This is an excerpt from Storytelling for Startups by Mark Evans. The book is published by 2015 © Doris Chung Publisher Production Solutions and is available here.
Story-driven marketing comes down to a few key ingredients.
1. Being customer-centric: Many startups fail at storytelling because they talk about themselves and their products. Frankly, customers do not care about what you do or your technology.
They care about what your product does for them. Marcus Sheridan, a content marketing consultant, says storytelling needs a purpose. "There is a bad way and good way to tell stories. Consumers care about themselves, so unless the story resonates with me and I can see me in a story, it is not very valuable".
A great example of a customer-centric startup is Zappos, the popular online shoe retailer. Zappos created an army of loyal customers by accepting returns with no questions asked, sending flowers to customers, and even providing a late-night caller with information on where to order a pizza.
2. Commitment: Good storytelling happens by doing it repeatedly. Some stories flow easily, while some require work – practice, rewrites and new approaches. Success occurs when startups invest the time, resources and effort.
3. Focus: It is challenging to be all things to all people, and it is hard to tell stories everywhere. With limited resources, startups must tell stories where target audiences reside. It means focusing on a small number of storytelling opportunities.
4. Personality: Good stories happen when an authentic personality shines through. It is the difference between creating content, and developing stories that people find interesting, intriguing or provocative.
5. Opportunity: Sometimes, stories happen because there is a well-defined plan. Sometimes, good stories happen because a situation emerges that screams for action. For example, it could be breaking news or an event that a startup can leverage by spinning a related story.
During last year's World Cup, StickerYou jumped on the bandwagon by placing industrial-strength stickers that featured the flags of different countries on sidewalks around Toronto. It then successfully pitched a story to the media about how it was helping to fuel World Cup fever.
6. Courage: Yup, courage. Becoming a storyteller means stepping into the spotlight. Even with a lot of work, it is not a slam-dunk that people will like your stories or find them engaging. But success involves risk. Not every story is going to work...and that's okay.
7. A willingness to listen, not just tell: As much as you want to tell stories, listening is important. Often, ideas for stories emerge when you're listening. It could be at a conference, a dinner party or out for drinks with friends. If you are not listening, good story opportunities are squandered.
By now, you should have a better idea about the value of stories. For many companies, one of the biggest realities of marketing is the number of options. Every option involves opportunities and risks, and there is no guarantee of success as business depends on multiple variables. So how do companies small and large companies mitigate their marketing risk? The best option is storytelling. It is the way to connect with consumers, regardless of the channels used to reach them.
Stories can connect with people in many different ways. Creating stories hinges on a willingness to jump on the proverbial bandwagon, and then keep going.
"A great storyteller…helps people figure out not only what matters in the world, but also why it matters." – Maria Popova
1. How can we embrace storytelling?
2. What makes a good story great?
3. How can stories engage, educate and entertain?
4. Who within your company is best positioned to tell stories?
5. Do we have the appetite to embrace storytelling as a long-term journey?
Mark Evans is the founder of ME Consulting. He help startups and fast-growing companies tell better stories (aka marketing).