Have you ever been to a big market – like a fish market, or a farmer’s market?
Then you know what it feels like to face dozens of almost identical options!
How are you supposed to pick from rows and rows of stalls with food that looks good… but indistinguishable? You might as well just make a beeline for the closest one!
That’s how your customers feel all the time.
Without a compelling reason to choose your brand over your competition, they will go for the lowest price, or simply the most recent offer they’ve noticed.
As a business, you can’t afford to blend in.
And one of the easiest, most powerful ways to differentiate your brand from dozens of others is with storytelling.
Right about now, you probably want to say that you don’t have an exciting story to share with your customers. That you’re nothing special.
First off, let us say this… If you listened to our podcast interview with Kevin Rogers, you know there’s no such thing as “nothing special”.
You just haven’t discovered the interesting parts of your story yet!
Moreover, you brand’s story doesn’t have to be all about you. Counterintuitively, it doesn’t even have to be all about your brand, either!
In today’s post, we’ll talk about 3 essential stories you should be telling. Stories that will speak to your ideal prospects, establish a bond, and draw them to you irresistibly – without Jedi mind tricks, embellishment, or dishonesty!
But first, let’s discuss what makes a good story…
3 components of a captivating story
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But every story also needs a “secret ingredient” to become truly compelling. When it comes to brand storytelling, you want to focus on one or more of these three components – just three:
- Overcoming a challenge – at the root of most compelling stories is a conflict. Ulysses taking a dangerous journey home, David overcoming Goliath, Gandhi standing up to the British Empire… all these stories are about the underdog that triumphs against all odds.
- Reaching out to help – there is a misconception that the only stories that go “viral” and get attention from people are the negative ones. Scandals, outrageous statements, scams, you name it. But if you look for them, there are just as many stories in the media about kindness, compassion, and people helping each other out. That’s why the “The Good Samaritan” is one of the oldest stories out there!
- Creativity and inspiration – stories of creativity were made for entrepreneurs, business owners, brilliant scientists, and other misfits. People love mysteries and secrets being solved and discovered. That’s why Apple picked the fruit that fell on Newton’s head as their logo – to symbolize creativity and innovation.
Note: If you want to learn more about what kinds of narratives you can use in your marketing, check out this post we published back in 2015.
Now that you know the main ingredients of a captivating narrative, let’s talk about those 3 stories you should be telling. We’ll start with the big one…
1. The origin story
Businesses are not unlike superheroes – for people to notice them and care about them, they need a compelling origin story.
Your brand’s origin story answer these questions:
- How, and why, did it all start?
- How did your company overcome its early struggles and challenges?
- What discoveries did you make, and what lessons did you learn along the way?
- What are you doing now?
This narrative doesn’t need to be outlandishly complicated, or larger-than-life. The “stickiest” stories are emotional, detailed, and often unexpected – that’s what makes them interesting!
And remember: when you formulate your company’s origin story for the first time, it won’t be a hit right away.
As you tell it over and over again, and notice how people react to it, you will see which parts are fascinating to others, and which are better left out. Like a comedian’s joke, it will start out scrappy and rough around the edges – and then develop into something deeply engaging and memorable.
Note: If you don’t find the origin of your business compelling, you can still take advantage of this type of story. All you need to do is dig deeper – share your story as the founder and business owner.
After all, even an average person’s life has plenty of challenges and “plot twists”, let alone the life of an entrepreneur! And sometimes your story can become that of your brand: just like everyone associates Steve Jobs with Apple, Jeff Bezos with Amazon, and Elon Musk with Tesla and SpaceX.
2. The failure story
What we’re about to say will sound crazy. But here goes:
Talking about your mistakes and failures openly is the best thing you can do for your business. It will attract more customers, create more opportunities, and cast your company in a more favorable light.
Of course, when you run a business, your first instinct is to protect yourself, to cover all bases. That’s why so many brands out there pretend to do no wrong, hiding their failures and not taking ownership of their mistakes.
You don’t want to be one of them!
Honesty and transparency are not just good, ethical values for an individual to have – they are great for business, too! You can tell engaging stories about your mistakes and failures to connect with potential customers better, and to differentiate your brand from the competition.
A good failure story should address 4 important questions:
- What actually happened?
- Why did this happen?
- What did you do to make it right?
- What did you learn from the experience?
For a great example of someone who owns up to their company’s mistakes, and uses them to build an image of incredible achievement and success, look no further than Jeff Bezos.
Just look at this interview he did with Business Insider – it was 100% tough questions exploring Amazon’s past, current, and future mistakes. But the way Bezos talks about those failures makes him look more brilliant and more successful, not less!
It’s a cliche thing to say, but nobody’s perfect. Your brand’s failures and mistakes, and your personal shortcomings, make you more interesting. And the only way to deal with them is to own them – just as completely as you own your successes.
3. The offer story
Every day, your customers are bombarded with offers just like yours. Remember our earlier “fish market” analogy? That’s what it’s like for them.
You need to help your customers choose. Picking your offer should be a total no-brainer for them! You can accomplish this with – you guessed it! – storytelling.
The offer story, just like the other two, revolves around 4 basic questions:
- What will it do for the customer?
- What makes it different?
- How did you come up with it?
- What unusual problems did you solve along the way?
Those brands aren’t inventing completely new and original – they are just solving age-old problems in unusual ways, and sharing how they do it with the rest of the world.
And it works!
Note: if there isn’t anything special about your offer (for the record, we don’t believe you!), you can talk about something else – your mission.
A great example of that would be TOMS – a company that makes high-quality, but otherwise unremarkable shoes. What makes their merchandise special is the mission: for every pair of shoes sold, TOMS donates a pair to a child in need.
It’s a beautifully simple (it doesn’t even qualify as a story!) and engaging message. If you give back to your community, or the world at large, in some way, however small, you should tell your customers all about it!
As an entrepreneur, you might think that you don’t need to tell stories. That your work, along with your product or service, speak for themselves. They don’t.
All the messages you put out into the world – your mission statement, your company info, your product descriptions – can get a new lease on life as stories.
Stories will make your customers remember you, stand by you, and spread the word about you. Ultimately, this will not only grow your bottom line, but also allow you the ultimate luxury – to pay no attention to your competitors, and focus 100% on serving your customers. And that’s what entrepreneurship is all about!