“Once upon a time…” That is how most stories begin – and many of the stories that began with those four words are fairy tales, fantasies, or make-believe narratives. Some, however, are based on true events.
What about your story? How would you define your business story? A fairy tale? A fantasy? An autobiography? Fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, biz-fi… or none of the above?
The correct answer to this question is determined not by how you define your story, but by how your client or customer (the reader) interprets your story.
Is your story a narrative or a sales pitch?
Is your story, your narrative, a best seller? Does your story bring new and ever-expanding revenue to your business (or at the least actionable leads)? Does it support your marketing plan? Does it enhance your customers’ journey, or provide multiple levels of interactive dialogue, or engage your customers or your target demographic? Or does it re-embrace your lost client or customer base? Does your narrative set you and your business up for additional contact, engagement, and dialogue?
Does your story have chapters, twists, changes, alternative endings, and interactive capabilities? Is your story one for the ages, or one that can and needs to be updated regularly? Is your story a digital-only version, a print-only version, or a combination of both?
Storytelling is no longer just storytelling – it is business building
Whether you intend your story to be simple a story for the sake of being a story, or you want it to be a business-based narrative or a sales pitch, you need to focus on the concept of your storyline. Consider not only what it says, but how; when, where, and why you say what you do.
Today, the digital and legacy media you select impacts your story; almost as much as the narrative you tell, the messaging you hope to convey, the way your audience interprets your story, and, of course, the end result of your storytelling.
Twitter limits your story to 280 characters. Facebook jams your story into four or so photos, limiting your word selection and opening up the possibility that your words might be misread, incorrectly interpreted, or never viewed at all due to the sheer volume of followers and friends, and the mass of interactions that social mass media demands. LinkedIn attempts to separate your tale into groups, or algorithmic demographics, which also suffer from the bane of all mass media – ineffectiveness.
Direct mail, ads, or non-digital media provides you with additional separation from the media masses – since you have more space and volume to fill with your story – but do these media enable your story to be impactful and effective? Other social media apps offer diverse, integrated, consolidation of messaging (via photos) as byproducts of their use. But which, if any, are correct for you to use?
What is the best combination of media and message for your firm? In part, the media and messaging you decide to use should be based on the goals of the story – your business goals. The overall theme you convey is dependent on you and the business you are marketing, but the way that you tell and present your story can make all the difference in the world.
Are there rules for successful business-based storytelling?
If there were a set of rules, the first rule would be ‘less is more’. But the ‘less’ needs to be the most effective, impactful, targeted set of words that you, as a business, can express to get your story told, or – perhaps more important – to get your story read and acted upon.
Words are powerful tools, but only if the words are correctly selected and then designed to present a visual image, a thought, an action-orientated role that supports your business building efforts. In photography, this is often called ‘previsualisation’. You should call this ‘pre-business realisation’!
First steps first: A how-to guide
The first step is to develop a plan that is closely linked to your business, marketing, and sales plan. The plan should be based on reality, and your messaging needs to start to work on a variety of customised, defined levels. Do you have a plan?
Next, consider your words and your media. Can your message be adequately delivered across social media, your website, direct mail, public relations, digital and legacy media? The answer, as you might guess, is yes, no, or maybe. It all starts with the foundational aspect of what you are attempting to say, followed by the substrata-based messaging you develop; message that are designed and customised for the media being used to support your core message.
Determine the primary media to tell your story. For most people, the primary tool is the business website, but is this a correct assumption? Is that the correct medium for you to lead with? Some consider social media their primary core tool to get the message out; others look to promotional or marketing materials. Others decide on an integration of media and marketing tools. Do you need a core medium to get your message out?
We as marketers have always stated that message is critical – context is king – but have we been fooling ourselves? Content is king in a message, but context is queen, and together they are a team that assists you to develop, maintain, and deploy an effective story about your business and allow you to use that baseline story (your screenplay) to build your business.
A strategic example: As with most of life, we have strategic, operational, and tactical issues to deal with. The big picture is one of the most difficult to define since from that definition, we will develop the operational and tactical statements we hope to make.
Perhaps, a clear example of missed or mixed messaging across all media is a large but niche industry retail/catalog offering such as that developed within the boating industry. Boating is defined in many segments, but one can easily determine that power boating and sail boating are different, yet connected. Sailors (of which I am one) look at the products, tools, positioning, and messaging of large retailers differently from the way power boaters do. The messaging may have some elements in common, but it needs to be more detailed and more directly related to each segment. It has been my experience that separated segment-defined messaging (cross or trans-storytelling) under a common core corporate umbrella would be a more successful marketing tool.
When was the last time you had your messaging reviewed, adjusted, defined or customised? If you cannot answer this question in the blink of an eye, a stroke of the pen, a click of the keyboard, then it has been too long.
Creating your business narrative
Are you confused as to what to say, how to say it, and where to say it? Join the crowd. Most companies are more than confused. In many instances, they toss the message out and hope it lands where it is needed. You are not alone. In my next instalment, I will try to give you some tools that will help you clear your mind and redefine your words and messaging.