by Sharon Hurley Hall

Here’s a first for this blog: a guest post. My policy has always been (and still basically is) not to accept guest posts on this blog (this article by Jennifer Mattern outlines some of the reasons why), but a great approach from Sarah Williams, followed by a post on storytelling that I know will provide value to my clients has changed my mind, just this once. Here’s the post:

Storytelling: The New Black Of Marketing

How can you make your $20 wine bottle different from your competitor’s $20 wine bottle? The truth? Storytelling. As an entrepreneur, you’ve got to be more than a product creator. You must be a brand storyteller. While this sounds simple on paper, the hard part is figuring out how to create such stories in the first place.

Storytelling is often mistaken for sales copy with a twist. But storytelling is not intended to be a selling tool. It’s a way of developing strong, long-lasting relationships with your customers and a flourishing community of loyal followers.

What’s Your Story?

Your story is an opportunity to express your passions and values and stands at the core of all your branding & marketing.

A brand is a blend of attributes, represented by a trademark (think of Starbucks), which creates value and influence in your niche. The value is the actual promise you make to your audience and the delivery on that promise. It’s in the change you promise your customer if they do business with you, whether it’s buying a $20 Cabernet or a $1,500 computer.

And how do you ingrain your brand values into your customer’s mind? Through storytelling. The more compelling your story is, the more confidence people will have in your products and the less likely they will be to look elsewhere when they’re ready to buy.

Stop Imitating, Start Creating

One of the challenges in marketing is to stop trying to be everything to everybody. Because then everybody will be like any other $20 Cabernet bottle sitting on the shelf. Don’t try to embrace all the attributes. Be yourself – uniquely yourself. Ditch the clichés and look beyond the features and benefits. No one cares about that because everybody’s saying the same thing.

A much easier way to stand out is by telling your unique, unapologetically authentic story. For you, that means looking at your company’s origins, why you started it, your mission, to find stories that are both compelling and truthful.

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The point of telling your story is not to convince people of something that is untrue. It’s to convince people of something that is true.

So, how should entrepreneurs transform themselves into storytellers?

Here is a framework to help you create your own narrative and communicate your own promise to the world:

1. First, figure out who you are

Review your company’s origins, values and character. Ask yourself these core questions:

  • Why does your company even exist?
  • How did it come to life?
  • What does it stand for?

The answers will help you refine your long-term brand statement, which you can use to create content across the entire sales funnel.

For example, if freedom is your core value and you are a small online marketing boutique, then go all in on online marketing services for digital nomads. Make it all about that and tailor your idea to channels where it can really come to life.

Create Pinterest board images or Instagram images with your services that best reflect the values of your core audience. Communicate the feeling your ideal customer should feel after doing business with you.

Be true to who you are and be honest about what your brand is all about. Then create stories for your marketing from that standpoint.

2. What makes you, YOU?

Decide how you’re different from your competitor, then make that differentiator the focal point in all your marketing. Go back to your brand’s origin and look for the differentiating details. Then connect the dots into a compelling narrative.

Here’s a classical example of fine advertising from the “Mad Men” series.

3. Create stories with tension, conflict and resolution

All great stories have three key elements: protagonist, goal and obstacles. There is always a struggle, some loss, victories and transformation. So if you think of your brand as a hero in the story, what is it trying to achieve? What’s standing in its way? How would the world look like once the victory is won?

This is the core of true drama – with your brand as the hero in the story. Search for tension points and conflict in your journey and then connect your brand to the resolution.

4. Never stop refining your message

Always be asking yourself, “‘What is the everlasting truth about your company” and “What is the most appropriate expression of that truth?” Then refine your message staying true to those pointers.

Stories Create Experiences

Experiences make lasting impressions and go far deeper than facts and figures. And by creating a unique experience with your story, you leave your audiences an impression of a brand that’s strong and purposeful that will sit deep in their hearts.

Stories are the glue that ties your business to your audience. Without stories, your brand wouldn’t mean much to them. It’s stories that create real connections and make people remember what you do and why you do what you do.

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Stories shape information (aka features) into meaning and can motivate your audience toward your desired outcomes. Nobody did this than Steve Jobs, who turned sales meetings into amazing brainstorming experiences. His clever storytelling motivated people all over the world to rave about the Apple products.

Plus, stories are most likely to be shared and trusted. When you know you’re being sold to, you close your ears. You watch your favorite shows on Netflix and Tivo and mute any commercial you can. Including banners.

Your time is priceless and you’re not going to give it away to some ads. But when you hear a story, magically, you have 20 minutes to pay attention. With fewer and fewer people paying attention to traditional advertising, it’s more important than ever that you integrate your story into your marketing. Or else, you’re just a commodity.

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Storytelling is not about becoming the next Hemingway, it’s about telling and sharing stories in a compelling way for your audience. It’s about finding the right connections and metaphors in which to encapsulate your story. In doing so, you recreate part of your journey so far and help your audience connect with you, identify with you and, most importantly, look up to you and listen to you.

Summing Up

Storytelling is a natural part of who we are – we grew up with stories with heroes overcoming profound obstacles and eventually arriving at the castle and taking over the kingdom. We are still looking for that deep sense of meaning and value everywhere around us. That’s why Starbucks invented a whole new type of coffee and the iPhone is more than just a phone.

The sooner you can incorporate your story into your marketing, the faster you will harness strong emotions among your audience, hook them and develop personal connections with these guys. Who wants to deal with boring and lifeless companies? Nobody.

You and all your potential clients want to do business with companies that care about something bigger than themselves, that have a real story to tell, that have overcome challenges and here they are today. Paying it forward.

So what about your marketing? Do you need to spice it up with a fresh take on your founding story? I’d love to hear your thoughts on storytelling and how it’s strengthened your relationship with your audience.

About the writer

Sarah Williams is a Berlin based lifestyle blogger and entrepreneur. Her mission is to help people to find fulfillment and happiness. You can read her thoughts on her website for men – Wingman Magazine.