Storytelling―most people associate it with authors and short story writers. Maybe even some poets here and there. Theater work, TV show and movie scripting. Even special magazine writing, such as those lengthy articles in National Geographic where the traveller/writer tells the story of their latest adventure.
But here’s the thing: it pays to be a good storyteller no matter if you’re an author or not. You don’t need to be a writer by trade to tell a captivating story. In fact, if you’re a business owner, an entrepreneur, then you absolutely need to be a good writer.
And the list of benefits is a lengthy one. Craftily telling a story means better branding, better public perception, and improved relatability with a target audience. It means being able to communicate clearly, develop a connection between you and a cause or mission, and yes, even sell more products and services as a result.
But unlike creative writing, the entrepreneurial spin of storytelling is one in which you know how to play up your marketing strengths. Knowing what to invest the most time in, and how to use wording to your advantage.
In this guide, we’re going over everything you need to know about storytelling, and how you can use the skill to grow your brand.
Every brand has a story to tell, however “short” or “boring” it may be. It always starts from something, perhaps a spark of inspiration, or even jealousy over seeing someone else living your dream. And then it typically takes hold to a point where you can’t go about your day without thinking about the possibilities.
Maybe you shoved it down, way down, in an attempt to keep yourself safe, but it didn’t work. You knew you’d be unfulfilled if you didn’t at least try to make your business a reality, no matter how hard the journey.
And so you took the leap of faith. Fast forward a few weeks, months, maybe even years, and you’re… reading this. Trying to understand how storytelling can help you improve upon everything you’ve built.
That might be a general, rough outline of what happened, but it’s the details that make it your story. The details that you likely overlooked at the time.
You know, the parts of the story that actually prove that no business ever starts out with a mundane story. There’s always a level of excitement, drama, maybe even dreaming involved.
And once you flesh all of that out, and develop your brand story, you have a magical marketing tool at your fingertips. It’s something you can use to explain your brand, your mission, your goals. It can be posted on a website, a landing page, or even social media. Depending on your brand and mission, it could even be an incentive for many customers.
For instance, if your brand is all about environmentally friendly household cleaning products, your mission is probably related to sparing the planet in some way. If your story further drives that point home, your customers may feel a sense of understanding, and even motivation, as a result:
“I saw wildlife suffering from the overuse of chemicals, entire ecosystems damaged thanks to our cleaning products, and I knew I had to give people an alternative. This is my line of products, guaranteed to be toxin-free, cruelty-free, and safe for all humans and wildlife alike.”
So, how do you go about developing your story? Follow the steps below to get started.
Much like all fiction stories revolve around an obstacle, so do business brand stories. After all, the objective is to sell something that solves a problem. If a brand isn’t doing that, then they’re not really going to stay in business for long.
Luckily, most businesses check the box. Pastry shops meet a need to provide treats for sweet tooths, while weight management apps and services meet the need to counteract all those treats. Clothing brands sell different styles to provide the fashion needs for many different people. And so on.
So, when developing your story, the first step is identifying the villain. It could be weight issues, or dry hair, maybe even the hassle it is to find new music that you actually enjoy. If it’s problematic to someone, then there’s an issue in need of immediate resolution.
The Mission Statement
Once you’ve identified the villain, it’s time to formulate an objective, better known as a mission statement.
For TEDTalk, it’s “Spread ideas.” Super simple, two words. And yet, it says so much, doesn’t it? It comes off very bold, and it makes readers question the kinds of ideas that are worthy of spreading. It makes people think.
When Microsoft first started out, it’s mission statement was “A computer on every desk and in every home.”
Obviously, they must have realized that the mission depended on too many variables to truly be successful: as of 2016, the census showed 89.3% of American families owned a computer. However, zoom out to a global scale, and only 48.3% of homes in 2018 had one. Costs of living, third world living conditions, people living in remote, secluded areas where internet is just a myth… Not exactly a realistic mission statement, perhaps.
It’s no wonder the company’s new mission statement is “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
And finally, let’s look at Patagonia, known as the Pacific Northwest staple clothing brand for all things adventuring. It keeps people cool, dry, warm, comfortable, etc. as needed. Their mission statement is “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Lengthy, but detailed.
And it actually works with their brand and their audience. Most Patagonia wears are adventurers who actively hike, bike, explore, rock climb, camp, etc. These people care about the environment, and they don’t typically agree with harmful practices. So, producing excellent products that fascilitate comfort while exploring, and that help the environment, is really a two-fold for their customers.
So, long story short: your mission statement needs to be:
Something you genuinely care about
Intriguing; something that sparks questions or curiosity
On brand, which means relatable to your audience
No longer than one solid sentence
Let’s go back to #2 on the list of things your mission statement needs to be. “Something you genuinely care about.”
And let’s use an example to highlight the importance of this point.
Say you have a company that sells designer eyewear at a relatively low cost, like Warby Parker. The materials used are premium, and the styles are all the rage, but because you purchase materials in bulk, and you slap your logo on the frames, you manage to keep the retail price low per item, under the $100 range.
Now suppose the mission statement is to provide stylish eyewear for a fraction of the cost of designer. Clearly onbrand, it’s going to give you a wide audience base, and make a lot of people happy.
But what if you don’t actually care? What if you don’t even wear glasses because you think they look terrible? And so you got lasik and never looked back. What if it was never about money for you, you just genuinely considered it a hassle to wear glasses? You bought all the expensive frames, the costly ones, in an attempt to feel better, but never did.
Well, then clearly you have a company, a mission statement, and a livelihood that is entirely based on a lie. Sure, you’re helping people, but by your standards they all look terrible anyway, because you think glasses are an abomination. You can’t even relate to them.
That brings us to the main point: it’s hard to pretend.
When you take a stage to announce your product to the world, when you’re answering exciting questions about your launch, when you’re explaining your ideas on a landing page or an Instagram post, you are going to have a hard time pretending that this means a lot to you.
Emotion is one of those things that is difficult to nail unless you act for a living. When you don’t feel it, you can’t show it, and it tends to ruin otherwise heartwarming moments.
So, make sure that whatever your mission statement is, that it’s something you honestly care about. When in doubt, consult the list:
Is this something you live with on a daily basis?
Is this something you wish people could change?
What are you hoping people will get out of this?
How will this impact the world?
What life choices have you made in honor of this mission/goal?
Have you sacrificed anything for this?
When speaking about this topic with others, do you naturally get fired up, emotional, or opinionated?
Keeping It Human
One of the biggest ways to connect with other human beings is to establish common ground. It forges all connections, all friendships and relationships of every kind; something of an intro to the memory forging to come.
It’s this common ground that gives you something to talk about, bond over, share ideas about, and even help each other with.
For example, when two writers meet, they can bond over the craft. They’ll likely talk about the ins and outs of writing and discuss the time spent honing skills. And they will probably help each other with things like writing job leads, networking, or even skill-based advice.
The same goes with you and your audience. The more you can connect with your audience over, the better.
And when it comes to business, that usually means struggling with a common problem, not finding good solutions, and therefore developing your very own resolution. A resolution that you want to share with them, to help them, because you know exactly what it’s like to be in their shoes.
When done correctly, you wind up with a compelling brand story, because it’s basically just you telling your own personal story. And when that’s ties in with genuine emotion, as we discussed prior, you have something that honestly works, without putting on an act.
Now that we’ve gone over your story, and the most important aspects that go into a valuable storytelling experience, it’s time to step on the pedestal, just for a minute.
As a prelude to this, keep in mind that it’s never a good idea to let things get to your head. Confidence and self-acceptance are things everyone benefits from, but there is such a thing as being so in love with yourself that you alienate people. And when it comes to selling products, that’s the last thing you want to be―pretentiously alienating.
Why the prelude? Because we’re about to tell you that in your brand story, you are the hero. You are the one that your audience will be looking at for advice, help, solutions, suggestions, education, insight, and more.
You take center stage.
And that means that much like with fiction, you need to have your very own hero’s journey, one that demonstrates what you went through and solidifies your current status as a “main character.”
Now, again, this is less about cocky views and behavior, and more about what you need to do to ensure you are considered an industry leader. Consider it a business practice, not so much an ego boost.
But, even if that’s the case, what is the hero’s journey? And how will yours differ from fiction?
#1 Ordinary World
In every story, we meet the hero in his/her ordinary world. This easily translates to their normal, everyday, mundane life. Waking up, getting ready, going to work, eating, and so on.
This shows the hero’s human side, making the character relatable to the audience. It triggers a “He/she is just like me” response, which in turn makes it easier for people to sympathize with the plight to come.
In a business sense, this is no different. Before thinking of your business idea, before you encountered a major obstacle that led to it, you were living a normal life too.
#2 Call to Adventure
Much like in fiction, this is when a threat appears, or any issue really. It could be a safety concern, or it could be something much less serious, like your new puppy misbehaving. It could even be a phone call or conversation with someone.
Whatever it is, this was the moment when you realized you had an issue that was disrupting the smooth sailing of your ordinary world.
#3 Refusal of the Call
And chances are that even if you were excited at the prospect of solving this issue, you still had reservations. Obviously, starting a business is no easy feat. Running things day in and day out takes dedication, hard work, and plenty of skill.
As a result, you likely refused the possibility, and probably suffered, something which the audience can relate to. Surely, they too, refused their own calls at one time or another. Or maybe they just understand that what you needed to do, versus what you wanted to keep doing (living a safe, comfortable existence) isn’t exactly an easy task to manage.
#4 Meeting the Mentor
At this point, you likely met someone who helped you see the path you needed to take. Someone who helped guide you, or at the very least give you answers. Either way, this is the push you needed to really start your journey. Without this training, confidence, knowledge, or advice, you wouldn’t have been able to shove self-doubt and fear aside.
#5 Crossing the Threshold
This is the minute you stepped a foot into unfamiliar territory. The very instant that you arrived in a new location, or did something you’d never even imagined before. Maybe it’s leaving home for the first time, or doing something you’ve always been too afraid to do.
This is a powerful moment, because it highlights commitment. The objective is important enough to make you want to tackle it head on now.
#6 Tests, Allies, Enemies
And this is the meaty part. This is when you find out who can be trusted, and who or what is out to get you. It could be physical hurdles or difficult people, to name some possibilities.
Whoever or whatever those enemies are, this is also the time when you’ll come across allies, willing to help out of the goodness of their hearts, or because you promise them something in return. Something they need.
And so, this begins to test your resolve. Can you handle the connections? Can you handle these enemies? Because the battle has only begun.
#7 Approach to the Inmost Cave
This is when the hero finds out that there is a tool that is essential to defeating the main boss. And there’s only one way to obtain this tool.
And so, the hero goes to that location, and takes a minute at the entrance to collect himself/herself and remember lessons learned.
Things are about to get more serious. Maybe even more… dangerous! And so the self-doubt may return.
This is the part of the story where you face the boss before the main boss. If you can’t beat this guy, you can’t beat the bigger, main villain. Think of it as a checkpoint system. For those of you who work on video games for a living, you understand this better than anyone!
Because you overcome the ordeal, you get a reward. And this is something you needed to defeat the big, main boss.
In fiction, it’s often a magical object or weapon needed to defeat the main boss. Maybe defeating the main boss’s assistant granted the hero a magical triangle that absorbs power, rendering enemies weak and brittle.
In real life, it’s probably going to be obtaining a physical retail space, or beautiful ecommerce website, after battling with finances, budgets, and real estate agents/landlords.
#10 The Road Back
Now the hero returns home, slightly victorious, with a major high-ticket item that will help in the final battle. Picture the hero going home with that magical object, or going home and announcing that your ecommerce website is officially taken care of.
Although exciting, and positive, it’s still with great anticipation of the big battle to come. That cloud isn’t going anywhere soon.
This is the climax of the story, the big battle scene. Your skills need to shine, everything you’ve been taught along the way needs to come in handy, and you need to overcome those feelings of doubt in order to succeed.
But succeed you will, because you’re the hero. The person that everyone in the audience is cheering on.
Quickly though, what’s an example of a significant business journey ordeal? Perhaps the first year or two of being in business! This is the time when you’re vulnerable, and only the skilled survive and push through.
And only after going through that are you reborn. You’re new and improved, having obtained experience and knowledge only the victorious do.
#12 Return With the Elixir
Now that everything is over, this wraps things up. The journey was fruitful, and the hero is changed, improved, and better for the hurdles. This is the start of a new life, a new phase, where even when there are more obstacles to come, nothing will quite match this journey.
Translation: this is where you are now in your business. You’ve struggled with something, developed a solution, solved several problems along the way, proven yourself, and risen to the top after showing the world at large that you have what it takes to help others do the same in a much easier way than you did.
After all, you’re the one who developed the solution, and now you’re offering it for sale. You did the heavy lifting that they (your audience) won’t need to do themselves.
How It Relates to Marketing
Congratulations, your story is now complete, assuming you’ve been following this guide while writing.
But the job isn’t quite done yet. It’s time to apply this to the marketing.
Maybe you’ve heard of the saying that people don’t buy products, they buy into stories. This is true, as being human is the most lucrative thing you can possibly do in life―in business or otherwise.
As we established before, keeping your story and your brand human is what sets you apart from the competition. It helps audiences relate to you and what you’re offering them.
And a story facilitates and solidifies that bond.
But as with anything else worthwhile, there’s some steps to follow, as well as things to keep in mind when using that story to market your products and services.
As it turns out, crafting a wonderful message is half the battle. Knowing how to deliver that is the other.
First thing is first, this isn’t an end-all, do-all list of steps to take. Some industries may benefit from some of these, while others might not.
For example, when it comes to lead generation, using your story to enhance the marketing is a good tactic, but not everyone benefits from developing lead magnets. Freelancers certainly don’t, as they have to work within the limitations of their schedules. Too many leads means too many clients, which in turn leads to burnout and low quality work.
So, keep that in mind, and if you’re not sure which steps would apply to you, don’t hesitate to hire a digital marketing consultant. They certainly would know, and would also help map out your marketing funnel with goal success in mind. They’re well known for their skills in CRO, landing page optimization, email marketing, and even knowing how to get to know a customer in-depth so you can better create audience personas.
Let’s dive in:
After completing your story, it’s always a wise decision to give it an editing pass.
And having both loved ones and unbiased editors give it the seal of approval is a must. This ensures that you have third party perspectives, ensuring more quality and honesty.
Once that’s done, it’s time to look at your marketing strategy.
Landing pages typically benefit from a story, or synopsis, but they can also link (CTA) to an about page with the complete story for people to read and get to know you.
Social media captions, say for Instagram, are not exactly ideal for stories, so avoid that. But feel free to blog about it, and then link to it from your social media channels, including Facebook. Link your content.
In ecommerce websites, it’s always a fun idea to make your story take front and center, as this shows what you stand for, and lets people know why they should buy from you vs a competitor.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to the press and inform them of your story, assuming they’re the types of journalists that cover stories like yours. This will in turn provide visibility and a chance for link building. Great for SEO and keywords.
If you use a chatbot on your website, have it offer some story insight to your willing customers. If it can direct traffic to the story, it can help more people understand your brand mission.
Whenever you attend networking events, make sure you hand people business cards with a link to your story. And make sure to tell people your story if you’re getting onstage.
Don’t hesitate to create a video about your story. This is great for your brand, as it gives you a creative platform to showcase your mission and emotion behind it. Add in some testimonials, or shots of you in action for a more immersive, relatable experience.
Email people about your story, and have them read it so they better understand where you’re coming from.
Connect with others by building an online community. Invite people who can relate to your story, there’s common ground there. In return for a safe place to bond, they’ll likely share your content, and boost your SEO.
As you can tell, there’s a lot that goes into a story. It’s not just a mere beginning, middle and end, there are many layers, each one building off the last, transitioning the characters from point A to point B, C, etc.
And the same applies to your brand story.
In yours, you’re the hero, the main character. And as such, it’s your perspective that should sell your products and services. The more you can relate to your audience, the more human you come across, the more genuine it will come across.
That’s why it’s so important to care about what it is you do. Otherwise, it’s hard to fake the emotion needed to really connect with people.
So, if you are to take anything from this guide, let it be that this one story can be used in a variety of ways within your marketing strategy. It’s your call to action, your mission, and above all, your key to establishing common ground with an audience that could become loyal and lucrative should you play your cards right.
Which means take your time. Really dig deep and hone your copywriting skills for this task. You’ll only need to do it once, but you’ll need to do it well, so make sure to take it as seriously as possible.
And if you still don’t think you have the writing chops to make it good, there’s always the option of outsourcing help. A good freelancer will take whatever story you’ve drafted, and elevate it into something worthy of reading.
So, which part of your story do you think you’ll have the most success writing? Why?
Let me know in the comments below, I love hearing from you all!