There are a lot of marketing services that offer small businesses quick ways to gain followers and customers. Gone are the days of buying mass lists of Facebook likes, but there are still subscriptions that promise an easy fix to gaining your target market’s trust.
In reality, it takes a lot more than an app to get your target market to know, like and trust your small business. Instead, the brands that are winning at marketing are telling a compelling story about what they do.
Brands that consistently offer a clear, concise and memorable message about their product or service stand out in a crowded online market place where everyone is screaming for our attention.
Brands famous for telling their story well
Apple was started in Steve Job’s garage and then went on to totally reimagine technology. The goal was to make technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.
Friends in college started Warby Parker when one guy lost his glasses and couldn’t afford to replace them. They reinvented the glasses industry to make prescription eye glasses easy to produce and cheap to buy.
Nike, SoulCycle, Lululemon and so many favorite brands have stuck because users identify with their story.
Those brands that master the art of tapping into their higher purpose are the ones that really last. Take REI, for example. They sell outdoor equipment, just like so many other businesses like them. But what their customers are buying is a lifestyle of outdoor adventure. REI makes stunning documentaries about athletes that don’t even mention the store’s gear or products. On Black Friday, they actually close stores because they believe employees and customers should spend time outdoors, doing what they love on a day off work. Their social media message to #optoutside went viral.
Why storytelling is so powerful for small businesses
One vivid story is more powerful than the best PowerPoint slideshow ever created. That’s because storytelling is literally in our genes. As far back as mankind discovered fire, people have benefitted from the power of storytelling. In fact, anthropologists point to fire as igniting evolution. Not only did fire lead to a more calorie-rich diet, but communities were built around the fire at night–sticking together to tell stories (and not getting eaten by a sabertooth tiger). Masterful storytellers became leaders.
Scientists today have shown that telling stories literally connects brain waves. And anyone who ever sat around a fire at summer camp or on a camping trip doesn’t need to understand the research to intuitively understand the impact of storytelling around a fire.
4 questions to ask to spark your brand story
Now, if you’re thinking you just don’t have a compelling brand story, the good news is that you don’t have to be legendary to tell a good story. But do be consistent. Carmine Gallo offers four questions in The Storyteller’s Secret that every business owner should ask in order to get to the heart of the business story:
- Why did you start your company?
- What does your company do?
- What are you passionate about?
- What makes your heart sing?
This last one is the question that leads to the most compelling answer. It’s the higher purpose of why your business exists.
Sparking your story doesn’t have to be hard. But it requires time and space to think. This is why many successful brands will offer key employees a retreat together. It can be the reset button that gets everyone back to the heart of what matters. But, even if you don’t get a company trip to a resort, you can still try the following exercise. Take some time on a walk, run or find a spot in a quiet, creative space to think. Then, imagine what you would say if you were sitting among friends by a fire. (For me this is outside among mountains, but for you it might be around an indoor fireplace at a 5-star resort.)
Now, imagine telling close friends why you launched your business, why your organization exists and what your place is in it. You don’t have to be feeding starving children to matter. Does your product make someone’s day easier so that they have more time? Do you help people stay healthier? Do your services make people’s homes last longer so that they can create more memories? There’s a higher purpose to everything worth doing. Reach back and remember what’s yours and what makes your heart sing. This is your story.
Here’s my story:
As far back as high school, I understood that my ability to articulate ideas in writing was the most essential skill to master. From college admissions essays to summer program applications, I attribute learning to write well as my key to doors of opportunity. It was why I studied journalism in college – not because I wanted to be on the frontlines of the news cycle – but because I wanted to hone the craft of storytelling.
Storytelling is what I did for five years straight at a local Chicago magazine, and storytelling across all media is what I mastered for 14 years as communications director at a private high school and in my freelance work.
But here’s what I found. Digital marketing today moves at record speed, and our attention span is at an all-time low. Small businesses and organizations are so busy in the weeds of online marketing tactics, that they’ve forgotten to focus on strategy. Most people who come to me are so overwhelmed with the tactics, that they’ve lost sight of the big picture. The story behind it all.
This realization, that so many businesses need someone to the heart of their story and to support them on how to tell it across digital marketing is what drove me to launch Sparkr Marketing.
No matter what you do, there is a story buried behind why you do it. Your story is your strategy. Everything else is just a tactic to tell that story.
One simple brand statement that sums up your story
Once you’ve developed your meaningful business story, you’ll need one simple statement that sums up what you do. Every great brand story considers the purpose and dream that birthed the company, and understanding what has brought you to this point and where the company is going is a strong place to start. This should be entirely focused on how you solve your target market’s problem.
Your brand statement considers what matters to your customers and the deeper purpose of your business. It goes beyond the money you want to earn and instead is driven by values. It explains how you improve the lives of those around you.
Try this formula: I/We ___________ (action) for ___________ (target market) in order to ___________ (solve a specific problem).
In the end come up with a story that describes a problem, shows you understand it and you are the one to solve it.
For example, here’s mine: I teach small businesses DIY online marketing to improve their businesses and their lives.
The most disappointing business loss is an idea that fails to connect to its audience not because it wasn’t a good idea, but because it wasn’t packaged as a great story.
So figure out your story and tell it well.