Small Business Marketing: Tell a Story

If small business marketing is your job, you must learn to tell a compelling story. Stories bring your copy to life. They make the difference between boring copy and words that mean something to the reader.

Here’s an illustration of the power of story. I’m a fan of the television show American Ninja Warrior. If you’re not familiar with the show, it begins with regional competitions, where athletes compete on a complex and difficult obstacle course. Those who fail fall into a pool of water, and those who finish the course progress to national competitions. The winner receives $1 million. The athletes train rigorously and must be in top shape to complete the challenges — still many fail.

None of the athletes are well known. They are regular people who aren’t millionaires and are not known outside their circle of friends and training cohorts.

I can imagine some of the questions during the production meetings during the development of the show.

  • How do we get the television viewing audience to care about a group of people they know nothing about?
  • How do we make them care enough to keep tuning in?
  • How do we build enough excitement to get a crowd cheering and screaming?

The answer: stories. Each show runs a brief bio segment that shows the athlete in their home gym training, introduces the view to their family, and highlights any struggles they may have faced. The stories have featured cancer survivors, those who have overcome serious injury, difficult childhoods, and other obstacles.

By the time the segment finishes, I really want that person to finish the course and do well. I root for them and am disappointed when they lose grip and fall into the pool below.

American Ninja Warrior has harnessed the power of the story and they use it to great success. Their stories have an emotional pull that makes the audience care and become invested in people whose names they otherwise would have never known.

What if you could use that same emotional power in your small business marketing? What if you could make your readers care about you, your business, and your product?

Most buying decisions are emotional. They play on our desire to fit in, to look younger, or to be cool and successful.

Recently I watched a YouTube tutorial on how to blow-dry hair to create a certain style. The woman demonstrating had a gorgeous full head of perfect hair. When she mentioned the products she used, I quickly went to Amazon to purchase — because if I use those products, my hair will look like hers, right? Wrong. It didn’t. I know better because I understand how marketing works, but just for a moment my emotions got me hooked and I bought.

The video was aspirational — if I buy this product, my hair will look like hers. It played on my desire to have fabulous hair and it worked. What about your business could be seen as aspirational for your reader?

This is why star athletes get paid millions of dollars to wear a certain hat, shirt, or pair of shoes. If this Nike-wearing player hits grand slams or makes touchdowns, every kid will want this item.

How do you find stories about your business or product?

  1. Happy customers. I’ll bet you have customers who have bought from you who are thrilled and would love to tell the world about it. There’s a story there — from before to after because of your product.
  2. How the product was developed. Is there an inspirational story behind the start of your business or product? Is the business a multi-generational family store or restaurant?
  3. Your personal story. How did you come to start the business/develop the product? In what ways did you struggle or overcome difficulty to get where you are today?

Think carefully about how you can incorporate stories into your marketing on a regular basis. Elicit stories from your readers and customers. Consider a photo/story contest that relates to your business. Follow big brands and get ideas from them. Here are some ideas about how to learn from big brands and adapt their marketing to your small business.

Above all, look for stories where you can find them. Inspire your audience. Move them. Make them feel.

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