Storytelling is the business marketing trend that everyone is buzzing about. You only have to look at major brands like Google, Virgin, and Coca Cola to see how powerful it can be.
Done well, it stirs up emotion in people, and emotion is ultimately what sells. But brand storytelling isn’t just for the giants of the commercial world. Small businesses also have their stories to tell.
Suppose you are the owner of a small restaurant, for example. What made you decide to open a restaurant in the first place? Is it a family concern? How did your most popular dish end up on your menu? Who are your longest running and most loyal customers? The answers to these questions form the basis of an interesting business story that people will want to hear about. Every business owner has a story to tell, and whether they do it through their blog, through social media, or at a business presentation, they just need to tell it well.
Know your story
Stories traditionally follow one of several familiar themes, and business stories are no different, for example, rags to riches tales are always compelling because people love aspirational stories with a happy ending. So, if you bootstrapped your business, and struggled to make ends meet before landing a major contract, people want to know how you did it. Another popular theme is the hero’s journey; embarking on an adventure, facing obstacles and challenges, and eventually overcoming them. In the process, the hero of the story, which could be the founder, the company itself, or even a successful product, is transformed for the better.
Connect with your audience’s emotional side
Stories that provoke an emotional response, positive or negative, are more likely to be remembered by your audience, who in turn, will remember your company, and be keen to share it with others. It isn’t just about telling people how things happened, but about how you felt about what happened. If you are telling the story of how you launched a promising new product that spectacularly bombed, describe how that affected you personally, what you learned from the experience, and how you used it to make sure your next new product was a hit. Making an emotional link with your audience helps to engage them with your vision and your future business success.
Warts and all
Showing your fallible human side, and the fact that you are not perfect, can be the biggest draw of all for an audience. Be honest about any early mistakes that you made, and about how hard it was to rectify them, and your audience will empathise; a story of atonement is always a winner.
Involve your customers
Your customers can also be important characters in your brand story. Remember the Coca cola personalised cans? The customers were the leading players in that chapter of the brand’s story, so start talking to yours and see how they can be involved in your own business story.
Stick to the story
Try to avoid rambling and digressing; once a story starts losing audience interest it’s very hard to win it back. And avoid the temptation to embellish stories, or worse, fabricate them. As marketing guru Seth Godin pointed out: "A great story is true. Not necessarily because it’s factual, but because it’s consistent and authentic. Consumers are too good at sniffing out inconsistencies for a marketer to get away with a story that’s just slapped on."
Spread the word
Your business story should be shared across multiple channels to ensure that it reaches as many people as possible. It is important to know where your target audiences, your customers hang out, whether on social media networks, forums, or blogs, so that you can share your story across all of these channels and monitor audience feedback. Your story can also be told in a variety of formats, for example, through a video on YouTube, or as a presentation on SlideShare.
Involve your staff
Engage other members of the team in telling your brand’s story. Whether they feature in it or not, they have a key role to play in engaging with customers and therefore need to understand the importance of the business story to its success.
Keep the stories coming
Storytelling is an ongoing process, and as your business grows, diversifies, moves into new markets, you should continue to add new stories. This will ensure you’re your customers are up to date with any changes, and also encourages a long-term relationship between them and your business.
Storytelling is fast becoming an essential skill for small business owners, not least because of the huge impact it has on the way their brand is perceived by the rest of the world. Ultimately, a brand that tells a good story will prove more attractive and irresistible to new customers that one that doesn’t.