Let me tell you a story.
Once there was a little girl named Pam who was a very picky eater. She refused to eat anything but grilled cheese sandwiches, iceberg lettuce and pizza. The other kids begged to go to McDonalds, but those burgers had chopped onions and Pam wouldn’t even touch them. There was nothing her mother could do but stock up on American cheese and wonder bread. When Pam left home for college, she was about to embark on an adventure that would change her life forever. A curious urge for adventure caused her to sign up for a study abroad experience and after four months in England, Pam learned how to eat everything. Through her travel adventures she became an adventurous eater, learning about the places she was visiting through the food. Everything tasted so good. The English tea with milk and the scones with jam tasted like nothing she ever had before. The beer and the pub food were so unique… who ever heard of warm beer or fish and chips wrapped in newspaper? It was fun to shop every day for fresh produce in the market square and buy meat at the butcher shop for dinner. She even found out she liked curry after discovering an abundance of Indian restaurants in the country. Her parents could hardly recognize her when she got home. Yes, there was the weight gain, but there was something else that couldn’t be erased by dieting. This little girl grew up and found her passion for adventure, for discovering new tastes and new places and then began re-living those experiences by eating those very foods again and again. Thirty-some years later, this girl is a traveler, a food and wine lover and cook and she wants to teach others how to taste and experience new destinations through her travel business.
Doesn’t everyone like a good story? Recently I have been thinking about ways to incorporate more story-telling in my travel company’s marketing. It’s not really my idea, I admit, because I’ve been reading about the technique and even noticing it in billboard ads and commercials, now that I’m paying attention to it. Dog food and life insurance commercials in particular come to mind. I actually first thought about story telling as a means to sell travel after listening to a TED talk called “Building a Story Filled Life: What is Your What If?”
The talk is by Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott, a pair of bloggers who tell about their decision to quit their jobs and travel around the world together. They tell the story in a way that makes everyone who is watching want to do it too. Apparently these two did generate a following of sorts, because last week I attended a webinar for G Adventures featuring Dan and Audrey speaking about “Social Media and Story Telling.” It was a provocative presentation that solidified the power of intentional story telling as a marketing technique. Telling a story authenticates and personalizes you and creates trust. It also helps people retain your message. I found both of these to be true in my own experience with Dan and Audrey’s talks.
My big take-away was that we should communicate the ‘why’ along with the ‘what’. Why should the busy family of four take a week long Caribbean cruise? Tell the ‘why’ by painting a picture of the family spending time together relaxing on a beach one day, riding a zip-line through the rain forest the next and eating together as a family every night – all things they probably do not do at home. Haven’t Carnival and Royal Caribbean done a good job telling this story in their commercials?
Story telling is not about making things up, but it is about highlighting points to describe an experience. Recently I had a client come to me for honeymoon destination suggestions. The couple was torn between four places–Maine, Vancouver, Northern California or Alaska. To help them make their decision, I presented four itineraries highlighted specifically for their experience. (Yes, I know this is a travel agent no-no and I don’t recommend presenting 4 itineraries to clients, but this couple was uniquely indecisive). Instead of presenting a bulleted list of sites and activities and a list of hotels, I told the story of each choice, describing the hotels and the landscape and suggesting daily activities. After reading what each trip would be like, they knew for certain that they wanted to honeymoon in Vancouver and Victoria.
Since then, I’ve been presenting a highlighted itinerary for most of my cruise and FIT quotes. Although it is more work, I find that it takes the emphasis off of the price which, by the way, includes all of the experiences I’ve built into the trip. The customer is purchasing a ‘unique travel experience’ rather than a ‘7-night trip to Timbuktu’.
I’ve noticed that stories can be told without a lot of words. A beautiful photo and a clever caption is often enough, especially on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Some examples: A dining table set for eight on a gorgeous balcony in Tuscany with a caption inviting everyone to join you for lunch; a colorful European door begging the question of what lies behind it; or photos of local people with a few words saying how you met them or what they were doing. I especially enjoy posting travel quotes that often tell a story and convey my own philosophy.
So, getting back to my story, I do believe the most important story to tell is our own. It’s true that anyone who reads my resume and my business card can find out that I’m a college graduate and a travel professional who owns a travel business. They could even learn that my specialty is food and wine travel experiences. But, in order to find out ‘why’, they would have to hear my story. How do you tell your story?
Pam Hallberg is a travel consultant who enjoys arranging food and wine themed tours and cruises. She owns her own home-based business, Hallberg Travel & Tours: Creating Tasteful Travel Experiences.