It's easy to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of standing out from the competition, especially if you have a small operation. Marketing is necessary, but you want to do it in a way that doesn't come across as sleazy or overly-promotional.
A personal story tells the origins of your business in a way that highlights your unique selling proposition. It also allows you to leverage an advantage you have over larger brands: the personal touch. Take a look at marketing today, and you'll see that large brands are spending considerable assets to sound more personal.
For example, look at Papa John's about page. This worldwide brand has invested in telling an endearing story about how John launched the now-famous pizza chain.
It's filled with details of John's journey; we learn his first car was a 1972 Camaro that he sold for $2800, see a picture Rocky's Sub Pub where the business was birthed, and learn about his father by name.
Most stories would say, "My dad instilled a hard work ethic in me. I sold my favorite car and started my business."
Names, dates, and pictures connect readers to the brand. It doesn't matter if you don't know what a 1972 Camaro looks like, or if you've ever dined at Rocky's Sub Pub. What matters is the connection.
Readers will view Papa John's in a new light the next time they see a commercial. They might think, "John sold his Camaro to take a chance at success, and now look where he is!"
Then, somehow, they order a pizza.
Using a personal story is subtle, strategic, and incredibly effective. Here's how to write one.
1. Choose one element from the "epic story" framework.
Consider any epic story. Chances are it had some of these elements woven into the narrative:
- Reluctant Hero
- Short-Lived Victory
- Devastating Defeat
- Moment of Grace
- Final Victory
In the original Star Wars film Luke Skywalker lives on Tatooine, a peaceful planet where life is calm. Yet disaster looms; the evil Empire led by Darth Vader is imposing its will on the galaxy and have murdered Luke's aunt and uncle.
Our reluctant hero Luke is then entrusted with the task of confronting Darth Vader and defeating the Empire. Luke and his companions experience a string of short-lived victories (such as saving Princess Leia). They also endure devastating defeats; Leia's home planet is destroyed and they lose a close friend.
While your business may not have saved the galaxy, you've likely experienced one of those seven elements. Pick one, then combine it with one of the following:
2. Choose a story element.
Stories often contain these elements:
- Hero or heroine
- Untold Facts
- Story Behind the Story
- Breaking News
In Star Wars, the villain isn't just Darth Vader or the Empire. The true villain is the lust for power that comes from the Dark side of the Force.
The "elephant-in-the-room" is that Luke Skywalker, a young man who spent most of his life as a farmer, is the one to lead the charge.
Take one element that comes to mind. Now you have enough to write your story.
3. Write your story and tie it to your brand.
You can now see how storytellers follow a formula to weave together a narrative. While the elements are the same, the change in characters and circumstances make each tale unique.
When applied to marketing, you may have something that resembles these:
- You launched a non-profit organization because of a devastating loss: a loved one was killed by a drunk driver, and you want to help others that are experiencing the same kind of pain.
- You are the reluctant hero, taking the helm of a failing family business brought to near ruin because of the elephant-in-the-room: your father, who founded the company, resisted new ideas until you spoke up to make changes.
- You've had a successful corporate career and seem to live in paradise: you have money and influence. The story-behind-the-story is that you're tired of the grind and and want to help more than one organization. This is why you pivoted into speaking or consulting.
A personal story is that it is unique and relatable. For that reason, it can serve as a persuasive, and profitable marketing tool, all without the sales sleaze.