Any Business 101 course often centers around one key component: you need a purpose. Why have you set up your company? Why do you do what you do? And, importantly, how do you make your customers’ lives easier? To be successful, they say, this purpose must drive every decision you make as a business. But let’s go one step further: that purpose must inhabit everything you both do and say as a business. It’s an essential part of your company’s story.
Yes, your company has a story. Whether you’re a global giant, a national powerhouse or a local hero, your business has a story to tell. Your business strategy is a manifestation of that story. Your marketing tells that story to engage an audience. Your purchase journey pulls that audience into the story, and makes them a part of it. And your follow-through is like the sequels: you must remain as good, if not better, than the original story or you’ll tarnish your reputation. You want to be more The Force Awakens than The Phantom Menace.
If it is captivating and told well, your company’s story will engage an audience, and turn those passive viewers into real-life customers. It can entice them to pay, to sign-up, and to tell others their experience. To help drive your business to ever more success.
How do you get your corporate story right?
Storytelling has been a buzzword in marketing for eons, and the advent of content marketing as a discipline has thrust it back into the spotlight. Learn from the fiction, we’re told. There are even ways to turn the classic narrative arc known as Campbell’s “hero’s journey” into a marketing strategy…
…but let’s face it: that’s all a little bit daunting. Business leaders and marketers are often more at home with data and analysis than with gathering the kids round the campfire for a story. So how can you tell your story without expending a huge resource?
- Keep it simple at its core
Just as salespeople have an elevator pitch to bring in revenue, so should your corporate story be able to distill to a simple line. For Patagonia, the company’s purpose is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” For JetBlue, it’s “to inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground.” See how those can relate not just to business strategy, but also the stories told in marketing?
- Keep it consistent
Consistency is key. You don’t want your customers to visit your website, your store, and speak to customer service and have three different experiences. Your story – and its accompanying tone of voice – should flow throughout what you do. It should be seen in your online presence, in your marketing collateral, in your in-store experience. Your staff should buy into it and live the brand. Once people know what to expect and buy into it, your story can flow to its next chapter.
- Light fires and motivate
Your story needs to engage people. You’re telling this story to bring people into your business, to buy from you, to become a loyal customer. So, light a fire under them. Get them motivated. What is it about your company that is so essential to those people’s lives? Why can they not live without you? Tell that story, and they’ll keep coming back.
- Be authentic
It’s a no-brainer, but there’s no point telling the story of, say, an organic, sustainable food provider if you’re actually mass-producing and cooking from frozen. The quickest way to alienate a potential customer is to have them discover you’re lying. Remember when PepsiCo marketed its Naked juices as being incredibly healthy, with no added sugar, and full of “high-value” ingredients like kale? Turns out that wasn’t the truth, and Naked has paid for it. So be authentic. Tell a story that resonates with your brand, your approach, your purpose and your vision. Or risk being found out for a fraud.
- Learn from the leaders
Massive global enterprises such as Nike, Google and Dove are renowned storytellers. Digital disruptors and digital-first brands like Airbnb, Blue Apron and Warby Parker have grown up with the idea of storytelling as imperative to brand growth. Even if you’re a small operator, you can learn lessons from how, for example, Dove pulls at the heartstrings and appeals to the audience’s emotion; or how Nike inspires and pushes its audience to be their best. Think about how you could apply those techniques to your own business.
Storytelling is open to everyone and every size
So you’re a small local business, or just starting out and don’t feel you can compete with those examples? You don’t have to. You have the greatest story ever told: you are the underdog. And everyone loves an underdog. As TedX speaker Malcolm Gladwell puts it, having the underdog win “makes the world seem just.”
“If the strongest win all the battles, there’s no hope for the rest of us, is there?” he says. “If the same people who have all the power and all the money and all the authority are also going to win every contest, what’s the point of going on for the rest of us? So the underdog story gives all of us who are not on top hope. Occasionally we do get to come out on top. I think that is profoundly true, that’s what the underdog is all about.”
Just do it
It really is that simple. Sit down and consider your company’s purpose. Consider who your ideal customer is, and why they would buy from you rather than competitors large or small. Then consider their personalities, their needs, their desires, and how those match with your company’s. But, most importantly, consider how to make them the hero in your company’s journey. Once that’s done, the story will flow. And it will evolve with them.
Your company’s story is a living, breathing thing that needs attention. But before you get ahead of yourself, you need to start at the start. Get pencil to paper, fingers to keys, and in the words of that great corporate storyteller Nike: Just Do It.