Share your business story? What does storytelling mean in business?
Seems everyone these days is talking about why you should share your story and the importance of storytelling in business. And I’m not going to disagree that it’s a good thing. Who doesn’t love hearing an engaging tale?
Stories make us laugh, help us make sense of the world, they make us feel – nostalgic, sad, happy, excited, frustrated, relieved – and help us share our experiences with others.
But knowing that you should share your business story and incorporating more of it into what you do is one thing. Making it happen in a way that doesn’t…well…suck is more difficult.
Let’s compare two businesses based on their stories, as an example so you can see what works and what doesn’t.
ProjectShoe.com and ShoesofPrey.com both offered custom designed shoes for women. They both had a great range of options, ordering was done online and they had easy to navigate, well laid out websites. At first glance there was little that set them apart.
However, one key difference was that the About page called ‘Get to Know Us’ on the now defunct ProjectShoe.com was impersonal focusing on the product and the ordering process. There was nothing about the people behind the brand and why the business was set up.
“Welcome to Project Shoe, the online destination that puts shoe designing in your hands. Founded as the premier source for personal shoe design and customization, Project Shoe provides you with the tools to turn your creative visions into reality. Here at Project Shoe, you can imagine your very own, custom footwear using our elite design tools and an endless selection of high quality materials so that your ultimate dream of designing the perfect shoe can finally be realized.”
By contrast, ShoesofPrey.com (also now defunct, what is it with shoes??) was more forthcoming. Jodie Fox, co-founded the company with two ex-Google employees, because of her interest in trying to find shoes that were just right:
‘I was solving a problem of my own. I’d always liked shoes, but I never loved them because I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. Either it wasn’t quite the right color, there was an embellishment I didn’t like, not quite the right heel height. When I was travelling, in the same way that you find someone who will make a custom suit for you, I found someone with whom I could commission shoe designs. My shoe collection became really exciting, and my girlfriends asked me where I was getting my footwear. When I explained, they asked me to create shoes for them too.’
If you wanted to create your own shoes which company would you be more likely to order from and tell your friends about?
Storytelling doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, making it especially useful for small businesses wanting to get cut through in the sea of big-budget branding.
One of the key problems that I see with many businesses is that, even when you share your business story, its not actually about you. Its about how what you’ve experienced is relevant for your audience.
With the ShoesofPrey example, the founder is talking about her problem but in a way that her audience can understand and relate to. She has explained the common complaints that women who can’t find what they want experience and offers a solution. She was scratching her own itch and her friends liked the result.
That is far more compelling than talking about the design tools or the high quality materials.
In fiction, there is a maxim that there is no story without conflict. While your life may not have had the high drama of a Shakespearean tragedy, thinking about it as a narrative from a structural point of view can help to uncover it.
This involves covering four key areas—your problems, challenges, triumph and evolution.
Business ideas often arise as a result of personal or professional frustration as in the example of ShoesofPrey. It is this frustration with the way things currently operate that generates both the idea for a business and the motivation to make it happen.
Before you move to how you can share your business story and get in front of more people, you need to take the time to get it out of your head and shape it into something worth sharing. Follow the structure below and you'll be on your way.
Why are you in business? It usually starts with a problem that you’re trying to solve. If it isn’t one that you discovered directly because you came into the business later, whoever started the business did. At the beginning there is always some need that wasn’t being met.
Next come the challenges you faced on the journey to solving those problems. The story of Edison inventing the light bulb and trying thousands of different prototypes before getting it right is a more memorable and engaging tale because of his attempts that didn’t work. If Edison had simply invented a light bulb that could be used on a mass scale without any struggle, the story wouldn’t be nearly as compelling as the story of his dogged persistence to get it right.
Another good example is James Dyson’s story about how he worked for five years and produced 5,127 prototypes before finally creating the world’s first bag-less vacuum cleaner. This is now a part of Dyson folklore and is an integral selling point for their products. The underlying message is that if Dyson has created something new then you know that it will be good. The story shows that they are OK with doing rigorous testing to get it right.
This is why it’s important not to gloss over the effort involved in finding your solution, particularly those problems that were a threat to you getting started and have now been resolved.
The triumph is when you overcame those challenges. This could be the breakthrough moment when you discovered the solution to the problems you discovered earlier, or could be when you successfully brought that solution to market.
This is a crucial part of your business story because this is the payoff, both to you and the person reading or listening to your story. The reader is looking for that reward, the upside to all the challenges and frustrations of launching a new product. They want to feel the excitement of finally getting your product in the hands of a customer.
It’s also a way, through quoting or summarising the customer feedback you received, to reinforce why your product is the solution the reader is looking for. It's also a way to ease them into reading other customer testimonials.
The final stage of the story is your evolution. This aspect of your business story is about keeping the reader engaged and excited about what you will come out with next. It may trigger them to bookmark your website or request a brochure for later use or sign up to your newsletter so they can hear about it first.While you may not end up including all of these points, this framework is a useful guide for working out the structure of your business story. Editing down a story to a document that flows well is easier to do if each aspect is fully covered upfront.
So how are you feeling? Are you ready to give it a go? We've put together a Story Capture Worksheet to help you. Staring at a blank page or screen can be intimidating. Often it means you don't actually get started.
So click on the image below and we'll walk you through how to capture your business story so you can create a story that engages your audience and builds connection.
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