Friday, August 19, 2011

What's Your Story?

Want to breathe some life into your marketing? Try telling a story.

The art of storytelling is as old as civilization itself. Through the years, storytellers have used their skills to educate, entertain, enthrall, and explain the world around them. Heroes, villains, gods, and demons. Storytellers breathe life into their characters and keep their audiences spellbound until the end.

So what does any of this have to do with business? A lot, really.

At its heart, marketing is storytelling. Like a storyteller of old, you need to connect with your audience (your customers and prospects), engage them, educate them, enthrall them, and inspire them to act on that newfound knowledge by buying your wares or responding to your offer.

Does that mean you need to strive to become the next Steinbeck or Shakespeare, or that you should fill your website with flowery prose? Certainly not. But it does mean you should try to make your materials more engaging and less dry, dull, and routine.

One way to tell your story is through the eyes of a satisfied customer. Case studies and testimonials provide an ideal medium. Start with a look at the customer involved. Introduce them and offer some background information about who they are and what they do. Next, present the challenge facing them (a difficult deadline, a tight budget, a bad experience with the competition). This will serve as your antagonist and provide the conflict necessary in all good storytelling. Finally, talk about how you (or someone at your company) helped them overcome those challenges and live happily ever after.

The key is to make the customer the focus of your story, not your company. Your company merely helps that person overcome their challenges. Readers need to relate to a story's main character and to the struggles they face. Otherwise, they won't feel invested in the story enough to care how it ends. They'll also tune out if they sense a story is nothing more than chest-thumping and self-absorbed bravado.

Of course, storytelling isn't limited just to case studies or testimonials. Consider your company-focused content, like your history and executive bios. Are there any interesting stories from your company's past you'd like to share? For example, what led your company's founders to start your company? Did they as consumers have a need that no one else was meeting? What challenges did they face? Were there any obstacles that stood in their way? And how did they position themselves to overcome those the benefit of their customers (people like those who are reading your materials)?

Even product literature offers a chance to tell a story and captivate an audience. What led your company to introduce the product you're writing about? What challenges does it help customers (like those reading your materials) overcome? How has customer feedback helped you improve the product? And what role do you see customer interaction playing in future product offerings and upgrades?

Notice a common theme here? In all of these, the focus is on the customer. They are the heroes of the stories you tell. It's their challenges, struggles, and needs that shape your decisions and encourage you to do what you do.

And that makes for one very compelling storyline.

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