communicate meaning to one another, in an attempt to bring understanding to a complicated human experience. We painted on cave walls, carved pictures on trees, outlined images using rocks, sang songs, danced and told stories. The best were remembered and passed down through generations.

Storytelling is a cornerstone of human existence, and it’s what enables successful people to communicate and connect with anyone. Whether your goal is to build up your store’s social presence, increase sales or simply make friends, the people who are best at it tell stories that make you sit up, pay attention and understand. They know how to get their messages listened to and remembered.

Good stories, and the people behind them, sell. Stories move your customer, create loyal followers and compel your audience members to pledge their allegiance.

What exactly makes a great storyteller? Here are five tips to get your stories headed in the right direction:

1. Create a Story to Which People Can Relate

Make it a point to look at the “About Us” pages on the Web sites that you visit. Most likely, you’ll find some filled with useless details that’ll make you want to move on. Occasionally, you’ll find pages so engaging that they’ll make you want to stay. Chances are, they were written with “streamlined relatability” in mind. This is the process of getting to the point while touching on human nature.

2. Follow a Proven Structure

Stories have a profound effect on our brains and our behavior. They are ingrained in our subconscious. When we were toddlers, it was all about, “I’m hungry” and “Tell me a story.” If your story does not have a clearly defined beginning, middle and end, it will not engage people’s attention. In fact, most people will simply ignore such a story. Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds but, in so doing, they change the way our brains work and, potentially, our brain chemistry. That’s what makes us social creatures.

3. Appeal to Both Logic and Emotion by Combining Facts with Narrative

If you combine compelling facts with attractive stories, you have a winning recipe for increasing sales. Professor Michael Gazzaniga, Director for the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has performed years of research that proves stories in presentations help sync the left and right hemispheres of our brain.

Use metaphors to paint word pictures of what you are trying to convey to your customers. Two examples are “The singer had a velvet voice” and “The bassist had leathery hands.” These affect your sensory cortex. Research also shows that references to movement initiate activity in your motor cortex. An example would be saying, “The drummer’s hands moved so fast, I could barely see them.”

4. Always Keep It Relevant

There’s a flip side to the above that illustrates a hard truth in sales. “It’s not just storytelling; it’s relevance,” said Sam Richter, Founder and CEO of SBR Worldwide/Know More! and the Social Selling Institute, based in Minneapolis MN. “You have to understand what the other person is doing, and you really have to do your homework. If someone told me a story and it had nothing to do with what I care about, it would be a waste of time. But, if it’s a shared connection or something I’m looking to achieve with my company, then that’s the key to it.”

5. Areas to Improve your Storytelling

You can have an immediate and positive effect in several areas by incorporating stories.

  • Sales Demonstrations: Make your demos more engaging by incorporating stories about satisfied customers, successful students, local performers and others who have benefited from the product and by doing business with your store.
  • Materials in your Store: Take a close look at the flyers, brochures and signage in your store. Are they worded in a way that engages your customers and that creates interest?
  • Web Site: Rewrite your “About Us” page. Be succinct and incorporate real narratives into your stories. Accomplished something unimaginable? Overcame an impossible hardship? Overjoyed to find your musical passion? These are evergreen ideas and emotions that’ll always resonate and engage your readers.
  • Elaborate on your Event Descriptions: Study the verbiage used when listing your upcoming events, such as clinics, in-store group lessons, concerts that you sponsor, recitals, etc. Ask questions within the copy and try to elicit responses. For example, within the copy of a guitar clinic ad, you could ask, “What was your first guitar?” and allow people to comment within the same page.
  • Use More Videos: It seemed that every session I attended at the NAMM Show made reference to this topic. Stores should use more videos to tell their story. We are in the music products business, and our livelihood relies on creating more music makers. Why not use videos to show excited students, happy parents and encouraging teachers and, thus, validate your mission?

Please understand that I’m not implying that you spend your day telling grandiose stories to your customers and, thereby, wasting valuable time. Rather, I’m suggesting that there might be a more effective way to move people through the selling process by telling a better story: a story about who you are, what you do, how you do it and why a customer should trust you with his or her hard-earned money.

Whether big or small, whether long or short, telling a better story will contribute to the success of every aspect of your business, and it’ll help you stand out from the competition. Today, many customers are looking beyond who has the lowest price and they’re looking for a tiebreaker. In other words, they want a compelling reason to choose your store. Break the tie by telling better stories!

David Hall is Retail Sales Manager and Webmaster for Hartland Music, Inc., and the Waukesha County Conservatory of Music, a full-line, 15,000-square-foot, freestanding facility with more than 2,500 students per week. Contact him at

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