Are You Sharing the Right Stories for Your Business?
What sets your business apart? Business owners can be resistant to thinking of the “story” behind their business. What purpose does it really serve? After all, we have work to be done. Why waste our time with an abstract concept?
There's a real struggle when it comes to doing the work of your business vs. working on your business. The day-to-day needs of your business are a never-ending list that must be addressed immediately, yet not focusing on the long-term needs of your business can be just as deadly as forgetting to open up your days for the day.
Yes, you need to take care of today's work, AND you need to get people to you to provide more work.
There's the direct work of today, and the indirect work that contributes to both today and tomorrow.
Why are people going to come to your business? Why are they going to hire your service as opposed to any other service?
Location? Yes, that still makes a huge difference in local business, but it can't be your only advantage. Drive-by traffic is immensely important to some businesses, while it has a limited impact on others.
Brick-and-mortar businesses have to balance relationships both in physical proximity and in the online world.
Relationships are much more involved than information provided on a website. People need a connection that will transform mere facts and listings into a solution.
Your connection to your customers isn't going to be based solely on the products or services you offer. More than likely, other people offer the same products and services you do.
No, you need to help your customers realize why you stand out as a unique solution to their problem.
And one powerful way to do that is to tell your story.
What Stories Should You Tell?
There are two main stories you need to share with your customers.
- Your origin story (your purpose)
- The story where the customer is the hero
Let's first look at your origin story.
I love concert videos and band documentaries. It's one thing to see a band play, and it's another thing to hear in their own words why they play the music they do. They might share how they figured out a certain riff or what happened on a particularly crazy tour stop or why they use those little night masks when they go to sleep on the bus. Whatever the story may be, they give you a chance to see who they are, and you are suddenly more invested in their music than you were before.
Take rappers, for instance. Rap music is a genre in which the story matters an incredible amount, because fans want to identify with the music — and the people behind the music. Knowing that a rapper came from a life of hardship to rise above and become a hero is a fantastic story — much more inspiring than, “I just thought it would be a good way to make money.”
Most small business owners have a real reason that they chose to take the risk of offering their services to the public directly instead of working for someone else.
- Maybe you wanted more flexibility to be with your family.
- Maybe you saw a need that businesses refused to address before you came on the scene.
- Maybe you saw a way to offer a service and support your community in a way that no large chain would allow.
The point is, your reason is your origin story. You may not get a rap star's following out of your story, but you will likely find a way to connect to your customers.
The Customer Hero
The customer hero story is the reason that the customer cares that you exist. It sounds harsh to say it that way, but let's look at it from the customer's perspective.
Regardless of whose estimate you use, you are exposed to at least hundreds of advertising messages each day. All of those messages are trying to get you to do something: to give your email address, money, time, attention, or whatever else the advertising party needs to keep running its business. But if you were to try and think back on how many messages you saw - even in the last hour - I bet you would be hard-pressed to recount more than a few of them.
In this barrage of messaging, we're only consciously retaining a tiny percentage of it all.
Now, back to your customer. Why should she care? She will buy in because of what you can do for her. She will care because you can help her to be the hero of her story. If your business repairs cars, you can help her make it to all of her appointments. If you're an accountant, then you can help her spend less time worrying about her finances and spend more time on the stuff that she really wants to be doing.
And on it goes.
You don't just sell goods. You don't just offer services. You help people become heroes in their own stories.
What Do You Do with Your Stories?
Ok, great. We've discovered a few great tales. Now what?
Share Your Origin Story
Now, we need to convey them. You're probably already conveying your origin story more often than you realize in your day-to-day conversations. Talking about your family values or your commitment to the environment is a way at hinting at the story without having to come out and beat people over the head with it.
The real question is, are you conveying your story in your messaging? Does your business sign convey that story? Does your website convey the story? Do your listings on services like Google+ Local, Yellowpages, and Yelp help convey that story? What about your social media?
You're probably thinking that some of these services sound like they would lend themselves perfectly to telling stories, and you'd be right. But the opportunities exist beyond the most obvious points.
Social media gives you the opportunity to really explore your values, as does an “About” page on your website. But, even a quick description on Yelp gives you the chance to throw in a descriptive phrase that could potentially tweak someone's interest. A “family-owned” business is much different than a corporate entity. A “business committed to erasing its carbon-footprint” is much different than your everyday competitor, and a “pet-friendly” location is always sure to invite an opportunity from pet-lovers.
Share Your Customer Hero Story
The origin story is one that you throw in when possible, but your customer hero story is your leading line.
“Is your car dependable enough to keep up with your busy lifestyle?”
That opening shows that a car business understands a customer's needs more than a service shop that just lists off all the parts and services they offer. If that leading line carries through enough to affect a business's offerings (like free wi-fi and charging stations in the lobby), then that business has a chance to significantly distance itself from its competition.
Take the haircut places done up with a sports theme. ESPN is on the TV, and the décor is all set like a sports hall of fame. Is that haircut place driving some people away? Of course it is, but it gives a man the confidence that the people inside the shop know how to cut men's hair.
There's a risk inherently involved in distinguishing oneself. It seems safer to try to play to an audience that's as wide as possible, but that method is the easiest way to create an unremarkable and disposable service. Your service can't be that easy to dismiss. When you help your customer realize that she is the hero of a particular story, then she will remember your business.
That memory is literally worth far more than simply completing one sale. When she tells her friends about the way that your business helped, then you have the chance to make several more sales. When she has a need that your business can fulfill in the future, then she will be back.
It's a tall order. Your business needs you to handle (or manage) the day-to-day, and it needs you to be a storyteller to enchant your customers into a relationship. It takes longer than simply than making a sale, but it's a challenge that literally promises to reward you today and in the future.
Know any great storyteller businesses?
Who do you think does a great job at running their business and effectively telling their stories?