The Empathy Zone

Stories For Business Use, #4

Have you ever been to a party and struggled to make conversation with the other guests?

When I was a student I wasn’t too discriminate about who I made friends with. I would end up at house parties where everyone would be talking about Final Fantasy 12, or some other computer game. I would sneak off into a corner, or perhaps out the back door.

I am friends with Steve. I met Steve at university, when we did archery. We now play squash together, drink beer, watch rugby and both run our own business.

So, there is a reasonable amount of common ground.

Empathy zone

Now, sometimes I will hang out with Steve and Mike will be there. I like Mike, but we don’t have a whole lot in common, and therefore not a whole lot to talk about.

Empathy zone + Mike

The areas of overlap are called the empathy zone. Squash, beer, rugby and business all belong in the empathy zone I share with Steve.

If I wanted to grab Steve’s attention I wouldn’t tell a story about football. Steve is from Wales, so football is vastly subservient to rugby in his world. I would select one about rugby, beer, or some other common item.

The problem of course is that when you tell stories to promote your business you are talking to an entire audience, not a single person.

Still, the people in your audience will have a degree of shared experience, and maybe a shared perspective or outlook.

If you sell to marketers their shared perspective is that they probably hate selling face to face. I can tell you for a fact that every marketer has nightmares about selling over the phone.

If you sell to business owners their shared experience is the struggle of getting a viable business off the ground.

If you sell to home owners then perhaps they are worried about flooding, taxation, or some other topical item.

Your stories will be more effective when you write stories that overlap to some degree with your reader’s story.

The only way I have found to do this is to journal every day and add the stories to Evernote. Every journal entry I write gets tagged with a specific word.

Next time I need a story about ‘entrepreneurial struggle’ there is a good chance a relevant story will exist in my story bank. If there isn’t an exact match there will be a story there that I can bend to the message.

I was on John Fancher’s email list for a while. John is Perry Marshall’s copywriter, and ghost writes a number of his emails.

John is into rock music, and every message he sent would involve some sort of music reference.

Eventually it just wore a bit thin. I’m sure some people really engaged with his stories, but I didn’t relate to them very much.

The most important thing is to set aside time to actually speak to people in your target audience. You can only write stories that overlap with your reader’s stories if you speak to people regularly. Most marketers prefer to hide behind their keyboard and use fancy words or made-up stories.

When I am writing for a client the stories generally come from the client, not from me.

One final example – my primary audience is people who use Infusionsoft. That is the main group I market my services to.

I spend a lot of time on Infusionsoft forums. I’m not always very chatty, but I’ll chime in where I have something to say. When I see something interesting I’ll add the conversation into Evernote. Stories don’t always have to come from you.

Selecting awesome stories isn’t as important as most people think.

You can nearly always find drama in any story, even the mundane day to day ones. I actually tell a lot of mundane stories simply because people relate to them more than the unusual ones.

Still, you should be aware of empathy zone items when you select stories to tell.

I think there is a degree of confusion between ‘empathy’ and ‘sympathy’. Empathy is an ability to understand the feelings of others. Sympathy is an ability to express pity for the misfortune of others.

I am not a very sympathetic person, on the whole. I think sympathy is more hard-coded in to us through our background and upbringing.

Empathy is just a degree of curiosity about the people you are writing to. I think you can acquire empathy, if you want.

Rob Drummond

Rob is the founder of Story Copywriters, copywriting coach, and author of Simple Story Selling. Grab a paperback or Kindle copy at https://geni.us/PrAb

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