No one--absolutely no one--likes the hard sell. You don't, your potential clients don't, and your customers don't. From my years of experience as a serial entrepreneur, I've learned the trick to selling anything is to tell your story.
Story-selling is not a new technique, though it does have some new names in today's marketplace--branding, messaging, to name a few. But as any brand marketer will tell you, selling your brand is ultimately about selling your brand's story. And sometimes your brand's story is your story.
As Ian Rowden, Chief Marketing Officer of Virgin Group, said, "The best brands are built on great stories."
Famous brand stories
Look at some of the most successful people of the last few decades and the brands they have built.
Steve Jobs formed Apple Computer in a bedroom at his parents' house in Los Altos (where he was still living). So many people know the story as his garage. This shows the power of story-selling--even if the story isn't wholly accurate. (After the bedroom became too crowded, the operation moved to the garage.) Apple is now one of the largest companies in the world, and Steve Jobs is a cultural icon with several movies made about his work and life. Somehow, "started in his bedroom" only works for someone like Michael Dell--but remember, it was Michael's dorm room!
Speaking of dorm rooms, Mark Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook out of his dorm room as a sophomore at Harvard. He then dropped out and went on to become one of the world's youngest billionaires. The Academy Award-winning film The Social Network is about his life. (Check it out, it's better than decent and fills in a lot of the gaps in a fairly close-to-reality storyline).
High school dropout-turned-billionaire business magnate Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group (which now controls some 400 companies), started his mail-order record business out of the church where he also ran his self-published magazine for high school students. Branson is so successful he typically appears as himself in movies.
Two keys to creating a great brand story
A great brand story should have two elements: emotion and authenticity. First, your brand story needs emotion. A good story makes you feel and creates a personal connection with your audience. It is this connection that breeds brand loyalty, creates a sense of transparency, and establishes trust with your clients and customers. For these three stories, every tale relates the emotion of passion for the project, be it computers or music.
The second thing you need for a brand story to connect is authenticity. Your story needs to be honest and consistent or audiences will feel like they are being manipulated. It needs to highlight your failures, possibly even more than your successes. In each of these stories, it shows the humble beginnings of each billionaire, which we can all relate to unless we started as billionaires.
Your story is your brand. It is the first thing your customers and clients know about you, and forms the basis for deciding whether or not they do business with you.
So find your story and learn how to tell it. Practice it in front of your friends and family, your dog, or your reflection. Be prepared to change the story as the story changes--because it will change. Your story isn't done yet.
And above all, be honest: the best stories come from a place of earnestness, even if you aren't a high school or college dropout-turned-billionaire or even if you really did start your company in a bedroom under your parent's roof.