Everyone always talks about stories in sales…and rightfully so. As humans, we are physiologically conditioned to accept stories more than any other form of communication.
Stories build trust, they build empathy. Neuroscientists found that when listening to a well-told story, the exact same areas of the brain light up on an MRI in both the storyteller and listener. Your brain, as the listener, mirrors the brain of the storyteller.
We love stories so much as humans, our brains continue to consume them as we sleep when we dream.
Many times though in sponsorship, we look at our packages as a menu and sell them as such. This sign, this rink board, this sponsored tweet…
This causes our sponsors to see them as commodities. When you rip out the story, we only see black and white products.
Today I’m diving into how you can craft your sponsorship package pitch as a story to bring more context to answer the question “Why should I spend my marketing dollars with your team.”
Looking at the foundations of a story
As we look at stories, there are many frameworks we can follow. The heroes journey, rags to riches, Icarus, etc. They are all good models to go off.
But the insight I love to start with comes with this TED talk by Andrew Stanton. He is a storyteller from Pixar behind some of their greatest hits like Finding Nemo.
I draw a lot of this from his talk, which is one of the best I’ve seen on the fundamentals of stories. I’ll dive into the key parts below, but definitely check out the talk as it has an abundance of ideas and insights.
Andrew takes us through his journey to becoming a storyteller. It’s a great dive into the foundations he realized while working at Pixar. It’s beautifully crafted into a succinct video.
I’ll dive into some of the key points below, but one key part of the talk comes when he talks about the rules for constructing a story.
Before the story comes the research.
Before I dive into the ideas from Andrew, I think one key item comes with understanding your audience.
Knowing your audience helps you craft a better story. It helps you build in that unscratchable itch and promise (more on these below). It helps you craft the most compelling story before you even craft it.
Different stories fit different audiences in different ways. For example, I am a dog lover. You tell me a story about a dog, I’m interested. If it is a story about a cat, it better be an earth-shattering & compelling story to keep my interest.
The same comes with the story we tell to our sponsors. In order to keep them interested and make it worth their while, you will have to do your research.
We’ve talked about this in the past, but there are many ways that our clients & prospects tell us exactly what they want. You can check out their company blog for news on product launches or initiatives. You can check out the ads they are running on Facebook and Instagram to see what messages they are willing to pay money to get to their customers.
You can also do it the old fashion way and simply ask them in a discovery call.
Before you can tell a compelling story to your brand, you have to understand their needs. Before you can even start crafting the story, do the research. It will help you tell a story that connects with your audience.
Your sponsor with that unscratchable itch (goal)
Andrew dives into a really intriguing part of the video that I think really resonates with our storytelling in sponsorship.
He talks about in his character creation process that every great character has an unscratchable itch. A passion or a mission that seemingly is just out of reach that they are obsessed with solving. In Toy Story, Woody wants to be liked and the top toy. In Wall-E, the little robot is looking for connection and friendship.
In every great story, the character has an itch that they are on a mission to scratch.
In every great sponsorship relationship, we have the same thing. Our prospects all have a goal, a passion, a mission that they are looking to achieve through advertising.
For a car dealership, it might be as “simple” as doubling their sales volume over the next 5 years. For an insurance partner, it may be to become a pillar in community outreach.
Every brand prospect has that unscratchable itch we can craft our stories around. It will help pull them in. More than pull them in, it will show that you care about their goals. It will make your story their story. The focus then becomes their goals and not the assets you are looking to sell.
This may be the most important part of the storytelling process. This sets up everything we need to help draw them in and get them hooked. It may take a lot of research, it may take a few comp tickets to get them out to the game and chat with them…but they all have an unscratchable itch in their business.
“How am I going to achieve X this year/decade?” Find this unscratchable itch. It is the destination that your story will lead to in order to help get them sold.
Make Me A Promise (connection)
This is where you capitalize on the unscratchable itch to pull them in. The next step is to hook the partner in the first slide.
You see, our time is valuable. In order to ensure they will listen to your story, you need to make sure you do something to grab their attention.
In the video, Andrew calls this the “make me a promise” section. Every great story pulls its audience in with a promise that they hope you fulfill throughout the narrative. Sometimes the promise is as simple as “Once upon a time”. It pulls us in, begging us to learn more.
And really, this is the “Make Me Care” part. We need to get our buyers emotionally invested in what is to come with our story.
Think of this as a trailer for a movie. The goal of the trailer is to make me care enough to spend my time and money to head to the movie theatre. If the trailer is bad…I’m not going.
A big part of having success here comes with the unscratchable itch. If we know what the unscratchable itch revolves around, we can directly link our promise to it to pull them in.
For example, if a car partner’s unscratchable itch is to regain top market share in the city your promise should revolve around this. Maybe it’s; “What if I told you we can help you get back to #1 through the power of fan affinity and love for our team mixed with calculated retargeting to drive purchases?”
Immediately, I want to learn more if I have this itch. I may not believe you at first (that is what the rest of the story is for)…but I am intrigued.
I can’t ignore it. The desire to scratch my itch is too much to not listen.
This is how you hook them in to hear the story. This is how you make them care enough to listen attentively for the entire pitch. They are curious, they want to learn more…they need to learn more.
Finding the itch and making the promise is the first key step to closing the deal. Nail that promise and will have their attention.
Finally, craft the assets around those story elements
Notice how we haven’t touched which assets yet to use? This is on purpose.
To be honest, until you know your sponsor’s unscratchable itch and the promise you’ll start with…you don’t know what story to craft. how could you?
You can’t structure your story without these two elements. You may have an idea, but you can’t make it flow without these two north stars.
Both of the above items are on the map. They help guide us where our story will go and the details.
And really, you are crafting the story of the fan journey. How will you get your fans to eventually get to the partner’s unscratchable itch? What is the journey to that goal? What is cadence? What steps will they have to take to get there?
For a car sponsor, if we start at a fan not knowing anything about the dealership or cars…what are the assets and steps we’ll take to guide them to connecting with a dealer and making a purchase?
Some journeys are long, like a car sponsor. A fan maybe makes one purchase every 5–9 years. This is a long, trilogy-type sponsorship story (which leads to justification for a multi-year deal).
Some journeys are short, like a QSR partner’s story may be. Most of the time, the goal is a fast purchase…but we want them to come back multiple times in the season to make many purchases at the location.
With the QSR sponsor story, we’ll tell a story of multiple sales and the journey there with our assets. One that is much different from the car sponsor’s.
Don’t touch the assets until you have the unscratchable itch & promise nailed. Once you have them…use the assets as the key points to help get the fan to the itch.
Every asset needs a part in that story
The reason why stories sell is they bring context to the assets. They bring the “WHY”.
Context allows us to add more assets if they fit that why in the journey. They also help us thin out the assets that don’t make sense and hurt the story.
Nothing is worse in a movie when an obscure scene has nothing to do with the end plot of the movie. It wastes our time and distracts us.
I’ve said this before, but nothing hurts our credibility in selling more than when we offer an asset that doesn’t lead to the sponsor’s goal.
Many times, it’s because we are looking to reach a sales goal. But we cannot just throw in assets because we have them. Every asset has a role in completing the story. If the stories we tell have bad assets in them, we’ll get called out.
On the flip side, if an asset that the sponsor thought wasn’t important fits well into the story…then we have the opportunity to craft it into the story. This makes it so the sponsor could see it in a new light with newfound value.
Like a well-made dish, your assets need to make sense toward the end goal.
If there is an asset out of place, it will show and ruin the story. When a director makes a bad movie…sometimes it is a long time before they get another shot.
Storytelling also helps us ask the hard question “is this asset still relevant in today’s age of advertising?”
There are many assets that we sell in sponsorship that simply aren’t effective in the modern world of advertising. We sell them because they are legacy remnants from a time that is no longer relevant in effectively reaching customers.
For example, I believe hockey rink boards are overpriced and honestly useless in terms of today’s advertising (again, my opinion).
Before I get rocks thrown at me for the last sentence, our stories are a great way to test this statement.
As we craft these stories for the fan journey, if an asset continues to not fit into the stories we create, you have to have a real (and sometimes hard) conversation with yourself and your team as to whether you should still be selling it.
If there is little reason to add them (they don’t fit into the story) it quickly turns the meeting from “they want to help me” to “they want to sell to me” in the mind of your prospect. It instantly turns the meeting into a transactional one.
Nothing kills a sales meeting more than when it turns into purely a transactional one.
If assets like rink boards don’t fit most of the stories you are crafting for sponsors, you need to cut them. I know that sounds crazy, but it will hurt more than help you, in the long run, to continue to jam them down your sponsor’s throat if it doesn’t have a key place in their story.
A clearly defined story helps you prove the value (ROI)
In every crafted story there is a mission. We talked about it a bit before with the unscratchable itch. Each brand has a mission that this story helps achieve.
The beautiful thing about crafting these stories is we have initial landmarks we can use to show value.
Let’s say the mission is car sales for a sponsor. Most of the time one sign, activation, or sponsored tweet doesn’t sell the car. We need to condition the fan to have that brand top of mind with awareness assets mixed with leads generated.
Where are the story points that trigger the next step toward those goals?
These trigger points are what your recaps will be made of. How many fans made it through each milestone to reach the end goal?
When a sponsor asks “how did the scoreboard read perform in this asset toward our goal?” you have an answer because you are tracking each tactic and milestone. If X amount of fans saw the scoreboard read, which led to Y amount of fans going to the next step in the fan journey…you can justify the purchase of that scoreboard read asset.
This also sets up the reasoning on why they should continue to spend on certain assets in your recap meetings.
By turning your package into a story, you are giving relevance to each asset. You are giving a “why” to those assets. They now are vital to the investment and can’t be cut next season or during renewals.
You’ve taken something that may have been commoditized and give it meaning & value. More importantly, you can now report on the steps of the story and get your sponsor obsessed with them.
In today’s age of needing to prove ROI and cut waste spending by brands…this can save you thousands of dollars in revenue in sponsorship sales.
Every sponsor package needs a story
Context in sales always wins. It answers the question of “why should I invest with you?” context helps you frame the value of assets that a sponsor may have seen in a different light.
Stories build context.
For too long in the industry, we’ve offered up a menu of assets with no context. We’ve forced the sponsor to choose individual items with little context. This strategy commoditizes our assets. It lessens their value.
If we build these assets into a story that shows how they help guide fans to their overall goals, it builds their value. It increases the likelihood a sponsor says yes.
Overall though I think the biggest value this brings to a sponsorship department is truly vet out which assets we should think about cutting from our packages. If we craft stories around our packages, we’ll start to see which ones no longer fit into the journey that fans go through TODAY instead of the journey they went through 5 years ago.
It may hurt us in the short run (lost revenue from rink boards), but it will help us in the long run through building relationships and selling the right assets.
Before your next pitch, build a story for your sponsor. Ditch the menu.