Having a compelling story gives a business the ability to generate substantial word-of-mouth recognition and brand awareness. Stories that add color and character to a business resonate with customers at a deeper level, encouraging them to evangelize on behalf of the company in retelling the story.
“A business needs to have a story behind it,” said serial entrepreneur Ken Deckinger during a recent Money Talk interview. “If you can have people selling your business for you, that only helps you. And you need a story to do that.”
Deckinger, who recently co-founded Jess, Meet Ken, knows what he’s talking about. Deckinger’s latest venture is an online dating site where women can post the profile of a male friend, relative or even a former boyfriend.
His business model is based on his own life story and the way he met his wife, Jessica. His best friend Adele posted his profile online. Jessica saw the post and contacted Adele. The women chatted and then Adele introduced Jessica to Ken. With that a marriage was born, along with it the idea behind Jess, Meet Ken.
Deckinger founded the online service after observing the extent to which women communicate with other women about available men with good qualities. Deckinger layered this observation with research. His business differentiates itself from the competition by incorporating a peer recommendation model. Deckinger has also shaped a backstory about his business that’s focused on the challenge that women have in finding genuine dates through traditional online dating services.
As Annette Simmons explained in Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, most people are conditioned to believe that marketing should be clear, rational and objective, with no place for emotion or subjective thinking. She argued that the most powerful, persuasive communication has a human element effectively delivered through stories.
“Your goal is to tell a story that activates the imagination of your listeners so they see, hear, smell, touch, and taste (through imagination) your story as if it was really happening,” Simmons wrote. “Trust me, no one will ever complain if you delete a few PowerPoint slides from your presentation and tell a story instead.”
A story can set a business apart from the competition, give it personality and thus make it more difficult to copy. Prospective buyers with whom the story resonates become hooked due to their emotional response.
Peter Guber, author of Tell to Win, has written about differentiating a company by storytelling. “Keep your ears open for audiences who seem to be clearly echoing the essence of your story, and multiply that echo effect by encouraging those audiences to retell your story in their own voice and through their own experience,” he said.
The following three elements can help an entrepreneur craft a memorable story that will resonate with the target audience and set his or her business apart.
1. Have a protagonist.
A good story for a company’s marketing needs a hero, a protagonist with whom prospective customers can identify. Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman pointed out in The Elements of Persuasion that a company’s storytelling can use both a protagonist and an antagonist.
As Jess, Meet Ken customers spread the word about the company and share its story, Jessica is seen as the protagonist who had been seeking a genuine relationship with a man.
In the storytelling done by a company the protagonist has a need that must be met. It’s up to the business to fulfill that need through its products or services.
2. Create an antagonist.
The antagonist is the protagonist’s main challenge. In Jess Meet Ken’s word-of-mouth marketing Jessica encounters a key challenge: superficial men uninterested in a true relationship.
Successful businesses solve their customers’ problems through their product or service. This problem, or antagonist, is defined in the mission statement as the challenge customers are facing that the business is solving. Squashing the antagonist is the objective.
3. Present an aha moment.
The aha moment, popularized by Oprah Winfrey, is the point in a story when an audience learns the value proposition of the product or service.
With Jess, Meet Ken’s word-of-mouth marketing, the aha moment occurs after a woman hearing the company’s story realizes that instead of trying to set up a great male acquaintance with the small pool of women at the office, she can connect him with a larger pool of eligible women through an online dating service. Or it could be when a date seeker realizes that she need not go through the matchmaking journey alone and can instead rely on the aid of other women who might have a better understanding of her needs.
Businesses must try to shape their stories so they resonate with prospective customers and so the company is set apart from competitors.