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Why stories sell

So here’s a quick story about how failing to lead with your best story can hurt your business…As it’s the marketing equivalent of ‘hiding your light under a bushel’.

My wife and I recently traveled to Lisbon for a long weekend and we managed to squeeze in a day away to a place called Sintra – which, if you’ve never been there, is famous for the very ornate Pena Palace at the top of a hill and a Moor fortress that’s right beside it…Each of which is about 300 meters above the town of Sintra.

And having spent 3 hours visiting these historical sites we took a tuk-tuk taxi back down the hill to check out the town and grab a bite to eat. And on the way, I asked our driver ‘Is there anything else worth seeing before we head back to Lisbon?’

“Oh yes, the National Palace – A summer home used by our Portuguese kings and queens for centuries”, she said. “It’s nice and you can’t miss it.”

However, she was wrong about the last bit…

…You absolutely could miss it – As the palace didn’t look especially palatial and there were no signs anywhere to tell you a) It’s a palace, or b) Here’s where you enter the building to check it out.

But, based on our taxi driver’s tip, we persevered and tried 3 doors before finding a ticketing area room where we found a few bored ticket sellers and no signs or posters to give us any reason to think the advertised €10 per adult to get into the palace was worth the bother. However, being curious I asked:

“What can we see in here for our €10 each?”

“Oh, some nice ceilings and furniture”, was her reply.

Geez! Now I don’t know about you, but that didn’t float either of our boats. But before leaving I tried one more question:

Tell me, what’s the most fascinating thing that’s ever happened in the palace?

“Oh”, she said smiling. “We did have a wicked queen Isabel who sent her poor husband Afonso to an early grave!”

“Wait, what now? Now we’re talking”, I said. “Tell me about the wicked queen”. She had my attention and here’s what she told me:

When King Joao IV died in 1656, his 13-year-old son Afonso should have become the next King of Portugal. But his dad decreed that his wife, Afonso’s mother, should be the regent in charge of the kingdom in his will until he was older for a few reasons: Afonso wasn’t just young, he also had physical and mental stability issues!

Roll on 6 years and the now 19-year-old Afonso, who apparently won a notable battle for Portugal when he was 16, decides he had had enough of his mother and he’s so not waiting any longer to be a king. And, with the help of a Count of Castelo Melhor, he managed to ship his mother off to a convent and to take over the reins of power straight away.

Pretty much straight after this, Spain agreed to recognise the independence of Portugal. And realising that this could make Portugal and Spain allies, Louis the XIV of France decides this would be a good time to also make nice with the Portuguese to steer them away from joining forces with their Spanish enemies. And with this in mind, he ships off his attractive cousin Marie Francoise to be a bride for young Afonso together with a huge dowry.

But the two never hit it off. And although the new queen liked her new title of Queen Marie Francoise Isabel of Portugal, she didn’t think much of her less than stable hubby King Afonso – who paid her little attention and preferred hunting , hanging out in bordellos and indulging in some ‘unnatural personal habits’ (I never did find out what these were) when he wasn’t dealing with the little matter of a Portuguese Restoration War with Spain. But our Isabel did seem to have a roaming eye for Afonso’s brother Pedro, with whom she had an affair and, all the while, she and Afonso never shared a bed together.

The unhappy queen and Pedro then decided to arrange a coup to take over King Afonso’s power.

And step 1 of their plan was to have Queen Isabel’s marriage annulled. And with this in mind, she runs off to a convent and sends her hubby a message that she’s not coming out and doesn’t consider herself married to Afonso.

Of course, Afonso goes mad when he hears this and goes chasing after her to the convent where he made quite the ruckus and demanded that she leave and return with him to Lisbon.

She says ‘No, I’ve got sanctuary here and I’m never going home with you.’ Afonso finally gave up and left saying: I’m done with her.

Meanwhile, Afonso’s brother Pedro gets into the fray. ‘Just say she’s a virgin and you can get rid of her’ he suggests. And he convinces his brother that if he could get his marriage annulled, his problems would be over…And it’s not like he ever liked her anyway.

Afonso agrees. And then Pedro offers to do his brother another favour when he says: So look, there’s a snag here. If your marriage to Marie Francoise is over, you’ll be expected to return that huge dowry. And that’s a lot of money, which you don’t have to hand. How about (and I’m only doing this for the good of Portugal), I marry her and then we still keep Louis XIV happy and no money has to be sent back to France!”

Don’t you love it?

But scheming Pedro and Isabel didn’t stop at this. Pedro organised a political coup too by systematically undermining Afonso’s power through working with the powers that be in Portugal, including the army – until Afonso was so weak that he had to agree to his brother taking over power as the new regent! And as soon as they had this sorted, Afonso was exiled!

Meanwhile and despite the bloodless takeover, Isabel still wasn’t happy. Even though her new husband Pedro was in power in Portugal, he wasn’t a King yet and she was no longer queen. Instead, she had been demoted to being a lowly consort of a prince regent!

And realising that she couldn’t become queen again until Afonso was permanently gone…

…She had him confined to a room in the Palace for years – where he rapidly went downhill and died a broken man at just 40.

Wow. What a story, right?

So I asked my new ticket selling pal, ‘where is that story in your brochures – that’s a ticker seller if ever I heard one?’

Oh, it’s not there, she admitted. It should be, shouldn’t it…But no one ever asks me!

And she was right (and FYI this entire story was reduced a half-sentence when you find the room where Afonso was confined).

AND…FACT IS…This was a far, far, far more interesting story than anything I encountered in the hugely popular Pena Palace or the Moor fort ruins.

And I asked one more question to see what effect not telling this story might have on their ticket sales for this palace:

So for every 100 tickets people buy to see the Pena Palace, how many tickets do you think you sell here?

Oh, not even 5 I’d say. Maybe not even 2! was her reply.

I rest my case. That story could be the making of an amazing tourist experience. But like poor old King Afonso VI…it’s buried!

Never make the same mistake. Remember, stories sell in ways details never can. Leading with stories will help you sell a lot more in almost every business and industry.