Story telling … the best-kept marketing secret!

“Once upon a time there was a business that opened its doors and waited for the customers to come.  The business owner was so busy poring over the books and updating spreadsheets that he didn’t have time to spend on frivolous things (or so he thought) – like building his brand and telling its story. Until one day he realised the customers weren’t coming in droves as he’d expected, because in reality he’d started a business that was just like 20 other businesses in town … vanilla, boring, uninspiring. While he was up to his eyebrows in figures, he’d lost a golden opportunity to make his business come alive with a story that could attract and engage customers and turn them into raving fans.”

Authentic stories inspire. The right stories have influence. Effective stories can mean the difference between “yes please” and “no thanks”. The best stories can build trust and customer relationships and repeat business.

Storytelling stands the test of time

Story telling is as old as time, but in a business world given over to short texts and tweets, impersonal emails, faceless websites and overblown marketing hype – we’ve lost the art of communicating well and sharing stories.

For eons stories have been passed from each generation to the next, providing the basis for a rich tapestry of folklore, biblical narratives, culture and history. Story telling survives today in our literature, movies and the blogosphere, but is a rare find in the world of commerce. I say sadly because in an increasingly competitive environment with its plethora of me-too, commoditised businesses, good stories have never been so sorely needed.

Every business has a story to tell. Some are more captivating and memorable than others like the RM Williams or Richard Bransons of this world, but the ingredients are usually there somewhere (if you dig a little deeper) to add more humanity, colour, personality and creativity to your brand and business image.

The kind of stories that make a difference

Today’s consumers are time-poor and pretty much over all the trite taglines and predictable sales pap. The loyal customer is an endangered species. So what are you going to build into your marketing efforts to make them notice you, listen to you, find out more about you and want to buy from you?

A great story is a great place to start. These are just some of the stories you should think about capturing and sharing.

  • Your own – I’m not talking War and Peace, but think about your reasons for starting the business, your life adventures or passions that led to this particular type of business, what you do in your business that sets you apart. Passion can be infectious – but you have to share what gets you excited about what you do, for other people to get excited too.
  • Your brand – Maybe that clever business name or logo has a story behind it.  If people are always asking you why it’s called Humpy’s Great Alaskan Ale House (true name), be sure to have that story at the ready. I call it your business PQ – Personality Quotient, and it has the potential to add a sense of fun or mystery or quirkiness to your business image.
  • Your star products – A product is more than an idea, a list of features, or a marketing brochure. The best products or services can provide an experience that adds value to the lives of the people who use them. Don’t make exaggerated or inaccurate promises, but build a story around the idea that sparked the product and share a little history – like the story of how Velcro was discovered. Create a word picture of how people use and benefit from the product to make it more real and help potential customers put themselves in that picture. You could even tie the story into its packaging or display if possible.
  • Your customers – They have stories too that you can put to good use. Whether it’s about how they came to be involved with your business, a particular experience they’ve had with your products or service. Ask for testimonials, get your customers to provide product reviews, use case studies.

Stock standard comments like “Suzy is a great hairdresser” don’t really cut it (pun intended sorry). You want endorsements that paint a picture of genuine satisfaction and problem solving like “I’ve got naturally curly hair and tried loads of hairdressers who didn’t know how to cut it, so I got the style they wanted to do instead of what I asked for. Suzy took the time to talk to me about the kind of styles that would work with my hair, showed me photos and explained about products that would make it more manageable. My hair has never looked so good, it holds its shape between appointments and best of all when I leave Suzy’s salon I know I can do it myself at home.”

Taking the time to gather the stories that live in your business will equip you with some powerful marketing resources. The kind that can strengthen your ability to stand out, establish the right kind of reputation and build lasting, profitable customer relationships.