October 10, 2019 / Esther Choy
I’m often asked how I define a story. Is presentation a story? Is a business pitch a story? While defining a story, especially in a modern world, would take an entirely separate article, I know when a story works. It works when your audience sees themselves in your story and wants to do something about it.
You can use this aspect of storytelling in something as brief as an email (although some see writing emails more as an opportunity to write a trilogy of sorts). How do you write emails so your intended readers would see themselves—or at least a piece of themselves—and move into action?No, we’re not talking about spam or click-bait. You have legitimate content to deliver to your audience. So you can get them to pay attention to that content by using the storytelling technique of “IRS” in an email, tweet, elevator pitch—anything that needs to be short and sweet. Just remember:
- Intriguing beginning
- Riveting middle
- Satisfying ending
Case Study: Michelle Garza of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
Here’s how Michelle Garza, Manager of Diagnostic Imaging and CT at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, intrigued her email audience: “On July 1, 2017, Lurie Children’s Hospital implemented a new policy on PSL. PSL doesn’t stand for Pumpkin Spice Latte of course, it actually stands for Personal Sick Leave.”
Simple yet clever. The equation of Personal Sick Leave days and Pumpkin Spice Lattes was so funny to Michelle’s team that they created magnets that they pull out whenever someone calls in sick. The magnets turn the Pumpkin Spice Latte into a mascot who wears sunglasses, jumps in puddles, goes skydiving, reads books and dresses up for Halloween. Talking about personal sick leave is no longer boring or stressful in this department at Lurie!
Garza had the advantage of being able to shape her message for a group that she knows. Sending emails to strangers requires a different strategy, but the same structure still applies.
Case Study: Priyanka Murthy Of Access79 Jewelry
As she started a new company, Access79, Priyanka Murthy found herself needing to write many emails to complete strangers. Access79 is a “try-before-you-buy” luxury jewelry service; Murthy describes it as “the Stitch Fix of fine jewelry.”
To start the company, Murthy needed jewelry designers. So she reached out to them via email. She knew storytelling would be essential to persuading designers she had no existing relationship with. It’s true that people make decisions based on facts, she says, but they also decide based on their gut, and stories address that. Stories are part of what Murthy calls people’s “decision-making metric.” Here’s how she made the most of a short email to the designers she wanted to work with.
- In the first line, she intrigued her audience by establishing what she calls “authentic relatability.” So she introduced herself as a fellow designer. She had, after all, been the sole designer when she started another company, Arya Esha Designer Jewelry, in 2015. After building this rapport with her audience, she added a line letting them know how she knew of this designer and why she wanted to work with them. The emails were especially powerful, Murthy notes, if she could say, “a client told me about you.”
- After this intriguing opening, she’d explain her business model using only one line, so that she could quickly move on to a story about why Access79 was important. What was the pain point for the customer? What was she trying to solve? She would tell a story about a customer who messaged Murthy’s company Arya Esha to say that because she had two sets of twins, in-person fine jewelry shopping was not a viable option, so she was not able to visit any of the stores where Arya Esha jewelry was sold. However, she did not fully trust buying online either. She wanted to be able to try the jewelry on.
- Murthy then ended with the line, “We’re launching Access79 to solve this problem.” She then asked them if they would be willing to meet with her face-to-face.Did every designer respond to her emails? No. But for those who did respond, it was because the story resonated. They had similar experiences with customers expressing the same pain point! When the story resonated, the designers did want to meet Murthy in person and continue the conversation.As Garza and Murthy found, storytelling doesn’t have to be about a long epic battle. In the modern age, you can apply the “IRS” format to everything that involves communication.
Click here to learn how to write an email subject line that will get your audience to open your emails.
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This article by Esther Choy originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Photo credits: undrey, Michelle Garza
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