Ad-libs: The power of the right story

Ad-libs: The power of the right story

John Foust

Thomas knows the power of storytelling. “I’ve found that the right stories help me sell more advertising,” he said. “After all, prospects are like everyone else. They like to hear stories and examples of things that have happened to other people.

Thomas is right. Every sales person should have an arsenal of stories for a variety of purposes – to establish credibility, illustrate product benefits and answer objections.

“Sales stories shouldn’t go on and on forever,” he said. “They must be focused and to-the-point, with a clear beginning, middle and end. And I’ve learned that it shouldn’t take long to get to the end. There are a lot of approaches, but the formula I like best is known as SPAR – Situation, Problem, Action and Result.”

Let’s take a look at Thomas’ storytelling technique:

Situation: “In this step, take a moment to set the stage,” Thomas explained, “For example, you could say, ‘Three months ago, I was working with the Ace Widget Company on a new ad campaign. They had advertised with our paper on occasion, but most of their budget had been spent in other areas.’ In just a couple of sentences, this gives your listener a snapshot of Ace Widget’s situation.”

Problem: “This is where you isolate a specific problem or challenge. Don’t use generalities like, ‘Their advertising wasn’t working.’ Narrow the problem to a challenge that can be easily visualized by your prospect, something like, ‘The main problem with Ace Widget’s advertising was that they were not running ads that generated measurable results. Their ads described their products, but there was no compelling reason for readers to respond immediately.’

“See the difference?” Thomas asked. Now your prospect has a clear picture of what the Ace Widget Company was facing. Of course, that problem should relate to the problem you want to solve for the person who is listening to your story. That’s why it’s important to have a range of stories for different types of challenges faced by advertisers.”

Action: “Here’s the solution,” Thomas said. “Describe – briefly and without exaggerating – the action you took to solve Ace Widget’s specific problem. You might say, ‘After analyzing the problem, I recommended a series of ads promoting discounts on several key products. We tested various discount techniques (for example: half-price, then two-for-the-price-of-one – which is essentially the same offer).’

Result: “This is the payoff, the point where you show how well the action worked. Your result statement could be something like, ‘During the first month of the campaign, the sales of Ace Widgets’ advertised products increased by 20 percent. By creating measurable results, they have been able to tweak their overall strategy and get more mileage from their marketing budget. This is a big change, because now they have a good feel for what works.’

“There’s the happy ending,” Thomas said.

This technique can add depth to your sales presentations. Every story has a hero. And with a SPAR story, the hero is your newspaper.



(c) Copyright 2012 by John Foust. All rights reserved.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information: