Every business has a story to tell - but how do you know how to choose the ones that will interest your customers?
Stories have the unique ability to make people feel connected - they encourage relationships, instill faith and inspire people to make a change. When done properly, storytelling is one of the most powerful tools a business owner can use.
Historically, it's the storytellers of the world who have managed to make a change. Think about "I have a dream" or "Ich bin ein Berliner". Both are examples of stories used to captivate an audience; both use a separate narrative to drive home a message.
Storytelling in business is much the same. However, where most business owners seemed to get confused is distinguishing between a sales-focused message and a story.
Give, don't take
Storytelling is a form of marketing that is not about directly selling to your customers. In other words, a story is not posting a message that you are currently having a sale or that you are the "best in your game for XYZ". This is an example of an advertisement.
Stories are about giving back to your audience - a story will create something they need, something they relate to and something they will share with others.
What story should I tell?
Knowing what story to tell is where things get tricky. The general rule of thumb is to make sure it's something that both resonates with your target market and your business offering.
It is also important to decide on the results that you want your storytelling to have. Do you want to inspire your audience? Do you want to teach them something? Do you want define your business's culture?
A very simple example of this would be a fashion retailer who wants to inspire customers. In this instance, they could post blogs that offer opinions on the latest trends - possibly even create a persona who comments on celeb outfits and posts images of staff favourites or latest purchases. The story here is that of the fashion expert who is a representation of the brand - inspirational, honest, funny and in the know.
Examples of storytelling in marketing
There are various examples of storytelling in business, and the good news is that it doesn't seem to matter what your budget is - there is always a way of telling a story.
If you think there's no story to be told around accounting, think again. Accounting North has managed to create a site that is now an essential source of information for those in the industry. Their story is that they have a business made up of expert accountants. Directly on the homepage are videos interviewing and showcasing their experts. The blog is also regularly updated with industry news and expert commentary.
Doing a similar thing but on a greater scale is Blackmores. The brand has dedicated a whole section of their website to something called 'Ask a Naturopath' where anyone can get free advice from professional healthcare consultants. The result here is that potential customers have a positive brand experience, engage with health consultants and are likely to share and talk about their experience. The company's story is that they are the leaders in medical advice and can be trusted.
Some time ago, Suncorp realised that they needed to focus their attention on mums. The result was a site called Million Dollar Woman, which tells the story of mums, the many challenges they face and celebrates motherhood. It's a feel-good site that offers advice to women at the specific life stage of motherhood. It may also sell insurance... but that's a very distant second.
What these brands demonstrate is that telling a story is not a formula - it is the belief that your brand can and does have a personality, and that by showing personality through a variety of content you can create a h3er relationship with your customer.
So, if you're looking for your story, start by asking "what's my brand's personality?"
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This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Tracy is a content strategist for one of Australia's leading content marketing agencies and advises Australian businesses on content strategy and implementation. She has worked across various industries - most notably in the financial and business field - and alongside some of the country's top marketers.