Stories have been used for thousands of years in societies around the world to inform, entertain, caution and teach. We all have memories of good storytelling, regardless of the method of delivery. Stories are found in movies, internet blogs, children’s books read by a caregiver, and tall tales told over a beer after a round of golf. You intuitively know a great story when you hear it, yet how memorable is your company’s own story?
Entrepreneurs know (or should know) the importance of a prepared “elevator pitch,” meant to quickly communicate the nature of a business. A successful pitch can earn new investors and clients, yet making it memorable is a challenge. Even if you’ve nailed the elevator pitch, there is more work to be done.
Expanding your short story into a longer—yet still engaging—narrative for your company website is a formidable task.
According to Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of Made to Stick, stories encourage readers (or listeners) to place themselves in the tale created by the storyteller. In fact, it’s the reader’s imagination and emotional engagement that make an inspirational story a potentially powerful motivator of customer behavior.
A single theme. Your story should grow from a simple statement that communicates the core idea of your business. In other words, what is the single most important function of your business? You may be tempted to use lofty-sounding phrases, such as “linked prosperity” or “disciplined sensibilities.” These phrases might make you sound like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but do they clearly communicate the purpose of your business? For example, the non-profit organization One Laptop per Child has a simple goal—to help children of developing countries learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child.
If you own or manage a local athletic club, perhaps you decide that your primary purpose is providing a clean comfortable place for guests to become physically fit. It’s a good start, but recognizing that the true benefit of an athletic club membership is the promise of a physical transformation is the genesis of a great story.
More than the facts. Without a doubt, facts are important. You need to describe the “what” of your company. What good or service do you sell? What does your store look like? What types of weight machines and cycling equipment are available to customers? Details of this nature help your audience develop a mental image of your business. However, as Chip and Dan Heath point out, too many details may cause your audience to interpret your story from a strictly analytical point of view. Beyond the important details, you need to communicate the “why” of your business.
Why are you in business? Why do you believe your good or service meets the needs of your customers? Most importantly, why should your audience care about your company? Go beyond the facts when telling your story. Appeal to your audience on an emotional level. One way to create an emotional connection with your customers is to profile a client success story. An athletic club member who has achieved a significant personal goal through dedicated use of the athletic club facilities symbolizes more than just the victory of a single person. That member’s success represents the dreams of many (if not most) of the other members of the same club.
Speak to YOUR Audience. In marketing parlance, your audience is your target market. If you sell to other businesses, then you are probably speaking to industry experts. However, if you sell directly to consumers, then your audience will have varying degrees of prior knowledge about your business. Don’t assume that your target market knows as much about your business or industry as you do, even though current customers are part of that audience. At the same time, don’t talk down to your audience. Use words that your current and potential customers can clearly understand.
In other words, give your audience information and imagery to which they can relate. For example, potential athletic customers may be able to comprehend the phrase “utilize our Star Trac cardio equipment,” but an experience is easier to imagine when customers are encouraged to “build endurance on our Star Trac treadmills and spinning bikes without the hassle of bad weather or passing cars.”
Your company story is not complete once your elevator pitch is memorized or your website is launched. Your story is being re-written on a daily basis, as long as customers continue to interact with your products and your employees. Customers will tell their own versions of your story, usually placing emphasis on customer service and product quality. Your story will grow over time, so remember that you have written just the first chapter in what will hopefully be a very long and remarkable narrative!
Michael Hansen is an instructor in the business department of Central Oregon Community College. He can be reached at 541-383-7710.