In today’s crowded marketplace, many small- to medium-sized businesses have challenges standing out. We live in a consumer-driven economy, and never before have customers had the range of choices as they do today. With the online resources available, it’s easy to gloss over business listings, especially if the industry is highly competitive. Some business owners have introduced paid marketing initiatives to help drive qualified leads, but even then, it’s never a sure thing. Storytelling is a cost-effective way to craft a business story so that it resonates with customers.
In Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind,” he states, “Stories are not easier to remember. They’re how we remember.” We live in world dominated by “the noise”: factual information, statistical claims and dollar figures—all non-memorable content. Instead, craft a unique and memorable story that your customers can rally behind. Stories are memorable. They promote customer consideration and, like fingerprints, are unique. This last point is the very essence of what marketers search for—differentiation. Being able to show how a firm is different from the rest is the best way to cut through “the noise.” It makes no difference if you’re a start-up or an established company. The consumer psychology is the same. The more compelling the story, the easier time it has standing out.
Let’s get started by using one of my favorite brands, Life is good, Inc.’s story as an example.
Bert and John Jacobs
Brothers & Co-Founders of Life is Good®
In 1989, Bert and John Jacobs designed their first tee shirt. They knew nothing about the business.
For five years, the brothers hawked tee shirts in the streets of Boston and traveled the East Coast, selling door-to-door in college dormitories.
They collected some good stories, but were not very prosperous. They lived on peanut butter and jelly, slept in their van, and showered when they could.
Chicks were not impressed.
By the Fall of 1994, heading home from a long, less-than-fruitful road trip, Bert and John were desperately searching for answers to keep the dream alive. Little did they know, the only answer they needed was back in Boston, hanging up on their apartment wall.
Jake’s contagious grin, simple as it was, seemed to express everything the Jacobs brothers believed in.
One fateful September day, they printed up 48 Jake shirts for a local street fair in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They laid the shirts out on their rickety card table. By noontime, all 48 of those tees were gone. A star was born.
Soon Jake was introduced to local retailers, and his simple message of optimism was embraced like nothing the brothers had ever seen. As demand for product soared, Jake’s team grew, and the Little Brand That Could began to spread across America.
Today, the New England based brand stays close to its roots, with an emphasis on simplicity, humor and humility. Through Life is good Festivals, positive products, and a steady dose of ping pong, Jake’s crew does its best to keep the good vibes flowing.
Tailoring your brand’s story will follow a similar approach and is easier than what you would expect! Let’s explore a sample outline that will help capture the essence of your business. Pick and choose from the sections that apply.
- What problem will the firm solve?
- What inspired the business’ creation?
- What industry will the business serve?
- What makes the business unique from the competition?
- Why buy from this business instead of from the competitors?
- What is interesting about the business that customers wouldn’t immediately see?
- What “aha” moments has your business had?
- What values does the business embody?
- What obstacles has the business overcome?
- How has the business evolved?
- Triumphs? Awards? Recognition?
- What is the direction of the business?
- How will the business make the world a better place?
- What philanthropic activities is the business involved in? How does it give back?
This brainstorming exercise will help flush out the key content needed to draft a compelling message. It’s best to plan a couple weeks in advance and review drafts over a series of days. To begin:
- Decide how many months or years the story will cover
- Follow a chronological order (past, present and future) that includes company origin, value proposition and direction
- The “voice” (what is said) used should be consistent with the businesses and the “tone” (how something is said) should be positive and uplifting Since this is a business story, leverage a third- person point of view, but be sure to preserve a personal touch so customers can relate with the product or service
- Make it a point to update the business story at least once a year and try to stay around a 200 word maximum
- Once completed, the finished story can be used in many different ways: on the firm’s website, stationery, marketing materials and invoices
Variations of the story can even be used to craft 30-second elevator pitches.
When countless businesses are vying for consumer attention, it’s vital to make a memorable first impression. Storytelling is a cost effective and unique way to boost a brand’s image, as no one knows the company’s history better than those who started it, and no two stories are ever the same. A memorable and favorable impression will result in earned media opportunities that are far more valuable than traditional paid media/marketing.
In closing, remember what Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan once said: “Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing. All the corner shops in our towns and cities—the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores—these didn’t come out of nowhere.”
Share with us in the comments section below your small business story or a business story that has inspired you!