Marketing Is Storytelling

Ilise Benun
©2000 All Rights Reserved

Have you ever noticed that most news articles draw you in with a tale about one person, while simultaneously illustrating a broader issue? When you hear a speaker at a conference, isn't it when they tell a story to demonstrate their point that your ears perk up? And don't we spend an awful lot of time watching TV and movies, listening to songs, and (hopefully) reading books. Well, these are all based on stories, other people's stories.

We Listen To Stories
We like stories because we want to be moved, transported, maybe even changed, and stories have the power to do this. Good stories fire the listener's imagination. They embolden, enliven, and motivate, not only their creators but all who hear them. They take us out of our own lives and show us other possibilities; when we hear about someone who accomplished a great feat, we think, "If she can do it, so can I." And so we try.

You don't need any special literary skills to use storytelling as a marketing tool; it is completely natural. Just answer the question, "What do you do?" with real-life anecdotes and examples of how you've solved your clients' problems. Bring your story to life by infusing it with your own personality and a few facts and figures.

A little drama doesn't hurt either.

You can also use your own story in your marketing. It may be appropriate for you to tell the life story of your business to a prospect to illustrate how you came to do what you do; then again, it may not be. However, there is no need to invent stories to trick your prospects into listening to you; just try to integrate this less threatening way of looking at marketing because, unlike the list of products and services that you offer, which are just like everyone else's, your story can set you apart from the competition and draw people into a working relationship with you.

What Your Story Must Have
Be sure to include as many of these elements as you can in your story:

A Simple Truth.
Simplify and clarify to articulate what your business really does. Boil your mission down to a single, accessible idea. (Here's mine: "I help people promote themselves.") Sometimes it's referred to as an "Elevator Story," in other words, you must be able to tell the person next to you in an elevator what you do before he (or she) gets off at his (or her) floor.

A Strong Passionate Voice.
Good stories draw people in, and that requires a storyteller who conveys the passion for the business. So add Company Evangelist to your job title, and even if you're the shy type, remember this: your story is not about you, it's about The Company.

A Mirror.
Storytellers engage listeners by providing characters they can identify with. Likewise, you want your prospects to see themselves in the characters (i.e. clients) in the stories you tell. You'll know when they do because they'll be nodding their heads, knowing that you understand their needs, and that you can help them. If that doesn't happen, it may not be a good match, which is fine.

Drama and Romance.
Romance is not just boy meets girl. Romance is adventure. Romance is life -- someone else's.

Your Story in the Media
Publicity is by far one of the most effective marketing tools at your disposal, but how do you promote yourself to the media so that they will give your growing business the spotlight it needs?

Storytelling. That's right, because ultimately, business stories are human interest stories and every reporter is looking for a good story. In fact the press refers to the articles they write as stories. Here are 4 things you need to give the press to help them tell your story:

1. Personality
"A company is faceless without the people who run it," says business writer, Joanne Cleaver. "In any story, you want the personality of the people to come through. You want to get a sense of who they are."

2. Facts & Figures
Reporters love facts and figures; they anchor a story in reality. However, if you prefer not to divulge sales figures, talk instead about your rate of growth. Say, "Our sales have doubled in the last year," or "We've already met our sales objectives for this year, and it's only July."

3. Anecdotes
As impressive as numbers can be, they are not the whole story. Real-life examples of how you solved a client's problems bring your story to life. According to Cleaver, "Readers want to hear about real people, they respond to that. Your story says I've been there." Tell the stories behind the facts and embellish them with details that would make someone want to listen. (This is where drama comes in handy).

4. Details that Reveal
Reporters have their antennae up for interesting details about the people behind the companies. More and more, that's the approach that reporters are taking, so you need to be open and to share details. Maybe the contents of your refrigerator reveals something insightful about your marketing strategy, or the fact that you work best in the nude. "No business experience is a straight line. Your motivation and vision for the business is affected by who you are. Think about the attitudes that have played into your success or your experience," says Cleaver.

Ilise Benun is the Director of Creative Marketing & Management, a Hoboken-NJ based consulting firm. She is a national speaker who has given workshops for NAWBO, the Family Business Council, the AIGA and many other trade groups around the country. Benun is the editor and publisher of the newsletter, The Art of Self Promotion, and the author of Self Promotion Online. She is also the Internet Promotion Expert on, a one-stop online resource for small business owners. She offers private marketing consultations and Web site critiques.

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