I listen to many business stories through my Telling Stories: Making Business Lunch and Learns. We all benefit from telling and hearing business stories. This is the first in a series of posts about how to design your business story.
Most stories I’ve heard over the last year have been life stories. The challenge is how to turn a life story into a story to promote your business. Many life stories do not work for marketing, not least because may don’t work as stories.
So, this sequence of blog posts is about how to work your story into a story that works for marketing. Much of what I write applies to any storytelling and so may interest anyone interested in stories. But my focus is specifically on what works in a business context.
Alternatives to Life Stories
Before I explore storytelling in more depth, let’s think about alternatives to life stories. Similar rules apply to any story but it’s worth considering alternatives to your life story.
I’ve encountered two types of life story. Perhaps the most successful describe a life-changing event. Everything arranges itself around that event. Sometimes someone with such a story has already written a book. A book, whether self-published or through an established publisher, is potentially a great marketing tool. I may return to this in a future post. The problem is what to say to promote the book. How much of the story to cover?
The other type of story is where there is no single life-changing event and so the story becomes one thing after another. Some stories have a theme, eg depression or “how I got to where I am today”.
Both types share the problem of too much material. How can you focus the story to help your audience grasp your message?
Here are Some Alternatives
These mostly don’t draw on the life story:
- Business origin stories move the focus to a dawning insight into some transformation you would like to see. This is an opportunity to explain the motivation for your business.
- Or a story about a specific product or service. For some businesses there may be many such stories, eg someone who makes jewellery may have stories about materials, techniques and designs.
- Case studies can be powerful and particularly helpful to businesses. There may be confidentiality issues but if you can work around them, this is a powerful but underused approach.
These use your story in a different way:
- There are many possible stories. You do not need to tell your entire life history. A single story might last over several years or just a few minutes. Such a story is more focused.
- A single relationship focuses your story. Many life stories naturally focus on the life of the storyteller but perhaps some relationship is a helpful focus.
- Similarly an important object or a place focuses your story.
- Interests, hobbies or external events could form the basis of a great story.
These alternatives overlap. Use them to interrogate your story and see it in new ways. You have far more than one story to tell and for marketing that is an advantage.
How to Structure Your Business Story
You’ve found a story to tell. Good. The next step is work out a structure for the story. This is harder to explain than it is to do! People have told stories for millennia. It is an art-form and as Fats Wallah said of song-writing: “It’s 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”
Think of your story as a layer cake. All four layers need to be present although some may not be immediately obvious. Together they structure your story. Here is a basic overview and in future posts I offer deeper exploration.
- The deepest layer is a traditional story. I shall explain what I mean by traditional in a future post. The aim is to find a traditional story that resonates with your story. This contributes an underlying structure to your story.
- The next layer is your personal story. It is likely to be one of the alternatives I suggested above. It could be something else as I make no claim to have covered all possibilities. This is the story you are telling, structured by the lower layer.
- The topmost layer of the cake is your market’s story. Sometimes, eg case studies, you draw on this more than others. But keep this in mind because these people are your audience. Your story is for them and so they need to be part of it in some way.
- Finally, you have the icing and decorations. It is all the means you use to promote your business. Aim for congruence between them. So everything from business cards and flyers, through websites and social media to speaking and networking tells your story.
In my next four posts I work down through the layer cake. When we get to layer one, we’ll find this opens up seven more posts as we explore traditional stories.
So, next time we look at the topmost layer – the icing and decorations – your marketing story.