Turn Storytelling Into Your Small Business Superpower
“Purposeful storytelling isn’t show business, it’s good business.”–Peter Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, entrepreneur, and educator
Storytelling is essential to our human existence, helping us to make sense of the world we live in while appealing to our intrinsic emotions.
When it comes to business storytelling, do you think that’s only for the commercial giants, aka Apple, Google, and Nike? Think again. Small business storytelling can also do wonders.
How? By telling stories, just like the rise of Apple’s enigmatic Steve Jobs or how Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin first met as students at Stanford, you tap into your audience’s emotions and genuinely connect with them. Your story can lead them into believing in your product and/or service and what it stands for, gently encouraging them to buy.
In order to properly tell (and ultimately sell) your respective story, let’s get started.
Stick to Your Story (and the Point)
While every business has a story to tell, it’s not always clear what that story actually is.
Businesses, large and small, often remain ambiguous with their storytelling. Although they might have all these grand ideas, visions, and dreams for what their product and/or service should represent, they fail to communicate this in a clear, consistent and captivating way.
Investing in a clear and consistent story will support your business’ overarching vision.
A perfect example of this? TOMS Shoes began back in 2006 with one man, Blake Mycoskie, who witnessed the hardships faced by children in Argentina who grew up without shoes. He made it his mission to create a business that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need. Although his business idea took off and became wildly successful, his original story never wavered.
That’s why every story you tell as a business owner should begin with these two questions:
- Who is my audience?
- What is the main message I want to share with them?
Once you’ve nailed down the answers to these two questions, your story can start to flow.
A word of advice: try to avoid any unnecessary tangents. When your story loses your audience’s initial interest, it’s near impossible to win them back. And whatever you do, don’t embellish your story just because you think it sounds better (which admittedly, it might). Nothing says inauthentic quite like a business whose story is based on slight fabrications.
What Stories Should You Tell?
The beauty of storytelling is that there are endless ones to tell. Stories about unsung heroes, tumultuous journeys, surprising twists, emotional hurdles, and of course—happy endings.
As a small business owner, don’t be afraid to tell the full story—the struggles, conflicts, setbacks, successes, etc. you might have experienced along the way. This helps your audience understand the passionate dedication that went into creating and building your business.
That being said, here are a few angles to take, story-wise:
Success Stories. Did you bootstrap your business from the ground up? Did you struggle to make ends meet before making it big? Rags-to-riches tales always win big with audiences.
However, tread carefully. When a storyteller (aka business owner) talks about how great they are, explains storytelling and creativity expert Jonah Sachs, an audience is likely to shut down. If you go this route, try to relate some of your success to the people you’ve come across, on lessons you’ve learned, or events you’ve witnessed along the way.
Failure Stories. Did you face any obstacles or challenges, only to overcome them? When it comes to telling a story, people want to hear about your failures. Showing your fallible side can be a huge draw for audiences. As humans, we tend to relate more to failures since we’ve all failed at one point in time or another. Sara Blakely, the self-made billionaire and founder of the body-slimming undergarment Spanx, openly attributes her eventual success to having previously failed.
Simple Stories. Remember, your audience’s attention span is short. So keep to a “less is more” strategy. Details can help illustrate your story, but if something doesn’t advance it, don’t mention it. Brandless, a San Francisco e-commerce start-up turned powerhouse, does exactly that. Even their mission statement mentions the word simple: “Better stuff, fewer dollars. It’s that simple.” Their story? Making everyday items accessible and affordable for everyone, by selling quality merchandise without a so-called “brand tax.”
Make Your Story Stand Out
As modern-day consumers, we’re overwhelmed with stories being thrown at us. And as business owners, it becomes all too easy to blend into that content-heavy crowd.
Even if you know your product and/or service is better than the present competition, if you’re not telling a standout story, this can hurt your business. Why? Because you fail to differentiate yourself from your competitors, who are all trying to provide products and/or services to alleviate the very same challenge you are.
According to the marketing pros over at Inc.com, you first need to identify why your version of this story is different.
To do so, they recommend asking the following questions:
- Why did you launch your business?
- How did you found it?
- How do you do things differently?
- What does your product and/or service do that no one else can?
Keep these questions top of mind when developing your story and it will be much more compelling.
Consider Adding Visuals
As Rod Stewart once crooned, every picture tells a story. Who knew his lyrics could be applied to your business?
Once you’ve developed your clear and consistent story, you’ll need to distribute it across multiple channels to get it heard (and seen). When you can pinpoint those places where your target audience is likely to be (think social media channels, blogs, messaging platforms, or forums) this is where your story should be told and illustrated through visuals.
Visual storytelling, as the name suggests, is a concept that incorporates stellar writing and vibrant visuals, bringing to life the entire atmosphere of the story. In other words, visual storytelling serves as a communication enhancer.
And let’s face it, we humans are astoundingly-visual creatures. Studies even show that 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual. So, take advantage of this symbiotic relationship between words and visuals and start applying it to your business.
As we’ve learned, a business with a clear, consistent, and captivating story can not only win over the hearts and minds of your audience but also generate profit.
As Sachs explains, “Stories are the original viral tool. Once you tell a very compelling story, the first thing someone does is think, ‘Who can I can tell this story to?’”
Because every business, no matter how big or small, needs powerful storytelling to grow. Understanding this inherent desire for human connection means you can start wrapping your business vision into a unique story and effectively convey it to your intended audience.