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Marketing / Business writing

Storytelling superpowers: Using narrative to engage your audience

A well-crafted story about your business is one of the most compelling ways to really reach your customer.

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Have you ever been on a website that sounds bigger than you know it is? Perhaps it’s full of corporate speak and the royal ‘we’. There is nothing wrong with that. If you’re dealing with a big corporate then it may feel like the approach you need to take to play the ‘professional’.

A better approach is to own your situation. One way to this is by sharing your business story. In fact, storytelling can be a superpower for small business owners because it’s something that bigger businesses struggle to emulate with the same amount of heart and passion. They have to use ‘corporate speak’ because it’s all they’ve got!

One of the great things about telling your business story is that it’s a low cost way to create an emotional connection with your audience. But getting started isn’t so easy. What do you say? How do you write it in a way that is engaging? How do you avoid sounding boring?

3 benefits of storytelling

There are three reasons why storytelling and sharing your business story has become so important.

  1. Your audience wants to know who they’re dealing with
    As so many interactions start online, it’s important to have a way for people to get to know you before they decide to get in contact. This is why the ‘About’ page (the main page where you can share your story) of a website is commonly the second most visited page after the home page.
  2. Stories are a shortcut to understanding
    Good stories lead to a deeper understanding of who you are, why your offering matters and how it can help your audience. And your story is unique to you. No one else will have exactly the same approach because you’re bringing all your experiences and beliefs to it.
  3. Encourages word of mouth
    People love sharing engaging stories because it makes them look knowledgeable and they get to help someone else. But before they can share a story, they need to remember it. Good stories are memorable.

But first overcoming the big challenge with storytelling …

The biggest challenge with sharing your business story is creating something that people want to read. No one coming to your website or your LinkedIn profile or your other social media accounts wants to read your whole life story. That’s not the kind of story we’re talking about here.

"One of the great things about telling your business story is that it’s a low cost way to create an emotional connection with your audience."

Too much background or starting with the date and place the business began can make it feel like a history lesson rather than a must-read.

So where can you begin?

An engaging story has 4 key parts:

  1. Problem – why did you create your business? What was it that you thought could be improved?
  2. Challenges – what struggles did you have to go through to create your ideal solution? I see a lot of businesses gloss over this but if you do then you’re missing the change to put emotion into your story.
  3. Triumph – what did you come up with and how does it overcome the problem you started out with?
  4. Evolution – what’s next? How are you going to keep growing, learning and staying up to date with what’s happening in your industry?

What does a well-crafted business story look like? Let’s look at an example of a business that has got it right and why.

I mentioned the royal ‘we’ at the start of this article. If you follow the Royal Family then you may have heard of one of the brands that the Duchess of Sussex wore on a 2018 tour of Australia. Outland Denim was on the royal derriere (and baby bump!) for the trip west to Dubbo.

Outland Denim have become known for their ethical approach to clothing manufacturing and they do a good job on their website of explaining how the business started, why ethical manufacturing is important and what that means for them.

Let’s break the parts of their story down into the 4 key story elements so you can see what they’ve done.

Problem

Rather than being just another jeans company that is looking to create ‘the perfect fit’, this story starts with a different kind of problem: human trafficking. Right away it’s clear that this company isn’t just focused on selling clothes.

And the reason they picked jeans was because they are ‘the most staple part of a person’s wardrobe’. Makes sense, right? In a few short paragraphs the reader is given a quick overview and background on why this company is different and how they want to make a difference.

Challenge

But the founder didn’t just go from a lofty ideal to a product. They had to get into the practicalities of starting a clothing brand with no background in manufacturing.

This discussion of the challenges they experienced grounds the story and demonstrates what they had to learn to create a quality product. This is summed up in the phrase ‘picking up a highly specialised craft from scratch’.

There is also great visual imagery with how they had to establish a ‘manufacturing process that began with pedal press sewing machines and hot-coal irons in remote Cambodian villages’. You can almost see and feel how difficult that must have been.

Solution

They then move onto explain how they’ve improved and their commitment to an ethical and environmentally sound setup.

They also discuss their solution at the top of the page in a succinct sentence that explains what they stand for.

Evolution

They talk about how their commitment to an ethical approach means that their customers are part of a global movement that ‘promotes human dignity and leaves a positive impact on the earth’. So rather than disposable fast fashion, their approach is one that takes the social and physical environment into account.

Getting started

You don’t need to have a business with world changing attributes to use storytelling in your business. Solopreneurs, like you, can use it to explain what makes you different and attract people who are passionate about what you believe.

Storytelling in business doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. The great thing is that once you’ve created your story then you don’t need to do it again.

But getting started can be difficult so if you want help with that then go to harbren.com/story where you can download a free worksheet that helps you tease out your unique story.

Jill Brennan

is the founder of Harbren Marketing and has worked with, for and in small businesses for 20+ years. She has had a front row seat to the confusion and frustration that plagues many business owners when it comes to marketing. Get her free Story Worksheet here.

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