Once upon a time… A small business owners’ guide to telling their brand story

About the Author: Ashley Thomson
Ashley Thomson

Telling your brand storyHumans have always responded to storytelling. It creates a sense of belonging and connection to the past. For as long as anyone has been telling them, stories have helped us preserve our history, teach important lessons and inspire each other to strive for greater things.

Consider the people you admire the most as a small business owner – Sir Richard Branson, perhaps. Everything you know about him has come to you via his anecdotes, interviews, articles, books and press conferences. He is a master storyteller. Many people feel an instant connection with him because he shares just enough personal detail that you feel as if you ‘know’ him. In his narrative we recognise reflections of ourselves, our fears, our values and who we aspire to be.

But brand narratives are not just for famous people and big brands. Small businesses can benefit just as much (if not more so) from telling their stories.

Your story sets you apart
When you appear in a Google search or someone is handed your business card, there is often little to recommend your product or service above anyone else’s. Differentiation can be difficult to achieve and even harder to sustain. As soon as you add features to your offering, someone is always on the lookout, hoping to replicate and capitalise on your ideas.

Your stories are the one asset that will always be unique to your business. They form a true ‘point of difference’ which can really beef up your brochures, website copy, blog, Facebook page and email campaigns. Science also shows that information is around 20% more memorable when presented as a narrative. This kind of brand awareness may just give you an edge, placing your business ‘top of mind’ when a potential customer’s purchasing need arises.

Build a bridge

Sharing your brand narrative is a powerful way to create a personal connection between you and your customers. It enables you to show why your business is the best fit for their purposes, without hitting them over the head with it. It also promotes brand loyalty. As customers ‘get to know’ the faces behind your small business, they feel like they are “part of the family” and are more likely to recommend you to their own family and friends.

You just need the right ingredients

It is true enough to say that some are naturally blessed with the ‘gift of the gab’, but you can improve your storytelling skills with practice. I mentor my Tenfold clients to use the following elements to craft a brand narrative that potential customers can’t help but engage with:

Know your audience
If you want your story to feel and sound like you are having a conversation with your potential customer (trust me, you do), then you will need to have your avatar in your mind. Who are they? Where are they? What are their daily struggles (or pain points)? What values do you share? How do they like to consume information? Be as detailed and specific as you can. Most importantly, work out how your business will improve their lives.

Pluck those heartstrings
Think about your most vivid memories. Chances are it is not the details of the event itself, but the way the experience made you feel that sticks in your mind. It is the same with our brand relationships. ‘Emotion-into-action’ has been proven to be an even more effective strategy than persuasion when it comes to influencing potential customers. Consider what emotions you wish to ‘pull’ from people; do you want to make them feel happy, secure, inspired, concerned, relieved? Take your audience on an emotional journey for maximum impact.

Get real
Whatever else your brand story may be, make sure that it is true. Customers can tell when they are being lied to and it is a huge turn off. It takes vulnerability to be authentic, which goes a long way towards building trust. Transparency, even around negative parts of your business journey, can also shine a light on other admirable qualities. For example, being open about your struggles on the way to greatness demonstrates your business’ resilience – a very admirable quality indeed.

While there is no one way to tell a story, there are conventions that help you make sense of what to include. Make sure you cover over off these 5 questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Why?
  • Where (and when)?
  • How?

In terms of structure, you have a lot of freedom; start at any point in the story, travel through time, start with a quote or a question… the possibilities are almost infinite. Whichever you choose, however, your audience must be able to identify three key elements:

  • Problem – the core conflict that your hero must face
  • Action – how your story’s hero resolved the problem
  • Result – the outcome of the situation

Keep it simple and concise. You are not trying to give a complete history of your life or business. Aim to include the elements that show your avatar customer why you are the solution they are looking for.

What is the takeaway?
All the greatest stories contain a lesson at their core: The ‘good guy’ always wins, the early bird catches the worm, slow and steady wins the race etc. What do you hope your potential customers take away from your story?

Find your ‘voice’
Everyone has a recognisable style of speaking. There’s no need to make this an exercise in being ‘clever’ or using fancy jargon… your natural style is best. Of course, even you speak differently in different situations, so which version of your personal voice should you use? It comes down to your brand personality. Is your brand formal or casual? Serious or funny? Local or International? Think about which emotions you are aiming to stir up in your potential customers and tap into those to find the right ‘tone’.

Make it shareable
In an age of social media, there is real value to be gained from making your story shareable on Facebook or Instagram – a ‘share’ is as valuable an endorsement as a positive review . To achieve this your story needs to:

  • Make people feel good – give you audience a deep feeling of wellbeing, inspiration or joy that they will want others to feel too
  • Show qualities that others would wish to share by association with your brand
  • Make others feel like they could/should share their own

Make your customers part of your story
If you have the chance to turn a client into a brand hero, go for it. It gives your brand story authenticity, makes it relatable, adds an emotional touch and gives you the ability to talk about your business from the customer’s point of view.

The last word…
Your brand story is the key to ‘telling, not selling’. It takes your potential customers ‘behind the scenes’ of your business, creating the sense of a more personal relationship, even before they have met you. You don’t have to be a best-selling author to create an engaging, relatable brand narrative. By incorporating the pointers outlined above, your business’ story will no doubt end like all the best stories do… “and they all lived happily ever after”.

The End.