Telling Your Market’s Story

Why consider your market’s story before we move onto your own story?  This sequence is about storytelling in marketing and so your market imposes constraints on the story you tell.  This is not storytelling as entertainment, your purpose in telling your story is to tell your market’s story.

You aim to move people to take action in their own interest.  Stories have done this for millennia.  They guide their hearers through life and show them how to flourish as mature human beings.  Your market’s story must do the same.

The hero sets out incomplete.  The story equips the hero to deal with their problem.

Your Market in Your Story?

In storytelling, characters and other things stand in for things in real life.  You need not refer to your market directly but understand with whom they identify in your story.

If they identify as the hero, they emotionally engage in the story and see they need the attributes the hero develops to tackle their problem.

Don’t identify yourself with the hero. If you market a solution to the problem, your market does not need to know you are searching for the same thing they are.  They need to know you have found it!  You are better positioned in the story as helper or guide; someone with a solution to the market’s problem.

However, bear in mind it can be inviting to offer participation in a journey.  Here you present yourself not as someone with a complete solution but someone who invites their market to join in a journey.  A good example in marketing terms is Jeff Walker’s seed launch.  Customers pay to be part of an exploratory project and receive the results of the work, usually some online product.

The challenging question is: how do I make my market the hero of my story?  Perhaps you experienced some life-changing event? Your market cannot feel what it was like to be there.  This is a challenge all storytellers face.  Helping your market engage fully is not always easy.  They never experience exactly what you experienced but can experience emotional involvement in your story.

Using Your Market’s Story

One possibility is to use your market’s story directly through a case study.  Use a single case or combine several to make a typical case.  Remember confidentiality constraints; changing names is not always sufficient to hide an identity.

Case studies help you showcase your role with the customer.  You tell their story and show how you helped them.  Sometimes this works better than shoehorning your market into your personal story.

What’s Their Problem?

Your market has a problem you can solve.  Does your story accurately describe their problem and explain why they should try your solution ?  If not, why tell that story?  If you tell an apparently unrelated story, know why you tell it and how it helps your business.  For example, your story might help your market know like and trust you.

The further your story is from your market’s problem, the greater your difficulty getting them to commit to further contact.  A lot depends on context.  For example, if you have a story that builds trust, use it with other material about the problem you solve.

Many successful business people have a keynote story that does not relate specifically to what they offer.  It is branding, creating a memorable public image that helps people understand their business.  This works where a business has a range of offers for various markets and needs a coherent overall message.  If the market’s problem is absent from the keynote story, feature it somewhere else in your marketing materials.

What Stage are They At?

There are other things to consider as you build your story, eg how aware are your audience?  Take a look at this post about the Awareness Ladder.

Here are the types of audience, from the bottom of the ladder upwards. They:

  • are not aware they have the problem. They may be overweight but do not see it as a problem or possibly may become overweight in the future.
  • do not believe there is a solution. They know they are overweight, they’ve tried dieting and exercise and it hasn’t worked.  They’ve given up looking because they believe there is nothing to find.
  • actively seek solutions but are not aware of yours.
  • are aware of your solution and want to know more.

Whilst your audience may include people on every rung of the ladder, chances are one rung predominates.  You move your audience only one rung at a time.  The further down the ladder you are, the harder it is to move to the next rung.  Be clear what change you seek in your audience.

What if You Don’t Know Their Stage?

Sometimes you have no idea which stage your audience is at.  You make enquiries and educated guesses but perhaps all you know is it could be all four.  What’s the best approach, where you don’t know?

It depends how much time you have.  Use time to assess the audience, work out where most of them are and then tell your story.

The last two types of audience are most likely to result in enquiries.  So, it may be best to gamble on this to get results.  Does it mean you alienate the rest of the audience?  Does it matter?

What Do You Offer?

Consider the nature of your offer.  How closely does it fit your story?  Maybe you have:

  • experienced a major life crisis. You want people to buy your book or support an associated cause.
  • an offer for people experiencing something similar. Or life coaching to anyone either in crisis or for resilience.
  • developed a skill or product and use your story to show how you got into business.

Each implies a different market with different needs.  How you tell your story depends on your offer.

Call to Action (CTA)

Finally, your call to action is crucial. It must acknowledge all these factors and dovetail with your story.

Sometimes you can sell from the stage, especially with a low-cost product, such as a book.  Selling your book is easy, especially if you design the story you tell to whet appetites for the rest of the book.

Otherwise, explain your offer and show people what to do if they are interested.

One possibility is start with your CTA and build your stories around it.  If you sell a book, a cliff hanger might work, so long as your audience doesn’t feel manipulated.  To sell a coaching service, your story needs to show the consequences of not taking action and the value of working with you to solve the problem.

Looking Forwards

In my next two posts, I work further down through the layer cake.  When we get to layer one, this opens up seven more posts as we explore traditional stories.

So, next time I describe the second layer down – your personal or keynote story – how to tell a compelling story that establishes your position in the marketplace.

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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