We learn through story. We are persuaded by a good story. Our minds are intrigued when people narrate experiences.
When we tell stories to others that have helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we bridge the gap between cause and effect.
But what is business storytelling? And how do you create one for your small business? Read on and we’ll tell you!
An Introduction to Business Storytelling
We here at Keyhole Marketing are storytellers who enjoy unpacking the who, what, when, where, why and how of things and believe strongly in the power of honest and direct business storytelling.
People want to know how you came to be and what failures or setbacks shaped you as a person and as a business. We’ve faced several disappointments and disruptions along the road. And as tempting as it has been to dwell on the things that didn’t go our way — or worse yet, ignore them — we decided to face them, identify our unique elements, and seek ways in which we could actively revisit and improve our business storytelling.
In this guide, you’ll discover our five steps for business storytelling — developing an authentic brand narrative that attracts the right people to your door and inspires them to start knocking.
STEP 1. Identify Your Unique Value
At the end of 2017, we lost our inaugural client at Keyhole Marketing — a business we’d not only served for over five years, but that also made up over half our annual revenue. It was quite a big hit for our small business. Truthfully, it sent us reeling and made us wonder if we could even keep going.
But the dust eventually settled.
In the aftermath, we took the open space to first ask ourselves: “What did we do wrong? How did this fall apart? What could have been done differently?” And then we went even deeper to explore: “Who are we as a business? What makes us different from the competition? What are the things that make us who we are?”
In short, we were defining our unique value proposition (UVP) and starting the business storytelling process.
Why a UVP Matters
In short, your unique value proposition describes what customers can expect from you and why they should choose you over a competitor, while at the same time informing them how your products or services solve real life problems.
Great storytelling starts here.
Only after knowing what makes you attractive and unique to your target audience can you begin to craft a core message that cuts through the noise, market your business alongside competitors, and build an audience all your own. Think about it: If you can’t articulate what makes you different, then your customers can’t identify it either in their shopping and comparing.
So, even if you think you know what makes your small business stand out in the crowd, be sure not to skip past this step in the process. By taking the time to write it out, you’ll create a guideline that leads to greater success in marketing your story and keeps you and your team focused on your purpose.
Skipping over the process of creating a UVP will make it extremely difficult to market effectively. This short and succinct statement is designed to keep your company grounded and focused on what matters most. If you can’t articulate what makes you unique, then your customers won’t be able to either. The UVP process also brings up issues in your business model that can be addressed early. It weeds out unimportant or ambiguous target audiences, actively forces you to identify competitors, and highlights purpose and your key differentiators above all else.
Where to Begin the Process
Just like we did after losing that client in 2017, start by asking yourself the following questions:
- What do you make or offer? To successfully create your UVP, you must be able to clearly state what products you make or what services you provide. It should be short and easy to understand in order to quickly connect with buyers.
- Who do you serve? If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one. To make sure your message stands out amidst the noise, you must know who exactly needs your solutions. (We’ll share more on this in the next step of business storytelling.)
- Who do you play against? See who your target audience might be choosing over you. Get to know them inside and out. How are they currently messaging to their target audience? What seems to be working for them? What’s pushing their clientele away? Their gaps could be your gateway to success.
- What makes you better? As you research your competitors, start to determine what you can do that they cannot. Get clearer on what truly makes your products or services unique. What can you truthfully say about your great business that your competitors cannot? Dig deep and understand what your competitors cannot imitate.
- Who are you? Going beyond simply defining what you make or sell, go to the core of your business — to the history of your company, the passion, the mission, and the purpose. Explore these questions:
- What is your company’s origin story?
- Who founded it and why?
- How did you get started in this profession?
- What’s your purpose?
- How do you make the world a better place through this?
- Why do you want to continue on this path?
How to Create Your UVP Statement
Now, it’s time to condense all that information into one simple statement that clearly defines how your solution solves your customers’ felt needs, the benefits it provides, and the reasons it stands apart from your competitors.
Here’s an example of a great UVP that includes all the key elements: Skype keeps the world talking, for free.
So how do you come up with yours? We suggest finding a quiet, workable space and scheduling a day with your team to address each of the aforementioned questions. Consider inviting your customers to join the conversation. After all, they are the ones buying your products or services, so let them tell you what they find unique about your business.
Also, find someone from outside your organization to facilitate the conversation. We like to say, “you can’t see the label from inside the jar,” so having an unbiased third party in the room can make sure that everyone has a voice and that no important information gets bulldozed.
Oh, don’t think this process only applies to new businesses. We strongly recommend hitting the reset button every few years to reexamine your unique selling points, target audience and marketing message. You may discover some changes with the natural growth and transformation of your business.
EXERCISE #1: Write a Letter to Your Younger Self
One way to get to know your business better is to get to know yourself better. An interesting way to do that would be to think back to who you were when you started your business. What fears and goals did that younger self have? What do you wish that younger self knew at that time? Consider writing a letter to that person. What might you want to share? How might you extend grace to your younger self? You may be surprised what you find out about your present self — and what that might mean for your business — in that process.
STEP 2. Define Your Audience
In the early years of Keyhole Marketing, our ideal client was anyone who would pay us to do anything remotely related to marketing. We’d never taken the time to clearly outline our target audience, and so we ended up trying to serve anything to anyone.
Today, things are much different. Now we know exactly who we want to work with and what makes them a good fit.
How to Identify Target Audiences
Stop throwing your money away by marketing your small business to an undefined audience — like we were — and take time to define your top three target audiences. To help, we created a How to Identify Target Audiences Worksheet for you to print and fill out for your small business. Click the image below to download now.
Complete one for each of your target audiences and take the following action items:
- First, list out key demographic information for your top three target audiences. Is one audience a single, Caucasian mother with a master’s degree who makes $35,000 year? Is another audience this woman’s daughter, aged 15-19, who just started her first job?
- Then, break these audiences down even further by describing their psychographic, or more personal, characteristics. The more specific you can be in these descriptions the better you’ll be in marketing to them.
- Finally, list out your personal or company core values and compare them to the descriptions you just completed. Why should you do this? Over the years, we’ve found that trying to serve an audience you don’t align with in some ways typically ends in disaster. By taking this additional step, you may see more work needed in finding the right audiences for your business.
Create Your Personas
With all this information collected, create an avatar for each of your top audiences,
with names, images and all the information listed above.
Here’s a sample persona:
“Kim” is a 32-year-old, unmarried female. She holds an undergraduate degree and works and lives out of her home in the city with her dog. She mostly stays in the city to eat, drink and be entertained and prefers to walk and ride her bike to/from her destinations. Because her freelance career does not permit much disposable income or free time during the day, most purchases are made online, with pricing and convenience being the key factors.
Once you have a really clear idea of who your buyers are, you will have a better understanding of:
- How your products or services can help them.
- Why would they care about your company.
- What type of content and other marketing tactics your audience will respond to.
EXERCISE #2: Sketch Your Characters
To bring your personas to life, we recommend having each member of your team grab crayons and paper and create a sketch of each fictional character. Don't worry about the quality of the drawings — that's not what matters here. Instead, focus on what qualities your team members highlight in their drawings. One person may scribble in some disheveled clothing, while another may focus on highlighting a person's emotions in their sketch. Pin up the finished drawings and discuss with your team what details stand out and why.
STEP 3. Set Your Goals
In the past, a content marketing strategy simply meant publishing blog posts to your website. Now it includes a robust and diverse set of content types and channels in order to reach your target audience.
How to Set Your Goals
The first step to any new strategy is to create relevant goals and metrics that can be measured. For each goal, you will need to define the metrics to use to measure success.
Good content marketing goals will:
- Relate back to your overall business objectives
- Connect financial objectives to content marketing objectives
- Align with your unique value proposition and customer personas
- Follow a SMART goals outline:
A few examples of strong content marketing goals include:
- We will increase traffic to our website by X% over X months by publishing to our blog X times per month.
- In X months, we will see an increase of X% of email subscribers by increasing our social media advertising budget by X.
- We will see an increase of landing page leads by X% over X months by adding a pop-up to the homepage.
Tips on Creating Goals
- Handwrite your goals. It’s been proven that if you write your goals on a piece of paper, you are more likely to attain them. Set aside your computer screen and try physically writing them out.
- Constantly check in on your goals. As you progress in your business, it’s important to revisit your goals to assess if you’re on the right track. Go back and reference them often and don’t be afraid to change them when necessary.
- Hang your goals up where you can see them. We recommend making your goals visible to you on a daily basis. Maybe put them in your calendar or on sticky notes near your desk. Date your goals and come back to them so you can check your progress.
- Discuss your goals with others. Be held accountable by telling a friend or coworker. Share your goals at your next staff meeting or update your team on a monthly or quarterly basis.
- Celebrate your victories. Your goals can feel overwhelming at times, so don’t forget to be proud of what you’ve accomplished along the way. It can be easy to get lost or absorbed in the one big goal that you forget the smaller successes and victories over time.
EXERCISE #3: Make it Happen
Put these tips to work by setting a new goal for your business this week. It can be small. Maybe it's something you’ve wanted to accomplish for a while, but haven’t set your mind to yet. And don't forget to infuse your business story and target audience into this new goal.
STEP 4: Create Your Content
Now that you’ve identified your unique value, defined your target audiences and set your goals, it’s time to take the next business storytelling technique — creating your content.
To do that, collect all the information you’ve previously shared about your business. Start by looking in obvious places like webpages, blogs, white papers, brochures, etc. Then go back and read the emails, PDFs and Word docs that you’ve created over the years to help a customer, patient or client along the way. Analyze photographs you’ve taken over the years. List out the customers you’ve served, staff you’ve hired, how you’ve chosen to decorate your office.
Are there common threads? What values stand out or shine? These are all great aids in personal business storytelling.
Exploring the Different Types of Content
In today’s world of digital marketing, there seems to be myriad options of content to create. Instead of letting this become a paralyzing decision, allow it to inspire you to experiment with new types of content, explore what connects best with your audience, and have some fun along the way.
- Website: You most likely have a website already. If not, we strongly recommend making this your top content marketing priority. A good website includes an About page, Team page, Contact page, landing pages describing your product and services, and your Blog.
- Blogs: Chances are you are familiar with blogging, and maybe already do it. Blogs are regularly published web pages that provide valuable content to your prospects and customers. We recommend that you create blog posts with 500+ words. Or if you want even greater SEO success, create a content pillar webpage with 2000+ words of in-depth content on a particular subject.
- Email Marketing: Depending on the type of business or company you operate, email marketing can consist of an occasional informational newsletter or more frequent promotional emails.
- Case Studies: Use these to tell how your customers succeeded in solving a problem because of your products or services.
- Long-form Content: These eBooks, PDFs and whitepapers help attract visitors to a website, hold the hand of a buyer through to the next step, or generate leads by collecting emails.
- Press Releases: Whether pitching to media contacts from traditional news agencies — like newspapers, magazines, television channels and radio stations — or to non-traditional media sources — such as blogs, social media ambassadors and influencers — press releases can be the best way to share latest news from your business, upcoming events, new products, etc.
- Social Media: This channel provides an easy way to deliver your content exactly where your customers are already hanging out.
- Podcasts: Podcasts can be an easy way for a new audience to discover and connect with your brand if they don’t have time to read your written content every day.
- Photography: We strongly recommend acquiring your own library of original brand photography that can be used to enrich your UVP and enhance your brand storytelling. Photography is often the first interaction your audience has with your brand, so it’s a great opportunity to draw someone in. It helps set the tone for your brand, and can enable you to cut through the clutter and attract attention.
- Videography: Videos are growing in popularity, as they capture people’s attention more than any other content format. Videos are easily shareable across social media platforms, which is why many platforms are currently favoring videos from brands. While video is an effective channel, it can be a pricier decision so it’s important to determine how it fits into your overall content marketing strategy.
Use our interactive Better Blogging Worksheet to organize your ideas into compelling blog posts.
Choosing the Right Types of Content
For most small businesses, it’s unrealistic to incorporate every single one of those content marketing options into your overall strategy right away. Instead, here are a few techniques for choosing the right types of content for your business storytelling:
- Be original and don’t play the look-a-like game. Don’t just copy what your competitors do. Take your UVP, audience, and content to create your own compelling story, and experiment with what content marketing channels are the right fit for you, regardless of what other people are doing.
- Put your UVP, target audience and goals at the forefront. Once again, utilize all of the hard work you’ve already put into business storytelling, and find creative ways to put your UVP, target audience and goals front and center. Print it out and hang them in your office. Incorporate them into your office decor. Mention them at every staff meeting. Use this work to inform future business decisions.
- Discover where your prospects hang out. Once you’ve narrowed down your UVP and target audiences, use that information to research which content marketing channels matter to your prospects. Survey your existing customers and use online research tools to see what resonates with your target audience. Is it social media? Maybe they love receiving emails from you and the value you provide. Or perhaps, podcasts are their preferred medium for seeking information. Put in the research so that you can narrow down your content marketing channels to a more manageable strategy.
EXERCISE #4: Think Again
If you're having trouble figuring out what to include in your business story, think about your personal story and which elements can be used throughout content. Take a moment to answer the following questions to get your creative juices flowing: (1) When and where were you born?; (2) What was your childhood like?; (3) How about your education?; (4) What people impacted your life?; and (5) What are some things you want to accomplish?
STEP 5: Share With Your Audiences
Now comes the toughest part of the process — being confident enough to share your business with those who need to hear it. To do so takes planning.
We suggest you start by creating a content calendar to organize all your content marketing activities, strategically plan ahead, and visualize how your content will be distributed throughout the year. A well-planned content calendar allows you to:
- Plan content and create campaigns around key events, dates and milestones within your organization.
- Clearly see the gaps so you have time to plan ahead.
- Give yourself plenty of time to create content to publish.
- Streamline your process for creating content.
Creating a Content Calendar
Follow these four steps when setting up your monthly or annual content calendars.
- List out major themes you want to cover. Using your UVP as a starting point, list out all of the themes you could possibly speak to as a thought leader in your industry. Then, categorize this list into major buckets in which all of your topics will fit under.
- Fill your theme buckets with topics. Hold a brainstorming session with your team after you’ve identified those major themes or buckets for content. You can also research popular keywords and hashtags in your industry to inspire content ideas. Then create an exhaustive list of topics that would fall under each of those buckets.
- Reference your goals and content deliverable lists. In order to narrow down this list, prioritize your topics based on your goals and the channels you’ve decided to create content for so that you can focus in the development phase.
- Build out your content channel tabs. Your content calendar will include tabs for the various content channels you are going to use. Once you’ve created a tab for each channel – i.e. Instagram, blog, podcast – set dates on your deliverables. We recommend setting a draft date and a final deadline so that you have plenty of room for edits.
Helpful Tips Before Publishing
In order to be successful, there are a few things we recommend before publishing:
- Get the right team in place. You cannot do all of this alone. Whether you have the resources to develop an entire marketing team or you find people in your organization who are willing to help, it’s important to have a reliable people to fall back on in order to be successful and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Assign ownership. Once you’ve established a team, assign ownership to each piece of the content marketing plan. In an ideal world, you would have team members who only deal with strategy, and those who are best at the content creation. Evaluate your team and delegate tasks based on their skill set.
- Consider content marketing tools. While you are fully capable of creating an effective content calendar, there are also content management systems (CMS) that can assist you in creating a calendar, publish content for you, and generate reports. Evaluate your team, goals, budget, and content marketing needs before you decide whether or not a CMS is right for your organization.
- Review big goals and set smaller goals. Content marketing can and will change as your business goals change. Challenge yourself to constantly be reviewing your big company goals, while setting smaller goals as a team.
Publish and Measure
Once you have a strong content calendar in place, the final step in your marketing strategy is to publish and measure. The content calendar exists to hold you accountable to the dates you’d like to publish your content. If you’re just getting started with this process, we’d recommend starting to publish your content manually, and as you grow, consider adding a content management system.
Refer back to your goals and metrics you set when creating the content strategy, and use these to measure your success when publishing content. This process could include micro-goals like views on blog posts, engagement on Facebook posts, retweets, etc. Measure these micro-goals over time and see what’s working and what’s not on your content calendar.
After a few months, reevaluate your results and adjust your content calendar moving forward. Give yourself enough time to collect good data on your published content. Remember that content marketing is a long play. You may not see immediate results from the content you start producing next week. We recommend staying open-minded here, modifying as needed and learning from your results.
EXERCISE #5: Storm Your Brains
To figure out how to best share your content, schedule a fun day away from the office in an open space with your team to brainstorm how you want to break out and send content. Find a room with whiteboard space, a wall space for sticky notes and plenty of snacks (brainfood). Set expectations with the team for a "free speech" zone where all ideas are documented and included. There are no bad ideas for this session. Write them all down and then organize.
Final Thoughts on Business Storytelling
We sincerely hope the lessons we’ve learned through our business storytelling journey help to shape your own story. We consider ourselves blessed to be able to reflect on ways in which we’ve grown in order to better situate ourselves for the future, and more importantly, equip our clients and readers with the best marketing tools.
If you’d like to hear more about the lessons we’ve learned or if you need more storytelling resources, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re happy to unpack the steps a little more, or dig deeper into parts of the strategy. Plus, we’ll take any excuse to sit down over a cup of coffee or craft brew and talk content marketing.