A guide to storytelling for the self-employed and small businesses

Published: May 31, 2021 | Last updated: April 5, 2023
Companies of all sizes can create meaning with stories. Brands, services, and products come alive through narratives. A good story inspires emotions, enables identification with a company, and creates closeness to the consumer and their wishes. But how can smaller companies stand out from the crowd with stories that people like to share?

Why are stories so important in marketing?

Let's take a brief excursion into the history of communication: communicare (lat.) means to share, to communicate, to exchange - it's about communication by means of signs and language. How did messages spread over long distances when writing, the postal service, or the internet did not yet exist?

People gathered around the fire and shared great tales orally, keeping them alive. If a story appealed to the basic needs and feelings of many people, such as security, love, community, or freedom, it had the power to be told over many generations, because only a "charged" story, which releases the hormones oxytocin and dopamine in the brain, ends up in long-term memory. Oxytocin, the hormone responsible for empathy and connection, and dopamine, the "rewarder," a happiness hormone that makes people act, see to that.

What is the connection between my business and storytelling?

Today is no different. In the last 10 years, storytelling has become very relevant for campaigns, products, and brands. Marketing with stories has even become the subject of science. Whether it's B2B storytelling or B2C storytelling: people remember strong brands better and faster. The strongest brands like Coca Cola (basic emotional need: joy, community) or the outdoor brand Patagonia (freedom, self-fulfillment) understand how stories take them directly to the limbic system, the place in our brain where emotional intelligence resides. And this emotional intelligence allows us to make purchasing decisions more intuitively and more quickly than our rational thinking. Unconscious thinking takes over 95% of our brain, so logic and calculations don't stand a chance.

There are plenty of reasons why you want to be remembered.

You want to get booked again, be recommended, attract new customers, charge a higher price, build trust in your brand and services. And you want to stay competitive, even in the face of bigger brands in your industry or strong competition in your town. To achieve that, you can have a great offer and fair prices or you can have a great smile, shined shoes, run lots of expensive ads, and have a brand new (and, of course, mobile optimized!) website.

But here is the hard truth: 

Your competitor just next door has all that too! But inspiring and retaining customers with a good story is the marketing of the future.

Storytelling as a market positioning tool

So why should someone want to search for and find you of all people, recommend you to others, tell them about your offer or company at the dinner table in the evening, or even share your content on social media? With an interchangeable "Our services" page and a price list, you will be lost in the competition and the consumer will then actually decide according to purely rational criteria: Performance and price. Of course, these factors are still important. But what if you managed to tie your offer and your name to emotionally appealing content? Remember: The "real" decision is made by the subconscious, the limbic system!

Storytelling: Your customers are the center of attention  

Maybe you are already ranking well in the search engines and have customer reviews on your website, so you are considerably ahead of the game. You let your customers talk about their experience with your company in reviews and publish them on your website? Excellent! Customer reviews are effectively free "mini-stories" - making you approachable and credible. In this way, you prove that the well-being of each individual customer is the driving force behind your work. This is already a basic storytelling strategy: to perceive the customer as a hero. If your customers are doing well, your company is doing well. That is authentic and worth more than flashy advertising. If you can now inspire people with stories "like the greats", you will truly bring your company to life and really stand out from the crowd.

Collect customer voices with ProvenExpert and use them for your company story!

So the basic questions you need to ask yourself to identify your story are: 

  • What separates me from the competition? What can I, or we, do better than others?  

  • What pushes me to get up every morning and work for my customers? (The passion and effort, the ambition and the power you put into your work have great storytelling potential!)

  • Who is my target audience, what feelings and needs do they have that I can fulfill with my offer? What defines my "ideal customer"? On which networks does my target group interact? 

  • Is there a hero or heroine, whose story could help my target audience understand (and even more, desire) my offer? This could be the story of your first customer, or a child, a dog, a grandma, even an object. Think creatively! Years ago, for Ikea, the famous director Spike Jonze even made a lamp a key actor. Perhaps you as the owner are the hero who can tell a powerful story? You probably remember Steve Jobs, who once started out in a garage. 

Every company has a story. Tell yours!  

You don't need Spike Jonze or a journalist to tell your own story. Start by writing down why you do your work and who you can help with it. Read the text and ask yourself how it would sound from a different perspective, for example, if a new customer talks about what problems they had before finding the solution in your offer, or if one of your products could talk about who it would be perfect for.

Let your partner, employee, or even the janitor talk about your company and listen carefully. A sentence or two can sometimes be worth a fortune. Your customer reviews also often contain creative and emotional phrases that can point you in a good direction.

Always remain credible and authentic, because false narratives are quickly exposed and damage your business. Incidentally, a good story not only helps you find and retain customers because it is easy to tell and share. Similarly, if you need new employees and they can create an emotional impression of your company, you have a better chance of increasing your applicant numbers.

Which platforms are suitable for storytelling?  

The question is: Where is your target audience? That's where your story is properly placed. Videos are the most popular formats today. Even with a small budget, you can create good video content. Focus on "why" you do something rather than "how" you do it, talk about how it felt when you held the first of your products in your hand rather than "how this thing works", talk about the heart and soul your employees put into their work every day rather than the size of the company or the tasks your employees perform. That is unless there is a powerful story hidden within!

Engage your employees when finding the right story. Often it's a detail or aspect that your employees notice at the "grassroots" level that has the most potential for a great story. Feature these details or/and emotional images, such as your work location in the morning and evening, or at different times of the year, show people rather than equipment. Single images can be pulled from each video format for social media posts. And lastly, write up the same story again and post it on your website or publish it in a print magazine, instead of an ad. Any little story on a platform of your target audience is better than none. You'll see, your customers and employees will identify more with your business and clicks and inquiries will increase.

Find out why storytelling creates trust

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