This is a story about the power of stories--especially stories that give people permission to do what they wanted to do anyway.

It started because I read reports of a massive new study that had followed the eating habits of more than 330,000 people for more than nine years. 

Perhaps you've seen the headlines about this elsewhere. The encouraging, almost universally lauded conclusion?

Eating chocolate, at least in moderation, results in lower observed rates of coronary artery disease.

"Our study suggests that chocolate helps keep the heart's blood vessels healthy," said Dr. Chayakrit Krittanawong of Baylor College of Medicine, lead author of the study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology

Everybody likes to hear this, right? I mean, who doesn't like chocolate? 

And it got me thinking about just how many people out there might wind up increasing their chocolate consumption even just a tiny bit, because studies like this give them implied permission to do so.

We've certainly seen this before, and I think that viewed through the right prism, it can illustrate opportunities for people running almost any kind of business--although perhaps especially those selling to consumers, rather than to other businesses.

Let's use two others studies as examples, and then we'll tie it all together. Both of these other studies are about alcohol.

The first one came from the Harvard School of Public Health a couple of years ago.

Researchers examined the habits of 21,000 Italians, and concluded that those who drank a glass of wine per day were less likely to spend any time in hospitals than those who did not imbibe at all.

The second study was led by neuroscience and neurobiology professor Dr. Claudia Kawas of the University of California, and it looked over 15 years at the health and habits of 1,500 people over the age of 90.

Result: Those who were slightly overweight, and who drank alcohol (one to two glasses of wine or beer a day) were 18 percent less likely to have an early death.

("I have no explanation for it," Kawas said at the time. "But I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity.")

Now, take all three of these studies together. All the authors encourage moderation, as any responsible person selling these products would do as well. 

With chocolate, the apparent benefit in combating coronary artery disease and heart attacks has to be balanced against the "calories, sugar, milk, and fat in commercially available products," as Krittanawong's statement put it.

And when the red wine study came out, lead author Dr. Ken Mukamal of Harvard was adamant: "We are absolutely not saying that any teetotaler should start drinking to improve his/her health."

But despite those messages, the existence of these kinds of studies and stories give customers permission--or excuses--to buy things that they want to buy anyway: to the tune of a $103 billion annual chocolate industry, and a $167 billion liquor market in the United States alone.

Granted, perhaps you're not in a position to commission a massive study of tens or hundreds of thousands of people to identify a health benefit for whatever you're selling. 

It doesn't really matter. The key is simply to come up with ways to add "permission arguments" to the sales pitch you use for your products and services.

They can be simple, like an expensive restaurant that offers to make a donation to a food bank for every takeout order. 

Or a landscaping business that emphasizes that you're hiring people who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Or a clothing website that emphasizes that every product is made in the U.S.A., so you're supporting domestic manufacturers.

Or a consultant teaching online classes, who offers free passes to students for every paid enrollment. 

If the unexpected benefit doesn't exist, create it. And give potential customers an unexpected and implied reason to follow through.

Then enjoy a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate to celebrate. You have permission.