These days, it takes a lot more than just telling your audience how much your products will benefit their lives to actually get them to buy from you. Today’s customer is more savvy than ever, and he simply doesn’t care how fabulous your product is. He’s simultaneously pitting you against your competitors on many factors, from price to social media presence to how your brand makes him feel. Getting him to care about your brand is going to take a little more work these days.
The best way to hook him?
Tell him a story and put him in it. Your company narrative should be a story that either involves him or makes him want to be a part of the ethos you’re creating with your brand.
How Storytelling Can Mean a Win for the Underdog
Potential customers, when considering your products or services, are looking for a reason to buy from you. It’s certainly easier to choose the market leader (which you might not be), but everyone’s tastes are different and many people will want to go with a company that they feel connected to.
That’s where storytelling is so important. Think back to story time in Kindergarten, where you sat rapt, waiting to find out if the prince actually slayed the dragon or if he got eaten. You felt a connection to that story — heck, you wanted to be that prince — and you can use the same principle today to connect with potential customers.
But telling the right stories — the ones that resonate with your audience — rather than ones that are self-serving and not credible, is essential for gaining customers’ trust. Capture that trust, and you capture their hearts, no matter how small your marketing budget or corporate office is.
Examples of Narratives in Action
Fewer companies than you’d expect actually use storytelling effectively. It’s easier to stick with a lengthy mission statement that removes the human factor from the company than it is to really talk about who a brand is behind the products. A mission statement is something slapped up on the About Us page of a website. A narrative, on the other hand, is something that is woven into everything your brand does to get shoppers’ attention.
Water.org does an excellent job at leveraging stories from the people they help in sanitizing water around the world. Rather than focusing on the number of people helped or wells dug, the organization’s website tells the stories of the people they’ve helped, and proudly shows off drawings by children of their new safe water solutions.
You feel a connection to the brand, which clearly isn’t tooting its own horn, but merely demonstrating the power of small changes for the better.
Ancestry.com also uses customer success stories to narrate its brand value. Rather than talking about genealogy and family trees from a high level, the site shares stories of what customers found in their research, such as being related to George Washington. Others read these stories and want in on the fun.
And who doesn’t admire Oprah and her narrative? She’s an enlightened, open woman who turns what she touches to gold. She leverages her story through her magazine, television channel, book club, and other properties, and people eat it up with a spoon.
These brands understand how to pull on those heartstrings and make people want to be a part of the club.
So What Does MY Company Narrative Look Like?
Developing your brand’s narrative will take a little insight, creativity, and effort, but it’s well worth the time investment.
Start with your mission statement and anything you’ve written about your company, but be ready to take it further. While a mission statement lays good general foundation for your story, it lacks heart – and heart is what your narrative should be about.
Think beyond what your company does and get to what it’s about and what it hopes to accomplish. And be human. In fact, consider your company as a person. If you were that person and you were at a party and someone asked what you were all about, you wouldn’t say, “I make pottery.”
Instead, you’d want to give a glimpse of who you are. Your hopes, dreams, and aspirations as that brand. You might say, “Growing up, my parents made me take dance lessons, but what I really loved to do was make little pots out of mud in the backyard. At 16, I saved up enough money for a pottery class, and it changed my world. Now all I want to do is teach children how to be creative through pottery making.”
Suddenly you and your brand are a lot more interesting. People would sign up instantly for your children’s pottery classes. You put the human factor into the brand, and it resonated with people.
Even in a field with a lot of competition, your brand narrative can help you stand out and attract new customers. If people can identify with your brand — and that human factor — you pave the way to build a lifelong relationship with them through that story.
So build on what you already have in your mission statement and add to it. Sketch out your thoughts on:
What makes your brand different from the competition
Why you got into business in the first place
The problem you want to help people solve
How you’re making the world a better place
Your goals for the future
What people think about your brand
Remember: this isn’t a stiff missive designed to put people to sleep. It’s meant to be a story, and stories are usually told in a casual voice. Don’t be afraid to talk directly to your audience in a language they understand. People want to feel like you’re a friend, not a robot. So pretend you’re sitting down with a new buddy, talking about your brand. Write with that as inspiration.
Let Your Customers Dictate the Narrative
While you will definitely have thoughts about your company’s narrative, don’t be so narrow that you miss the opportunity to go where your customers take you.
When Starbucks first opened its coffee shops, CEO Howard Schultz envisioned creating a “third place,” somewhere between work and home where people could socialize. What he probably didn’t foresee was that his stores would also become workplaces for people who worked remotely, or where many a business deal was done.
This is an example of how customers can shape your narrative. Rather than forcing the direction, step back and see how people are responding to your brand. It might not be the way you intended them to, but if it works, go with it.
Rogaine was initially developed to lower blood pressure, can you believe it? But the unintended side effects took it in a whole different direction. Imagine if the inventors had insisted that this was blood pressure medications rather than the products that have generated billions of dollars in revenue? Again, the customers led the way with the narrative, and it was hugely successful.
Keep it Cohesive
The thing about brand stories is that everyone’s got one, from your sales reps to your execs. And while they’re all 100% true and valid, you do want consistency in the marketing message you deliver to the outside world.
That’s why it’s so important to craft that narrative. Gather a team of employees from different departments to tell that story together. Sure, perspectives will be differing, but with a little conversation, you can create a patchwork of a story to present to your audience.
Disseminate Your Story
Once that narrative is ready to go, spread it far and wide across your company. You never know when it’ll be relevant. Perhaps a customer service rep, while waiting to process an order on the phone, might engage with a customer around that story. It might be the one factor that leads to a sale when your sales rep is presenting to a potential customer.
And ensure that your company story is told across all marketing channels. It’s the spice to what you’re already doing on your blog, on social media, via email, et al. Every single piece of marketing you put out there should lead back to that narrative.
Leverage it to expand the stories you tell. For example, if giving to a particular charity at Christmas time is part of your narrative, you could share photos of people donating products at your donation center on Instagram, tell the story of the people you help through the charity on your blog, and encourage people to help you reach your donation goals via email.
And when customers are involved, let them tell your story for you. If you hold a contest on how your product has changed people’s lives, share those stories. Send a videographer to the winners, give them a makeover, and get them on camera contributing to your storyline.
Your narrative is your story. It’s what makes you unique, and it’s what people care about. Make sure you have a clearly-defined narrative so that you can attract more customers who care about your brand.
How do you tell your company narrative? Do you find that you are better able to connect with your audience when you tell your story? Share your tips with me in the comments below: