O’Reilly tells businesses to find their stories

Terry O'Reilly spoke about the power of storytelling at the 2019 P.W. Enns Business Awards Gala in Winkler. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Winkler Times)

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Winkler businesses were urged to tell their stories by one of the premiere story tellers of our time, at the P.W. Enns Business Awards Gala.
Special guest Terry O’Reilly spoke for nearly an hour on the advantages of storytelling for business, sharing dozens of stories of his own along the way.
O’Reilly began his career as Copy Chief in Burlington, Ontario. He created campaigns for many top Canadian brands and has won a few hundred national and international awards for his writing as well as co-writing “The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture”.
In 1990 he co-founded Pirate Radio & Television. He was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the advertising industry and an honourary Doctorate of Laws from McMaster University.
He shared his interest in marketing. “Advertising and marketing which is to say my industry, is a fascinating study of human nature,” he said. “It’s about having a really deep understanding of what makes us tick as a species, because nobody studies the human condition closer and more often and with more intense study than the advertising industry.”
O’Reilly said people don’t respond well to information.
“Information rarely moves people to act,” he said. “The story telling does.”
That’s a truth he said the advertising industry has realized for 100 years, and is a powerful business tool.
“A great story is aimed at your heart, not your head,” he said. “Psychologists told us for decades that we make 80 per cent of our decisions in the course of a day, using our hearts.”
Even though that’s a known fact, O’Reilly said it’s not put into practice often enough.
“Most advertising, most marketing, most presentations, most PowerPoints are all aimed at the head and I’ve never understood that,” he said. “We are emotional creatures. You have to make people feel the marketing message, have some kind of visceral reaction to it.”
O’Reilly said people just don’t know what to do with all the information they are bombarded with in a day.
“The conservative rule of thumb is that you see probably about 4,000 commercial messages a day, of which you notice six and retain two,” he said.
Even messages that are crucial are ignored if only facts are presented. He referenced the fact that people are told to change their smoke detector batteries when daylight savings time comes and goes. Yet despite that common message many people just don’t bother.
“If you want to persuade people to do business with you, you need to employ emotion,” he said. “Storytelling can help sell intangible benefits like trust and confidence, things you can’t hold in your hands.”
O’Reilly said establishing trust in business can be difficult.
“I’ve always believed the one thing you should never say in marketing is ‘trust me’,” he said. “Instead of saying ‘trust me’, tell them a story about trust.”
He told the crowd about an experiment where products were offered on eBay with a story attached. The items with stories set off bidding wars, selling for much more than their value.
“Each of those items stood out on eBay because all the other items on eBay had no emotional connection,” he said.
Stories can be found in the businesses. He told a story of Southwest Airlines who held a plane to allow a grandfather to catch a flight for a last visit to a dying grandchild. When the grandfather, who was running late, arrived at the gate, he saw the pilot waiting. “They won’t leave without me, and I won’t leave without you,” the pilot told him.
“Harvest your stories,” he told business leaders. “Look at your business with fresh eyes.”
He concluded with some advice.
“Facts and statistics are important, but I say find the emotions buried in the facts, find the meaning buried in the statistics, and build your story,” he said. “Stories make people care.”