Is your story vanilla or Marmite?

You have a product or service and you want more sales. Marketing budgets are tight, so you can’t afford to ‘buy’ in business with advertising, direct mail, etc.  You’re also concerned that you keep hold of your existing clients (they’re questioning every cost line in their business).

You decide to get out and network (you may even have a team of people tasked with this).  “Get out there and let everyone know about *** Ltd!”

You adopt the same strategy with social media – open up accounts, start tweeting, get on LinkedIn, etc.

But here’s the problem.  You meet plenty of people, you spread your message, you accumulate business cards and contacts and…not much happens!

Are you worth paying attention to?
The likelihood is you’re not telling a compelling story.  It’s a bit ‘vanilla’.

You’re spreading an unremarkable message and expecting people to ACT.
Your message is factual and based on logic, “We’re here, this is what we do, buy from us!”

It’s not getting people excited, it’s a bit like all the other pitches out there.  But so many people do this (the majority I think), and it’s a crime!  Isn’t it a good idea to make sure you’re having an impact when you get in front of a decision-maker?

So here’s an alternative strategy – put your STORY at the heart of everything you do.  Here’s a 5-Stage Plan.

Stage 1 – the basic pitch
Instead of vanilla, develop a Marmite pitch.  As the name suggests, it’s either going to turn people on or turn them off.  But at least you know what you’re getting and it’s memorable.  The temptation is to deliver a message that’s got broad appeal, something unlikely to upset anyone.  After all, we like to be liked and maybe we think our product or service is great for everyone!

But vanilla is a bit like everyone else and it’s dull and forgettable.  If the person’s response to your initial pitch is, “Oh right, so where are you based?” start worrying!  Give people an idea of the problem you solve (in your own specific way; give them the sense you’re on a mission; maybe pluck out one thing you do that’s interesting and gets the listener intrigued.

I once used my 60 seconds at BNI to read out the football results. “Manchester United 4, Arsenal…?” Likes James Alexander Gordon on the BBC, your voice goes UP for the 4 and DOWN for the lower number (Arsenal lost!).  You know the second score will be lower because the voice is pitched lower.  So for about 30 seconds or so we dealt with vocal tone and of course I linked that with what I do as a communication skills coach.

Stage 2 – develop depth
You’ve delivered your initial pitch, but now you’ve got to expand.  They might say, “Wow, so how do you do that?”.  Your response might start with, “Well, for example…”.  Here’s where you need your library of stories, a vault of material you can draw upon at a moment’s notice.  You need:

  • Case studies (stories of how you’ve transformed someone’s situation).
  • Anecdotes (maybe a personal experience that taught you a lesson and relates to what you do now).
  • Research/Statistics (something to add credibility and support your argument).
  • News stories (things in the media which relate to your field).

Having depth to your story gives you oodles of credibility, makes you interesting to speak to and stories get passed on (see below).

The beauty of a good case study/anecdote is it allows the listener to make their own mind up about you.  They don’t have to take your word for it that you’re No.1 for customer service.  Tell them a good story where you played a key role, and they’ll draw the right conclusions themselves.

Stage 3 – get good at telling it
Storytelling isn’t easy.  We’ve all heard would-be comedians murder a perfectly good joke, so it’s essential you get really good at delivering your message when face to face with your audience.  A well-told story helps you to engage people on a deeper, emotional level.

All stories have 3 basic components: a protagonist (the lead character), a plot and a point (moral). You might be the main character (accountant) and the plot might be how you solved a major problem for a client and got his life back on track for him.  The moral might be…manage your cash flow or else!

If your anecdote is easy to remember and has a point to it, other people forward it on for you.  You’re getting free marketing!

Remember, you’re presenting all the time – in conversations, the round-the-table elevator pitch, team briefings, 10 minute PowerPoint talks or keynotes.  Learn to weave elements of your ‘library’ into these situations and you’ll be seen as knowledgeable, impressive, spontaneous, likeable and memorable.

Stage 4 – develop a story culture within your organisation
Get your team together on a regular basis and throw stories on to the table.  One person explains how she calmed down an irate customer at reception and they became an advocate for the business; another used a sales technique to good effect; someone else spotted a news item that showed an amazing marketing idea that might work for your company.

These stories are often not captured but by sharing these things you develop improved practices, stimulate creative thinking, improve employee engagement and motivation AND create more material for your collective library.

Stage 5 – spread your story
Things really gain momentum when you get other people talking about you.  Web publishing platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube enable you to share and spread material in a way that was unthinkable a few years ago, but the problem is that very accessibility leads to a lot of (value-less) noise.

You don’t want to be lost amongst the spam, and the easiest way to do that is to build a following of loyal supporters who like what you do and the way you do things.  These people WILL open your emails and read your blogs and pass them on to others because….they’re worth talking about!

Use these story-based communications to change the relationships you have with people in your circle.  You’ve moved from being a contact (we know of you, that you exist), to a connection (someone worth knowing), to someone who’s indispensable (a linchpin, a part of ‘them’).

The bigger picture – developing PULL
When you develop relationships like this, they’ll spread your story for you and attract others (like them) to you.  This is when you develop real PULL.

It’s so much more than just delivering a decent elevator pitch but it kind of starts from that.  In fact it starts before that – with YOU reflecting on your OWN story first and knowing not only what you do and how you create value for people…but also WHY you do what you do (your cause, your purpose, the wrong you’ve set out to right).

In summary, know your own story, get really good at telling it and use it as your KEY TOOL for establishing your own distinctive brand or signature.

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