Everyone has a story. The sum of our pasts, values, and beliefs translates into what we put out into the world. In the same way, your business should have a story—one that customers can understand, trust and identify with.
When you think about some of the companies you purchase from on a regular basis, you will probably start to notice some associations you make about their stories. Do you buy a particular kind of phone because it makes you feel cutting-edge and professional? Does the backpack you bring while traveling help you feel more adventurous? You identify with these attributes because of the company’s story, the way that business expresses itself to the world.
Every business has a story, regardless of whether it has created its own or not. Your customers will interpret and share the story of your business on their own, but you can take control of it and make sure it’s the kind of story you want to tell.
This is what Marc Gutman, founder of WILDSTORY, helps businesses do every day. With his roots in screenwriting and storytelling, Marc is well trained in understanding what goes into creating a story and how to incorporate it into a brand. After working in imagineering for Disney and moving on to work as a story editor for Oliver Stone, Marc realized he needed to reevaluate his own story. His passions and vision didn’t match up, so he moved to Colorado to start WILDSTORY, sharing his belief that creating a purposeful business and making lots of money don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
What Is A Story?
So, what does it mean to build a story for your business? The definition of storytelling has evolved and might mean 100 different things to 100 different businesses. In the world of Hollywood, stories have a beginning, middle and end, a conflict and resolution and a hero and villain. But you don’t need all these things to generate a story for your business.
At its core, your story is the sum of everything you say and do and how you express that out into the world. In business, your story is your purpose plus your product—how does where you come from and what you believe in translate into what you offer your customers?
One of the most important things to remember here is that your words must match your actions. If the story you try to tell doesn’t match what you do or express each and every day, this creates a conflict. Your customers won’t be able to trust your story, and you could lose business. The key to building your story is to stay authentic, pulling it from where your true values lie.
Benefits Of Your Story
But why go through all the trouble of honing and sharing your story? Using your story in your business can help your company and products stand out, particularly if your company faces a lot of competition. Additionally, businesses driven by purpose and that are about more than making transactional money have passions to share that should be translated through story.
Above all, though, story for your business is about making money. No, it’s not about getting greedy and raking in loads of cash by spinning a false narrative. A lot of companies associate money with greed and have a negative idea of building a company story, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Your story is necessary—it’s your strategy and your north star when it comes to business operations. When you build a unique and interesting story and stay authentic to your brand and yourself, it will help you generate sales.
People often think about our memories as a movie, that we see something and it is retained in our minds forever. However, we really only remember the things we have an emotional tie to. The best way to build those emotional ties with your customers is through building your story. Customers will buy products because of how they make them feel, and those feelings are tied to your story as a business. Story sells, which is why it should be at the forefront of what you do.
How To Build Your Story
WILDSTORY follows an “inside-out” storytelling philosophy when helping businesses create their stories. The old way of building a business was to figure out what you were trying to sell, identify your customers and who they were, then build your company based on that information.
When building your story, you have to start with yourself. Building a solid understanding of yourself and your business will help shape what you offer to people. Once your story is out for people to hear, your customers will begin identifying with you. By telling customers who you are, it tells them who they are.
Your customers want to feel like they matter and search for things that validate who they are as a person. When your brand tells the story of who you are and your customers align with that, and not just with the features of your product, you have reached the best possible level of customer awareness.
At the same time, some customers might decide that they don’t align with your story, and that’s okay. When you communicate your brand’s backstory, values, and vision, a customer might think, “You’re not for me.” Ultimately, by planting your flag and explaining who you are as a business, you are forcing the customer to choose to buy from you or not. Those who step away might not ever turn into a sale, but the customers who do align with your story are likely to return again and again.
The Story Framework
If you’re first starting out on the journey to creating the story of your business, there’s a simple framework you can follow that helps compile all your parts and communicate to customers who you are. The trick here is to be authentic and introspective—ask yourself questions that help shape your brand. Start at the bottom and build up, with each part informing and shaping the next:
Backstory: Your backstory is everything your business has been, right up to today. What is the defining moment that kick-started your business? What problem were you trying to solve and what led you there? Defining your backstory will build your customer’s trust and let them know what you are all about. Your backstory will change over time, so you’ll need to keep your story fluid to make sense for your roots.
- Belief and values: What does your business stand for? Dig deep and list out the non-negotiables in your life and the things you are unwilling to give up. Also, take a look at your calendar—how we spend our time often informs us of what we value.
- Purpose: What is driving your decisions in the business? Your purpose might end up being a single sentence. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”
- Wild vision: You’ll need to look to the future to find your vision, or where you want to take your business. How do you see the world as it relates to your business and products? People buy a strong vision. For example, the stock market is strong, but it’s based on future projections, not on reality.
Once you understand these four things—your backstory, values, purpose, and vision—you’ll have your business operations strategy: who you serve and why. Next, you’ll need to create a story stack or strategy for maintaining your story within every aspect of your business. Every touchpoint—whether it is on social media, your website, within the office, your paid advertisements or even the holiday party—should be calibrated to your story and return to the core value or promise your company stands for.
If these touchpoints don’t match up and instead pull in different directions, they won’t be believable. Your customers won’t trust your story. This happens a lot in firms of all sizes; a team might work on a project and present it to the founder, but the founder doesn’t like it. When the team asks why neither party can quite articulate why it’s wrong. This happens because the company doesn’t share the same interpretation of its story. However, when you have your story firmly in place, particularly in the early stages of the business, it will help your company grow and scale appropriately.
Your Story Will Change And Flow
As your company grows and changes, so will your story. Your job will be to make sure it changes appropriately and shifts to stay relevant to your business’s values. If you’re not careful, you can lose control of your own story.
To find out if your story is changing, you simply need to ask yourself, is it still relevant? Often, your backstory will be the thing that changes. Your backstory only matters if there is relevance to your products or services—if it’s not relevant, why bother telling it? Also, ask yourself if your story serves your goals and who you want to be. The best way to stay in touch with your story and not lose control is by remaining clear about who you are.
Whether you’re shaping your story or not, your customers will be interpreting and sharing a story about your brand. You can’t always control what people think when they hear your story, but you can make sure they’re hearing the right, consistent message that is true to your brand.
Obtaining The Highest Level Of Customer Awareness
Ultimately, what you want for your business is a group of loyal, raving fans who appreciate your company and continue to return and purchase again and again. In order to get there, you’ll need people to identify with you.
There are four stages of customer awareness. The highest level—brand affiliation—is what you’re trying to achieve with your story.
1. Product function awareness: The first level of awareness is where you get your product in front of customers and show them that your product or service exists. Customers may not even recognize there is a problem until you present them with your solution.
2. Product feature awareness: Once customers know about you, they’ll start to recognize the features of your products that they need to solve their problems.
3. Brand association: At this level, your brand means something to customers. People purchasing your products are aware of what the company offers in terms of quality, features, and technology.
4. Brand affiliation: This final step is where your customers move from acknowledging your products’ features to acknowledging the shared meaning associated with the brand. Your customers will align with your business’ values and beliefs and share the feelings your products and services provide. It can be difficult to reach this level, which is why you need a story.
You need to create a connection between your story, your customer’s mind, and your products. Your discipline—what you do—isn’t always interesting. Your story—the problem you want to solve and the values you uphold—is unique. When you align your discipline with your story, you’ll have the tools to support your business and reach that highest level of customer awareness.
Tips For Creating And Sharing Your Story
In the end, creating your story is not always easy. It requires a lot of internal thought and self-awareness for your business. When working through the basic framework for your story, there are a few things to keep in mind.
When you start, think about a conflict, a piece of insight or a major turning point in your professional journey to find that defining moment and hone your purpose. What are some major lessons you learned early in your career? What’s the most challenging thing you’ve ever done? Who has impacted you the most in life? By answering these questions, you’ll make it easier to understand why you do what you do.
Once you begin sharing your story, make sure you relive the story every time you tell it. People want to know the details, what it was like to start and where you got your passion from. Also, don’t be afraid to give specifics. A common misconception is that by being more general, you’ll appeal to a wider audience. It’s actually the opposite: the more specific you are, the more universal the story becomes. Details will make your story more authentic, help people remember it and allow you to forge a deeper connection.
Finally, don’t edit yourself. Stay honest, raw and vulnerable. Your customers want to hear what’s real and won’t be afraid to call you on it if it’s not. By staying true to yourself—your past, your values and your vision for the future—you’ll be able to create an interesting story your dedicated customers will connect with and return to again and again.