When I was teaching Marketing 101 to sleepy undergraduates, we used to talk about the way customers perceive differences between products and how they tolerated change. For instance, suppose you’re a car manufacturer. You want to change the design of the model you’ve been selling for the past 20 years.
But how much do you make a change?
It’s sort of like Goldilocks and those ill-mannered bears who invaded her home.
Too much innovation? You’ve lost them. On the Internet, you have just a few seconds to grab attention. You’re constantly reminded that, “A confused mind always says no.”
Too little? You’re viewed as a cookie-cutter solution or as someone who’s still stuck in an early business model.
The truth is, people like to categorize. When they hear about your service, they want to put you into a familiar category. When you’re new, you don’t fit into a category of service. But you can fit into your client’s pain point. And that’s where backstory comes in.
Often service professionals try to come up with creative names to describe what they do. Life Energizer.Creative Catalyst. Profit Maximizer Coach. These terms make it hard to start a discussion.
Sometimes the new offer fits a new need really well. For instance, corporate executives are now hiring publicists and agents for themselves. rather than wait for companies to assign them. They want to take control of their own careers. When your service reaches your market on this level, you can become part of a conversation easily: “I know someone who did that.” You might even get media attention, if you’re first to market with a highly desirable offer.
If your offer seems irrelevant, it won’t become a topic of conversation. I learned this lesson myself when I published my first website on the topic of relocation. My audience resisted.
Big discovery: People will hire planners for parties and weddings, but won’t hire a coach for a relocation that costs many thousands of dollars more. Logical? No: most of us can survive a bad party but if you move to a destination that’s wrong for you, you’re looking at years of misery.
The reality is, there aren’t that many relocation coaches. A lack of competition usually signals a thin market. More important, it doesn’t generate conversations like, “My relocation coach is better than anybody else’s.” The most important way to generate buzz is to get your audience to talk about their experience with you.
Eventually I learned to get people talking by focusing on their backstory.
What’s a backstory?
In his book Tell To Win, Peter Guber demonstrates the impact of a customer’s backstory.
A producer needed to get Alice Walker’s approval to produce her book, The Color Purple, as a stage play. Alice was the customer; the producer was, in a real sense, doing the selling.
Guber coached the producer to expect resistance. Alice had gotten a negative backlash from the black community after her book was produced as a movie. The producer needed to address Alice’s backstory — not directly, but with a new story.
Jack Dorsey, Founder of Twitter and Square, says their company spends a lot of time writing “user narratives.” These narratives read like a play: “They go to a coffee shop in downtown Chicago…”
Everyone can relate to the story at all levels from designers to those in “the business side of the house,” says Dorsey.
Business owners rarely have access to individual backstories when developing copy for websites and sales letters. But often you can identify common backstories, even without an intensive, high-priced research effort.
For instance, Christina Hills runs programs targeting prospects with backstories related to building websites. Those backstories have a common theme: high expectations followed by disappointing results. They go something like this:
“I’ve spent thousands of dollars on web design and have nothing to show for it but a ton of credit card debt.”
“The website looks beautiful but if I need to change one word, it’s going to cost me $65. Minimum.”
“My web developer disappeared, taking my passwords with him.”
And for my relocation service, I positioned my offer to fall under the umbrella of career change — a topic I care about even more.
Now, that’s something people will talk about.
“Did you know IBM stands for “I’ve been moved?”
“We just moved here. My wife got an offer she couldn’t refuse.”
“My company just moved me here and I hate it.”
Why Finding The Customer’s Back Story Helps You Generate Buzz
When offering a new service, it’s often difficult for your prospects to relate your offer to their pain point. They may not even be aware they have a pain point. But what’s on their mind? What will they vent about? You got it…their story.
In fact, you may have developed your business because you have a backstory that resembles your clients’ story. Your backstory may be your origin story — the story of how and why you founded your business and why you have so much passion for helping people.