From prehistoric cave paintings to big-budget Hollywood movies, the desire to tell and hear stories is an important part of the human experience, and a valuable way to remember sequences of events. As children, we learn through stories. A story gives people a reason to sympathise with characters, to care about what they are saying, and to understand a plot. Stories are shared, they create a following, and the best ones inspire audiences to act and believe.
In business, we each have our own professional story. Our businesses also have a story.
To be known as a credible, authentic source of information and to gain trust, we need to define and tell our story in a focused, consistent way.
So, how do we go about telling stories in business?
We need some core themes, or ‘key messages’.
As part of any marketing communications plan, you need to identify four or five key messages that focus on what you need your audience to know about you/your business.
Note – this is all about your audience and what they need to know to do business with you.
Only one of your key messages should be focused on ‘you and your business’. You need three or four other messages to build your story.
The key messages are top-level, and will guide all the content you write and share.
Unless there’s a huge change to the direction of your business, your key messages will not change.
Every piece of business communication you write or share should be able to tick against one or more of your key messages. If it doesn’t, your story is going off-track and you’ll confuse your audience. It’s essential to be consistent in your story-telling because the more often these key messages are communicated, the more your story will be heard and understood.
People will know what you do and how you can help. They’ll come to you as the expert if they need you, and/or they will refer you to others.
Here’s some ideas for key messages:
- Your industry
What is going on in your industry? What stories might your audience already be hearing, that you can share to demonstrate you are keeping up-to-date with latest news and events, or even offer comment on?
For example, if you are an estate agent, what’s going on in the property market as a whole? If you work in employment law, are there any high profile cases taking place you can refer to?
- Best practice
Why not share latest research relating to your industry or business function (eg marketing). Your industry association is probably a great place to start, if you have one.
Keep it focused and share information relating to the core services that you offer to your target audience. For example I would share an article about ‘Three-quarters of marketers to increase content spend in 2017‘ but I wouldn’t post about FMCG news, as I do not work in that sector.
A recruitment agency might share information about salary survey findings; an online accounting software company might share best practice advice on business expenses or credit control, and an education provider might share a report on skills gaps.
- Show you understand your audience and their pain points
Content that demonstrates you understand your audience and their pain points is hugely powerful. This is where you can talk around the benefits your products/services provide and build trust.
For example, a virtual assistant could share content about ways to increase productivity (one of which will no doubt include delegating/outsourcing to a VA!), appealing to those business owners who are struggling to find time for everything they need to do.
A company that sells products aimed at parents of young children can offer advice on what last-minute costumes you can put together for World Book Day.
Become the go-to business for your target audience – by being helpful.
- Show some personality
Defining a clear tone of voice for your content is important in supporting your key messages. Strong examples include Mailchimp, Red Bull and Moo. (For more on voice and tone, check out this excellent blog from Buffer).
Even in business we’re all human, and we do business with people (not logos or robots). It’s OK to share some of your character in your social media content. It’s also OK to have an opinion, but my advice would be to communicate a positive, rather than something negative (or turn the negative into a positive).
Go ‘behind the scenes’ and share pictures of your business in action. If you have an office pet – then I’ll bet that any pictures of them will be a big hit!
Also, tell your audience what you’re doing, and what you’re working on. People do business with people they know are busy, so keep talking and don’t wait until you’ve got a gap in your schedule of work that you need to fill.
- What initiatives do you support?
If your business has a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, then share details with your audience. If you are an ambassador for an industry association or local business group then talk about it! All business interests are a great conversation starter. However, I would avoid talking about your support for sports teams or political parties.
Message, Support, Action
Don’t forget, business story-telling has a clear purpose – to help you do more business!
Therefore, each of your key messages need to be supported with evidence. For credibility purposes, all of your key messages must have information or facts to support them.
For example, one of my own key messages is ‘I believe that good marketing can help a business grow. I can advise business owners on how to make their business grow’.
This is a good key message for me because I can support it well; I was marketing manager for a B2B marketing services organisation that saw high growth (from £3 million to £60 million over five years). I have examples of my work and testimonial from the managing director and other colleagues. I can also name other clients I have worked with, who had similar requirements, and share details of how I have helped them too. I therefore write and share content about good marketing and content about business growth.
You also need to tell people what they should do in response to your message.
Should they contact you to arrange a meeting? Should they show some love for the office dog? Should they share a similar experience? Should they visit your website to download a useful resource (where you can capture their contact details)?
Know what success looks like
As you plan your social media content, within the key messaging framework, think about how you will measure the success of a piece of content you share on social media; consider how you will assess against the three key measures of volume, engagement and traffic to your website.
Write it down
When you write things down, you automatically focus your full attention on them. It can also help us stay accountable. When you’ve written down your key messages, display them somewhere you can see for an extra shot of motivation, and to help you stay on track.