What Startups and Storytellers Can Learn from Ron Popeil

Storytelling for Startups book

Many of the most successful entrepreneurs are also excellent storytellers.

One of the best storytellers is Ron Popeil, who pitched Ronco products for years on late-night television. Anyone who ever saw infomercials for the Showtime Rotisserie (“Set it, and forget it”), the Electric Food Dehydrator (“How easy is it?”), The Smokeless Ashtray (“For the smoker who cares about his family”) or the Pocket Fisherman (“The biggest fishing invention since the hook”) can appreciate Popeil’s storytelling skills.

When you think about it, Popeil was selling household products that were mostly nice-to-haves, rather than need-to-haves. I mean, does anyone really need a mini-fishing rod or a food dehydrator?

But Popeil had an uncanny ability to capture your attention by telling stories about each product – how they could be used, how they made your life easier or more productive, how they were better than other products….and how affordable they were.

Popeil’s trademark storytelling phrase was “But wait, there’s more”, which only increased the anticipation. The more you watched Popeil pitch, the more your interest grew.

What made Popeil such a good storyteller? It probably had to do with how he understood the importance of creating tension, drama, excitement and expectation.

Rather than asking someone to make a purchase right away, he would start by telling a story, talk about the product’s benefits (not features), and only then ask people if they wanted to buy it.

There was no doubt that Popeil was selling at all times, but he camouflaged his pitch with storytelling that took you on an emotional journey, even though you knew how things were going to end: Popeil finally disclosing the price of the product and how you could order it – usually in “four easy payments”.

And you know Popeil’s stories resonated when his products and sales pitches became an ingrained part of pop culture. Who, for example, can forget Dan Ackroyd’s Bassomatic spoof on Saturday Night Live?

So what can startups learn about storytelling from Ron Popeil?

  1.  The way to get people interested in or engaged with your products is creating a narrative that highlights the benefits for them (aka what’s in it for me?). It is important to create stories that drive the benefits of your products to the people who could use them.
  2. Driving people down the sales funnel can be subtle and comfortable process. You don’t have to tell people to buy right away. Instead, let them ease their way into the product and how it might deliver value. Give people the time to embrace the idea of a purchase.
  3. Make it easy for them to make a purchase. Popeil used the “four easy payments” approach to eliminate any vacillation about the purchase. For startups, a similar approach might be offering packages (e.g. bronze, silver, gold), rather than a one-size-fits-all proposition.To close the deal, offer incentives. Sometimes, Popeil would throw in some extras (e.g. a set of knives) to get consumers to pull the trigger on a purchase. A startup could offer a discount if someone buys an annual subscription, or extra service if they refer a friend.
  4. To close the deal, offer incentives. Sometimes, Popeil would throw in some extras (e.g. a set of knives) to get consumers to pull the trigger on a purchase. A startup could offer a discount if someone buys an annual subscription, or extra service if they refer a friend.

To learn more about Ron Popeil’s storytelling expertise and how you can embrace the power of storytelling, purchase my new book: “Storytelling for Startups” at www.storytellingforstartups.ca

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