Chase Hillenmeyer is vice president of a family landscaping business in Lexington, Kentucky, but when he's explaining why you need his services, he probably won't mention weeds or the aesthetics of shrubbery. Instead, he might tell you about the time his two-and-a-half-year-old son was attacked by mosquitoes.
A couple of years ago, Hillenmeyer diversified his business by purchasing a franchise, the Mosquito Authority, which rids yards of the pests. People understand the need for such a service, but connect on a deeper level when Hillenmeyer talks about his son's miserable experience in a place full of mosquitos.
"Telling a story about a kid itching and having that pain, it connects on an emotional level," he says. "An ad just doesn't have that same impact."
Connecting to customers through stories was a key theme of "Power to the Small," a panel discussion sponsored by Windstream, a provider of advanced network communications and technology solutions. The trio of entrepreneurs on the panel agreed that in a noisy era, when people are pulled in every direction, the most effective way to promote a business is through storytelling.
Tap into your product's emotion
Peter Wright was playing poker with a group of friends, talking about Kentucky's great distillery history when they decided to launch Barrel House Distilling Company, a maker of bourbon and other spirits. He realized that producing spirits is a social endeavor, and that his real story was about fostering a sense of community.
"In our monthly poker games, we would reminisce about the old days, sample bourbon and discuss general events," he says. "We were all getting into our 40s at the time, looking back on our own history and the history of Lexington."
As a result, when he and his partners promote events, they emphasize Lexington's rich distilling heritage. They moved into a building that was the largest distillery complex in the United States prior to Prohibition and give free tours. In that way, they wove their story into the community's history.
Share your values
Some entrepreneurs wonder how they can tell a story if they run a commodity business. But things like customer service and giving back to the community are never commodities - customers value them, and will respond to businesses that engage.
"If a business plans on being successful in the next five to 10 years, they have to be about more than just profit," says panelist Matt Sharp. "Consumers will reward businesses whose vision they align with by buying their stuff."
That was certainly the case for Sharp. He opened a gym, and attracted new clients through a marketing program that made donations to worthy causes when they checked into the gym on Facebook. The program was so successful that it prompted Sharp launched Causely, a Lexington tech startup that helps other small businesses develop similar programs.
Don't assume people know you
Because an entrepreneur is so invested in his or her business, it can be easy to forget that other people aren't.
"We had our 175th anniversary last year and celebrated with a big party," Hillenmeyer says. "We talked to people, and realized that many didn't know exactly what we did. They may know our name, and they may know that we're Hillenmeyers." But that's it.
It's easy to get complacent and assume that your work speaks for itself. But there will always be new customers who are unfamiliar with your track record, and so you have to continually retell your tale.
Marketing is the never-ending story. Continue to find new ways to connect and share your passion, because there's always something new to say.
"It's not something you're going to accomplish in one Facebook Live post," Sharp says. "You have to make the effort over and over again, but it is a very worthwhile investment to tell your story."
For small business support services and more helpful business tips, please visit the Windstream Small Business hub here.