When I first set up shop online as a copywriter, I named my business “Copy-Cat Copywriting.” Many experienced marketers loved the concept. It was clever and catchy.
One “branding expert” – even suggested taking it further, with “purr-fect copy” and other feline attributes.
But the brand did nothing to create expectations. In fact, “copy-cat” is just the opposite of what I was doing. I’m an original. I abhor cookie-cutter marketing. People who know me usually sigh and say, “Well, Cathy, you’re … different.” That’s when they’re being nice.
Ironically, I had a perfectly good story. It’s the second type of story we’ll talk about here – the concept story. On the home page, I wrote about business owners who were so afraid of sounding sales-y they went to the other extreme, with timid copy that tiptoed around the edges of their benefits.
But when I looked at options for branding, everybody encouraged me to look at the branding leaders in the consumer goods marketing world…creators of beer, sporting goods, and cola drinks. The brands are so iconic, they fill the pages of branding textbooks. I used to teach them myself.
But something didn’t seem to work. As a small business, these branding strategies won’t work. I could admire them, enjoy the commercials, and appreciate the marketing genius behind them. I just couldn’t use them as role models. Here’s why.
Beer: Good for drinking to celebrate your small business victory. Bad for modeling your small business branding.
A few years ago, I was headed over to the Rittenhouse Square section of Philadelphia to run a few errands before my dance class at the gym. It would normally be a quick trip, but the street I needed was blocked off to traffic.
This happens a lot in Philly, usually for construction. But this time, the word was out: “The Clydesdales are coming!”
Sure enough, at the very hour where dinner time and happy hours come together, the big brown horses came marching down Walnut Street, looking as if they’d rather be back on the farm. (I know nothing about horses, so I may be reading something into their expressions, if horses can be said to have expressions.)
And even though I’m not much of a beer drinker, I knew exactly what was going on. I’ve watched the doggy Superbowl commercials.
And Budweiser’s branding is legendary. As soon as we saw the word “Clydesdales,” we Philadelphians knew just what was going on.
Budweiser tells stories to build brands.
The “adopted dog” story isn’t about beer. But it reinforces the Clydesdale association and the company’s desire to evoke wholesome, happy emotions. Those emotions become associated with the brand. So you go to the beer store. You see Bud cans. You consciously or unconsciously think, “Lost dog.”
In fact, there’s a story behind the Clydesdales, as described on The prophet.com website
Budweiser has used the Clydesdales to create a signature story, and the Super Bowl ads play a key role in bringing the story to life in a fresh way year after year. The Clydesdales are a great example of how a symbol can be the vehicle to help create a story and to keep it alive.
The story really started in April 7, 1933, when a red, white and gold beer wagon was pulled by six Clydesdales (the teams now have eight horses) from the St. Louis brewer. The wagon contained the first case of post-Prohibition beer and celebrated the repeal of Prohibition. The Clydesdales and the wagon later delivered a case of beer to the former governor of New York, Al Smith who had led the repeal fight, and to President Roosevelt.
So ultimately there’s an origin story connecting to the brand as well as the series of feel-good stories. The company’s events contribute to the story, as they tour the country’s major cities. And the horses were a very impressive sight. Their signature Dalmation came along for the ride. He seemed to be having a blast.
So can a small service-based business learn from a big product-brand like Budweiser?
Stories tend to be especially powerful for branding in any business because
— they’re unique: nobody else can call your story
— they’re memorable: who doesn’t want to share a good story (and remember enough to re-tell it)?
— they grab attention in a crowded world
But ultimately, what is Budweiser is selling? Liquid chemicals. Beer doesn’t come with a personality so the job of the brand has an added dimension: create a personality, as well as recognition and memorability.
That’s why a lot of consumer products tell stories that evoke emotions, rather than demonstrate or explain benefits. There’s nothing inherently emotional about a mixture of barley, water, hops, and yeast. Beer doesn’t taste like a party or a family gathering, any more than soft drinks taste like sentimental scenes in the ads.
The advertiser uses emotion to build associations, using the theories of learning you probably studied in Psychology 101. You watch an emotional, heart-wrenching story about a dog who doesn’t want to leave the farm…and then when you see a beer can with the Budweiser logo, you find yourself with that same warm and fuzzy feeling. At least that’s the idea.
“But I’m a solo service business!”
When you’re a solo service-based business owner, your business brand and personal brand overlap. You are selling yourself. You’re a person with a style of service delivery and marketing.
Budweiser creates stories. You already have one.
Branding by story
You probably have a story tucked away on your website. Or you’ve told that story many times to your prospects on webinars and podcast guest gigs. Maybe you even shared your story with friends.
Branding by story gives you three big advantages.
Your story illustrates not just what you do but how and why.
You demonstrate your brilliance without boasting.
Your story will be unique as well as authentic, because nobody else can tell your story.
Most service businesses can branded based on a story archetype. Here are three examples:
The Passionate Advocate wants to stand out from the crowd by showing that she cares about her clients. She’s usually in a field that’s got a reputation for hard-nosed, difficult people who charge a lot for their services. She wants to say, “I’m different. I care.”
An immigration lawyer:
“This woman was frantic because her son had been picked up by the authorities and disappeared into the system. We tracked him down to a prison in Arizona. I got there on Friday. The hearing was scheduled for Monday and this prison normally did not allow lawyers to see clients on weekends. I negotiated with the warden to meet with the young man and spent the weekend on the phone, getting witnesses and documents. It turned out the young man was in the US legally and we were able to get him released and returned home to a very happy mom in California.
The Role Model makes the claim, “Here’s what I did and I can teach you how to do the same thing.” They promise, “I’m just like you. If I did it, you can too.” For example:
Connie, a business coach, ran into a couple she hadn’t seen for a long time. She invited them to come visit her. They said, “We can’t. We’re retired. We don’t have money for travel and we can’t do anything.”
Connie told them how she’s been making money with online marketing.
“Do you think we could do that?” they asked nervously.
“Of course!” Connie said, following up with some suggestions and links to resources.
Several months later, Connie saw them again and repeated the invitation. They said, “Oh no, we can’t. We’re too busy. We followed your suggestions and started working on the Internet. We’ve got another vacation planned for next week.”
The Innovator brands based on a specific, significant problem that’s extremely obvious and painful to his client. He’s developed a class, program, or method that will be available only if you hire him.
Christina Hills runs the Website Creation Workshop targeting prospects with horror stories related to building websites. Christina brands with the stories of her students’ experience:
“You need a website. If you with a webmaster or designer, you probably have a horror story. You never want to go through this again. My course lets you actually create No one else gives you this option. My students have built stunning websites, without the help of webmasters or techies. No one else offers you this opportunity.”
The Educator positions herself as particularly knowledgeable. She’s like the guru living on a mountaintop. People come to her for help. She’s often hired when prospects come across her books, videos or webinars.
For example, one marketing consultant shares this story:
James, a young handyman, knocked on his door, offering to do some simple home repair for $35. The family didn’t know James, but figured, “For $35, why not?”
When James finished that task, he suggested he could also do some yard work. The family agreed. Then he painted the guest room.”
This story illustrates the concept of a marketing funnel, in a low-key, non-threatening way. What started as a $35 job turned out to be the gateway to a 4-figure project.
Celebrity. Celebrities aren’t necessarily real celebrities. They build their brand with larger-than-life image.
“My family got together when my uncle got sick and needed special care. They were staying in a simple Best Western. I took them all to the Four Seasons, arranged for a car service, and got special meals for us.”
How To Use These Stories
You can have more than one story; in fact, you’ll probably use many stories as you begin to see the power of storytelling.
Your story can change. One Celebrity began as a Role Model, sharing early stories of living in a small rental unit where she worked off the kitchen table. As she grew her business, she began to share stories of her vacations and home buying.
Your story serves as a container for your brand. When you’re an Educator, you promise to serve clients because you’ve got a treasure trove of information. As a Passionate Advocate, you promise to do “whatever it takes.”
Some marketers build their brand entirely by telling stories. Some do this so subtly you wonder, “Is there a brand in there?” To learn more, download this free report. Discover why your mentor’s communication style may not work for you … and why the stories you chose may actually be working against you. Click here to sign up and download.
Free online training: How To Use Stories To Brand Your Small Service Business. Click here for more information and access.
And if you’d like to talk about the best story for your business, let’s set up a consultation. You set the agenda. We can talk about any business obstacle, find your story, review or start your content creation…or even have a lightning round of questions. Click here to learn more and set up a time.