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Storytelling vs Storyselling? Know the difference to connect with people

by | Mar 9, 2020 | Stories

How do you tell more stories with your brand?

And with brand storytelling becoming such a big deal today, how do we do it in way that really connects with people?

The difference comes down to how you think about the story.

And there are two ways to tell a story: storytellling, and storyselling.

Yes, there actually is a difference.

Toward the end of this piece, you’ll get a simple, 3-step process for helping you tell more stories that matter.

Just this week, I was talking with a coach in Switzerland. She was telling me how she was turned off by storytelling because of an experience she’d had years back.

You see, she’d signed up for an event that said it was all about stories in business.

When she got there and found a seat, it was an hour of sales people on stage. They used stories in a slimy way. There was nothing ‘spellbinding’ about it.

They were using stories to get you to buy something. And they weren’t even hiding it.

They weren’t telling stories to help you understanding something. Or feel something. Or connect with you as a human being.

She left, and thought ‘I guess this is how storytelling is done in business.’

Disgusted, she picked that ‘tool’ out of her marketing kit and tossed it out the window. And didn’t look back for years.

That is storyselling.

There’s a time and a place for it.

There are plenty of places and reasons for branded stories, stories that couldn’t exist without your brand. Your portfolio and your about page are usually going to be carefully thought through to make you an ideal option for a specific problem. Perhaps the only option.

That’s storyselling.

But sometimes, you just want to share a moment that happened to you.

To just tell a story.

Perfect case in point; me. I fell into that same trap that disgusted her years back.

I was recently invited to talk about storytelling on podcast, with this same coach, actually. We talked about why stories are becoming a big deal, and how to tell stories for your brand. Everything was going great, I thought. We were on a roll.

We pulled into the second half of the show, and I pulled out my little checklist for telling a brand story, and started working through it. Identify a character, dig into the problems, find out how you’re the answer, explore/explain the future…

And then the host graciously and firmly pulled back and said “No.

“This isn’t what I’m looking for. Not all stories have that kind of structure.”

For moment, I was struck dumb.

Storytelling is storytelling, right? There’s a structure, you follow it. Rinse and repeat?

And that was when I realized that I’d been thinking so long about one kind of storytelling, that I’d forgotten what I was actually pitching.


Storyselling is a valuable thing, for sure. But not when you’re at a campfire, or at dinner with friends. Or at a TED talk.

Stories are things we share with people.

Stories are little ‘engines of belief’, ways to share values and visions and viewpoints. If people like the story, they usually like what the story says about themselves.

So this isn’t to say that storytelling has no structure, and can be about anything.

All stories have to have a point, if you want them to matter. Just listen to any TED talk.

The story itself can be about anything; a moment that happened, an event, a memory.

The reason you’re telling it can be to share a reflection, a lesson, a message.

The idea is to create a space with your reader where you’re both living in the same moment, so that you can help them see what you see.

So anyway, in that moment, I blushed to the roots of my hair. Tried to decide whether to feel embarrassed or excited.

I went with excited. I learned something about myself. And about stories.

We tell stories all the time. I know I do. I can’t stop. I love doing it.

I love creating those moments that spellbind a reader, or a friend. A moment where there’s no pressure to buy something, do something, or be something.

We can do that too. With our emails, our videos, our content.

Find moments in your life that impacted you.

Sometimes they can be vulnerable. Sometimes life-changing. Or perhaps happened to someone else.

The goal is to share what happened, and invite people to see an idea the way you do.

Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t.

But even if they don’t, they will have spent time with you re-living a moment.

That kind of thing makes friends. Builds trust.

So, how do you tell more stories in your business? Stories that aren’t trying to sell, but are about you trying to share who you are, and what matters to you?

1. Tell your story.

Try writing out the story of your life, and how you got to where you are.

2. Find the highlights.

Look for fun, surprising, or stand-out moments. Try telling each of those moments in a few sentences. If you can, try to bring in what you felt, and what your senses picked up. Smell, taste, hearing…

3. Look for the common theme.

This is the deep idea behind who you are, why you are the person you are, and perhaps why you’ve started a business.

When you can find that idea, you’ll be able to revisit your stories, and start giving them a little purpose.

That purpose is to help more of those kinds of stories fill the world. It’s not about projecting how successful and engaging you are.

Sometimes it’s about sharing mistakes, and lessons learned. It’s about sharing with others the kinds of things we like them to share with us. To laugh with us, be somber with us, be better people with us.

For me, I shared with you a moment, and what I learned from it.

The goal is to help you see the difference between storytelling and storyselling.

Both are needed, but both do different things.

You know, she invited me back to re-record the interview, and it’s now one of my favorites. You can listen to it here. 🙂

Which one should you use more of?

Now that’s a good question.

I think more storytelling is always needed.

What do you think?

So what do you think? Leave a comment.

PS: Who’s one person you know would like to read this post? Can you share it with them? Thanks!

Dominic de Souza is a novelist-turned-marketer. He believes that passionate small businesses should stop with ads and funnels, and get back to the human roots of business: clarity, excellent service, and building a community. Everything you’re already good at.  Meet Dominic →

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