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Home > Book Reviews and Recommendations
Book Review
"Metaphorically Selling": The Narrative Imperative
John Brien

 “Do you think,” [the Scarecrow] asked, “if I go to the Emerald City with you, that Oz would give me some brains?”                                                                                    – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Granivorous. Aquiline. Diurnal. Just a few of the words featured in the “Word Power” section of February’s Reader’s Digest. Are these words good to know? Of course. Will knowing them make you a genius? No.

We live in a world where trivia and wisdom are often confused. But it’s critical to tell the difference. If you can’t, the person who spouts a handful of facts and adages could be judged more valuable than the person who harbors a broad body of knowledge.

This quandary is at the heart of Anne Miller’s Metaphorically Selling: How to Use the Magic of Metaphors to Sell, Persuade & Explain Anything to Anyone. Miller starts from the premise that “what passes for communication today, sadly, is often beyond dreadful.”

And then explains why that is.

In part, people often rely on their left (logical) brain when communicating while the right (creative) brain is left twiddling its thumbs. At best, left-brainers raid a cobwebbed locker of sports and military analogies, cajoling us to “move the ball,” “hit a home run,” “outflank the enemy.”

The result? Communications weighed down by leaden language – a Joe Friday “Just the facts” M.O. We’re all familiar with these left-brain demonstrations. Who of us has not suffered through the “presentation from hell”? Slide after slide of bullet points. A bland recitation… ceaseless jabbering… as our eyelids… grow heavy… and flutter shut… and… zzzzzz. 

The best communications are more emotional than literal. Evocative. Emphasizing word images. Appealing to the spirit, the senses. Applying elements of story-telling, providing a narrative. Because they elicit a host of associations, they’re more memorable.

Metaphors are the motors that power successful communications. And Miller has a great deal to say about them. Among her more interesting observations:

¨      “We process visuals much faster than words. That is one reason why advertisements generally show a picture of the product they are selling in addition to any printed or spoken words… The lesson for salespeople: you have greater selling impact when you use words that create images in your listener’s mind.”

¨      “The number one rule in selling is to put your client in the center of any communications. What you know about your client is as important, if not more so, than what it is you want to say. The same principle holds true in the creation of a winning metaphor: for it to work, it must draw on images and emotions from your client’s world.”

¨      “Metaphors of any sort surprise your audience because, by definition, a metaphor is something other than what is expected. It’s a stand-in for the obvious. That’s why a story about something or somebody works: For a moment, or several minutes even, your audience is treated to a distraction.”

¨      “When things are technically or scientifically alien to your listeners, the best solution is to look for a parallel to something even your grandmother or twelve-year-old nephew would understand. The tendency, unfortunately, is to infuse your explanation with technical terms in order to do justice to the complexity of your subject. But people don’t value (or buy) what they don’t comprehend. You need an analogy – a metaphor.”

¨      “Effective presentation titles are like best-selling book titles: They both grab and inform your audience with just a few image-laden words, energetic verbs, or emotionally charged references.”

Metaphorically Selling is a quick, enjoyable read. But it becomes something more in its last chapters. Miller understands that effective communication isn’t just a flashy title or the occasional aphorism. Like the difference between trivia and wisdom, effective communication is a way of thinking. In Miller’s words:

You’ve heard the phrase “movers and shakers.” Metaphor-makers are “observers and connectors.” They are curious beings who notice and register everything around them all the time. They can see similarities in ostensibly dissimilar things. They can connect seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts to new situations. They are sometimes called lateral or parallel thinkers, as opposed to being strict linear thinkers. All of us have this natural curiosity to one degree or another. The key is to feed and develop it.

Why are metaphor-makers important? They are not only the story-tellers, they are the innovators.

In urging a regimen of self-improvement, Miller goes beyond the quick-fix of most business books. In a world smothered in buzzwords, it’s good to be reminded that intellectual depth is a matter of discipline. A lifestyle. A mission. A passion. 

Brains aren’t simply conferred on you. We should remember what the Wizard says to the Scarecrow when, after surviving a series of harrowing adventures, he asks, “Can't you give me brains?"

“You don't need them. You are learning something every day. A baby has brains, but it doesn't know much. Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.”

Click here to view other recommended books at the Marketing Today Bookstore

Peter DeLegge is the publisher of Marketing Today. He has nearly twenty years experience in marketing and advertising and has held marketing management positions at Fortune 200 and medium size firms. To contact Mr. DeLegge regarding consulting, speaking engagements or media interviews, please email <peterdl@hotmail.com>. 


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