You Want Me to Listen to Your Idea? Tell Me a Story

“Keep the Change.” This was the tag line of Bank of America’s 2005 initiative to get their clients to save more. Here’s the story behind the phrase:

Bank of America approached IDEO, a global design consultancy firm, with the problem of how to entice more people to open accounts. IDEO conducted observations across the country with the bank’s innovation team to identify the target demographic: baby-boomer women with children. Then they came up with an idea: “the service rounds up purchases made with a Bank of America Visa debit card to the nearest dollar and transfers the difference from individuals’ checking accounts into their savings accounts.” The idea was great, but it needed a tag line that would stick. That’s where the phrase “Keep the Change” came in. It’s catchy, clear, and easy to remember. And it was amazingly successful. Within a year of its release, the customer base went up by 2.5 million people who opened more than 700,000 checking accounts and 1,000,000 saving accounts.

This story was one of the many that Frank Dust, Ingrid Fetell, and Hailey Brewer of IDEO told in their presentation on garnering shareholder support at our half day training event yesterday, NextGen+. The “Keep the Change” story illustrates one of their 9 tips for getting support for your ideas. Their big takeaway message was this: Storytelling is what sells ideas. If you don’t believe me, read these tips below and see if they convince you:

The 9 Tips for Storytelling:

1. A great story will trump facts

Maybe this is a sad reality, but the sooner we embrace this the sooner we can leverage stories to pitch our ideas. Think about all the rumors and myths that persist even when the truth is known.

2. Editing is power

Be bold with your word choices. It matters how you package your idea.

3. Plant a hero image

Make your words and images stick. An image can speak for itself, and people will remember it better than text.

4. Write like you talk
People like to read things that other people wrote. So sound human, add some humor, sarcasm, wit, and informality to your writing.

5. Feed people lines

This brings us back to our “Keep the Change” tag line. It says a lot without being verbose. If you give your idea a name, people will talk about it more. Think of how much these ideas gained traction with catchy wording: Obamacare, war on terror, go green, global warming.. the list goes on.

6. Pitching ideas is theater, so get good at stage craft

Just like in theater, some people get to be the leads, and some get to be the extras in the background. If there’s someone in your organization that’s great at storytelling, let them take the lead.

7. Invoke empathy

Create an experience at a visceral level. It will make your audience feel for your idea and remember it.

8. Build to learn

Watch how users engage with your idea. Build your idea off of their reactions to it.

9. Enlist creativity

Disrupt the dynamic in the room. Get people to think and see your idea in a new way.

Have you had an idea that you successfully pitched? How did you do it?

Do any of these resonate with you?

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Thanks for the summary, Hannah. The following really resonated with me:

1. A great story will trump facts: I agree with this to some degree. I’d make it: a great story sets people up to receive facts – but I think an idea needs both to gain traction.

2. Editing is power: 1-2 words in a subject line or project name can be far more powerful than a 2-page or 10-slide briefing.

8. Build to learn: In addition to iterating based on feedback, this step also engages people in the process of creating the idea and invests them in it as you move toward implementation.

Ami Wazlawik

I agree with Andy – I think stories and facts are both necessary.

Number 7 really resonates with me. Not to sound cynical, but I think empathy is something that a lot of people lack in today’s fast paced, consumer-driven, increasingly individual-focused world. The example that the presenters provided – the story about the company that couldn’t understand why their clients would be so uncomfortable going to meetings until they felt the same discomfort, and the subsequent spread of that idea throughout the company – really demonstrated how powerful empathy can be.

Deb Green

Simon Sinek’s TED talk & his book speaks to several of these. People don’t by what you’re selling. They buy why you’re selling it. It’s what marketing has been doing as a profession. Storytelling. Connect. Make it memorable. Especially today where everything is competing for your attention and memory.

Erik G Eitel

A great story will definitely trump facts. Think about how sales people make a living? How many times do they know every single fact or stat about something they’re selling? Probably close to never. However, if they have a good story or can make something relate on a personal level then they’re golden.

Great points though! Thanks Hannah!

Joe Flood

Story is key. You’ll notice that well-written articles about complicated subjects always begin with an individual that personifies the issues involved. Lawrence Wright, author of Going Clear, looks for what he calls a “donkey” — a character strong and sympathetic enough to carry a complicated story. An article about Medicare changes will make your eyes glaze over. But a story showing how these changes impact the life of an elderly retiree can be engaging and interesting. Look for someone to tell the story for you.