What the heck does storytelling really mean for your business?

Storytelling sure is popular right now. In fact, if you hear one more person say, “Tell your story,” you might actually punch someone in the face! What does storytelling really mean for your business?

What the heck does storytelling really mean for your business?

Storytelling sure is popular right now. In fact, if you hear one more person say, “Tell your story,” you might actually punch someone in the face!

“Tell your story” seems like such a weird concept. “Umm... I’m in business. Telling a story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” We get abstract advice about being “more authentic” and “finding our voice” to make more sales. All of it seems odd and confusing with people just throwing around  lots of buzzwords.

So let me help clear some things up a little bit.

FIRST - No one really cares about your story.

Ouch! Yeah, that really hurts.

When was the last time someone started going into the history of their company and you really started leaning in and paying attention? Never. Or rarely.

We don’t care about your great-grandfather who started the business. We don’t care about your kids. And we most definitely don’t care about your mission, vision and values statement you took months to craft.

Then what do people really care about? Not your story...

SECOND - People care about their own story.

Think about it. You are constantly thinking about you. You are inside your own head having your own thoughts about you, your business, your family, your problems, your friends, your well-being and your success. If you are thinking primarily about you, then what are your customers thinking about?


So the story you need to try to tell is your customer’s story. Every story your brand tells should be customer-centric. They are always the hero. That’s where your brand’s story should start.  

The only way to hijack the narcissistic human brain is to talk about human problems. The self-absorbed mind will suddenly start paying attention if you begin talking about things the customer is already thinking about. The main thing humans are thinking about on a regular basis is success and well-being. Will I get the promotion? Will my kids turn out okay? Do I have what it takes? Will I be able to pay my bills? Will I be able to get into that college? Will they like me? Etc.

To tell your customer’s story you need to be able to identify the problems your potential customers face as it relates to your product or service. And identify how those problems make them feel.

It might sound something like, “People really struggle with {insert problem}. It leaves them feeling {insert feeling}.”

This is the beginning of a good “story.”

You would never watch a movie if there wasn’t a problem the hero needed solved. If there is no problem, there is no story.

If there isn’t Apollo Creed, “Rocky” isn’t a movie. If there isn’t Darth Vader, “Starwars” isn’t a movie. If there isn’t a tyrannical government, “Hunger Games” doesn’t work. Or maybe they all become movies, but they all end up flopping because there really isn’t a story! We need a problem to have a story.    

Likewise, if you can’t talk about and identify the problems you are helping your customer overcome and how those problems make them feel, there is no story. Your customers don’t give a rip about doing business with you if you can’t connect with their problems.

THIRD - Know what character your business plays in the story of your customers.

Don’t forget this main idea: Your customers only care about themselves! Which means they are always the hero of the story. Which puts your brand in a really cool spot. You get to be the guide that helps the hero win the day.

The guide is always the awesome character in the story. Think about Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid or Alfred in Batman.. Yeah, they are cool cats! They kind of kick butt. The guide is a side character, but they are the ones who so often provide the plan or the support the hero needs to win.

Two of my favorite guides right now are Alfred and Gordon from the TV series Gotham. They are pretty great and are wonderful guides trying to help Young Master Bruce wint the day!

Do you position your brand as the secondary role in the story? Do you offer a plan to help your customers win the day? Do your customers know they are the reason you exist?

Look at your marketing material, your website, your email headings, your taglines, your Facebook posts and

Instagram feed. Who are you primarily talking about? Yourself or your customer? Do all your leading lines talk about you or do all your leading lines talk about them?

Customers know intuitively if a brand isn’t putting them first. If customers know you put them first, brand loyalty is created. Some brands almost feel like cults because of how loyal their fans have become. Think about Chick-Fil-A and Apple and Starbucks. They are all great brands that got this way because of putting their customer first!

So, practically, what does this look like? When you are “storytelling,” you always begin with your customer first. Talk about the problems you are helping them solve. Talk about how those problems make them feel.

And then introduce the thing they really want to hear--EMPATHY. “As a brand we get what it’s like to feel {insert feeling} about {insert problem}.” This is the secret sauce! Your business just gained a whole lot of trust because your customers know that you get them; you understand them.

Now they are ready to hear the plan to defeat the death stars in their life, wise Yoda! Use the force of course!

So your brand gives them the plan. “All you need to do is {insert call to action} and we will help you solve {insert problem}.”

FOURTH - Tell the story of who your customer could become.

“People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves.” I’ve read this quote a million places but can’t seem to find where it originated! So to whomever said this, great job!

But that’s the story people want to be a part of, the story that paints a bright future of how their life could change if they did business with you.  

"Here's what our product can do" and "Here's what you can do with our product" sound similar, but they are completely different approaches.

For instance... “Our chainsaws have the sharpest blades.” This is great. But a better story will say “You will cut down lots of shit!” The customer will be able to envision themselves blazing a pathway of destruction in the middle of the forest.

Features are great. You need to talk about them. But these details are in the background of the real story you need to be telling.

FIFTH - A confusing story will turn customers away.

You might be surprised to know that storytelling actually needs to have a structure and a formula for it to work effectively. When stories break outside of this structure, then the audience begins to disengage because they are confused.

For example, one component I already talked about was identifying the problem the main character is trying to overcome. In the movie “Rocky,” the main thing he wanted to overcome was Apollo Creed. Even deeper than that, he wanted to prove he had what it took, that he wasn’t a bum.  

“All I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.” - Rocky

Sure in the movie he was trying to win Adrian, but that was connected to his bigger problem of not being a bum. The whole movie was about him overcoming being a bum.

If in the movie, Rocky was also trying to solve world hunger, run his first marathon and save enough money to buy a house, then the movie would have been confusing.

Many brands get super confusing because they don’t focus on the one main problem they are trying to help their customers solve. Sure your company may do 47 different things, but what is the MAIN PROBLEM your brand is known to solve?

If it’s not clear, then customers will be confused and you will be losing business. By trying to communicate everything, you communicate a confusing message and lose customers.

What is the main thing that will get your customers in the door? Communicate this clearly. Then you can add value by adding in your other services. But communicate clearly the one or two things you offer to help make their lives better.

SIXTH - The “curse of knowledge” can make it hard to tell a clear story.

Many business owners struggle talking about their products or services because they are so close to what they do that they no longer know what it’s like to be an “outsider.” So they communicate with industry talk that just confuses everyone.  

If it seems like your potential customers seem to not be engaging with your product or service, this might be the problem you have.

It’s sad that many great businesses who do really great things aren’t connecting the way they should or could simply because they don’t know how to communicate a clear and compelling brand story to their audience.

Thankfully it doesn’t have to be that way.

  1. One of the best books to help you know how to tell a clear and compelling story is Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. There is no more practical book for learning how to communicate clearly.
  1. Get a free 30-minute website and brand consultation. Big Big Story will take the time to talk you through how your “brand story” is being communicated. Who is the hero of the story? Do you have empathy in your brand language? Are you struggling with the curse of knowledge? Do you have clear calls to action? Are you painting pictures of success? How clear are your one-liners? Walk away from this phone call with next steps on how to improve your brand story and begin to turn your website browsers into buyers!


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