As a business owner or entrepreneur, you may feel that the last thing you went into business for was telling stories. However, even a simple testimonial can have a huge impact on your success.
Stories activate parts of our brain like nothing else. When we hear information in its rawest form - as facts or statistics - only one part of our brain gets to work. And it has to work hard to turn those facts into meaning, in order to make them meaningful to us. “So what?”, our brain says otherwise.
Facts provide us with information. Stories connect with us and then inform us, rather than the other way around. This knowledge has led charities to change their approach to fundraising. In her research, marketing professor Deborah Small found that “...if organisations want to raise money for a charitable cause, it is far better to appeal to the heart than to the head. Put another way, feelings, not analytical thinking, drive donations.”
One of our clients, London-based charity African Prisons Project tells powerful stories to overcome possible prejudice against their work and engage potential fundraisers.
"We use stories to help interested donors connect with our work and understand that change is possible because of their involvement. We want to help them see past a prisoner’s circumstances to their potential to become changemakers themselves."
Stories connect with the part of us that cares. Facts - on their own - get in the way, whilst our rational self tries to figure out what does this have to do with me?
This has huge implications for the success of your business. Because it’s not just what you communicate but how you communicate that makes all the difference.
What matters most to your customers? What’s going to be more memorable to them than your latest offer or sales pitch?
At a recent networking event, I met someone who runs a removal business. I don’t remember very much about it. Except that he explained that he was waiting for a call from his team who were dealing with the delicate challenge of moving a piano out of an upstairs window.
The event moved on. I don’t know whether he got a successful call or not. I would have forgotten about him and his business but I’m still picturing the piano dangling outside the window.
Every business has a story to tell.
All of these elements add up to a compelling story. And provide the opportunity to connect with your customers instead.
We all recognise a sales pitch. We can see it coming a mile away and too often we switch off as soon as someone gets started. But a story? Maybe we haven’t heard this one before. Stories help you bypass the shoulder-shrug of your next client to get to the heart of the matter.
As entrepreneur Neil Patel highlighted to Forbes “your business builds a story at every point in its existence. Your origins - people love stories of origins - are a powerful way of shaping your story. Your challenges are part of what humanise your brand and engage your audience. Your losses are what endear your customers and inspire your fans. Your testimonials are what validate your claims and attract new buyers.”
The story-telling part we might call marketing. Marketing is more than a good testimonial or a costly advertising campaign. But it’s more subtle than the hard-sell. It’s about sharing your products or services with the right people in the best way. And however, you decide to do that, sharing your story will establish a clear identity for your business, which will engage your staff and customers in a completely new way.
Pulse is an SME that provides maintenance for High-Street brands. However, they wanted to communicate that they do more than change lightbulbs and air-conditioning units.
The business was started by two brothers-in-law who recognised that a decade ago retail brands were already struggling with customers expectations about their environment. Research shows that a positive experience in store affects how long a customer will spend there and whether or not they will make a purchase. Pulse offer a maintenance service that understands the importance of brand consistency and is rooted in partnership with their clients. So their team offers skilled engineers, whilst also providing a very different brand-focused service.
"We wanted to communicate the bigger picture of why we do what we do and what drives us. Telling the story of what can happen to your store, with or without our services in an animated form, provided an opportunity for us to present ourselves in a different way." They created this video to help do this.
Even the big brands had to start out somewhere and a company like Airbnb still works hard telling their story. They recently conducted an internal study into what it takes to create an iconic brand. One of their key discoveries was that its emotion that creates the connection and drives customer loyalty.
"We asked ourselves, what do we mean by a truly iconic brand … The fifth [characteristic] is all about emotional connection, and that is really the root of it. That’s where a brand like Disney has really benefited. It has leveraged the power of emotion. We make decisions emotionally more than rationally. Brands have a unique ability to tap into that decision-making."
But you don’t have to be a big-brand to connect with your customers. Recent research showed that 93% of shoppers preferred to shop local with small retailers, over large, national chains. This presents a huge opportunity for small to medium-size businesses.
In fact, very often it’s the big brands that have to work hard to make themselves appear small. So they use stories help reduce the distance between themselves and their customers and to put a face to their products or services.
Tesco illustrated that perfectly with their ‘Food Love Stories’ campaign this year, offering a ‘real person’ each month who has a unique but relatable story about a meal they like to cook.
The Co-op followed up on this with their Valentine's-timed ‘Love Stories’ campaign. Using the occasion to promote their products, they introduced us to “Jean-Marc and Claudine whose enduring love has produced our Irresistible Chablis. The couple were given a single hectare of land on their wedding day, and their love and vines have been growing ever since.”
Stories help your business appear accessible, relatable and more trustworthy.
However, most of us don’t feel like we have a story to tell or can’t see how our business would. So here are some suggestions to get your storytelling started:
1. Be inspired
TEDTalks provide some powerful examples of how storytelling is informative and effective at inspiring and engaging people on a wide range of issues.
2. Big picture
Take a step back from the day-to-day demands of your business and think about some of the key reasons you do what you do and the difference that makes to your customers?
3. Zoom in
Take a particular job or project you’ve worked on and try rewriting it around this framework:
4. Ask an expert
A great copywriter can help you tell your story and focus that story into a clear message for your customers.
Whatever your story, you have many opportunities to tell it.
So forget the competition for a minute, and what everyone else is doing, what’s your story and are you sticking to it?
Whatever your story, whatever it is that drives you, let people know. It’s that story that has the power to win you interested customers, loyal clients and hardworking staff. And you can’t ask for a happier ending than that.
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