When I talk about using stories for strategy at network events, at least one person will say, “I don’t see how I can use storytelling in my business.”
Typically the speaker is an entrepreneur who is connected to money, such as financial advisors or money coaches. But you might also hear this warning from therapists and life coaches.
The truth is…strategic storytelling isn’t frivolous. It’s serious business!
Why do people think stories are frivolous?
- You hear stories are supposed to entertain and capture the interest of your audience. That is partly true. Definitely one way to use stories. But not the only way.
- You get told you MUST have a story. So you come up with a story…any story…even if it’s totally unrelated to what you do…and maybe it’s fake or exaggerated. Sometimes you don’t even need a story.
- Biggest myth: You get told you MUST tell a SPECIFIC type of story…specifically a story of how you struggled. I’ve even heard of gurus telling people,”If you don’t have a hard luck story, make one up!”
Ask 3 questions to test the business value of your story
Story Question 1: Does this story fit my purpose?
Are you telling a story to show what you can do? What do you want your audience to feel after your story? How should they respond? Do you want them to take action?
Do you want to seem more human? If you’re just starting out, that’s probably not your most important concern. You probably want to create credibility and show that you really can help your clients.
If you’ve been in business a long time and you’re a household name, your prospects may be intimidated.
They’ll like you more when you share a mistake or tell a story to show your human. Psychological research shows high-status people are MORE likable when they tell a story on themselves and appear vulnerable; lower-status people become LESS likable.
There are all kinds of variations in the research, but that’s the main point.
Story Question 2: Will the story reinforce my brand?
Choosing your story archetype can simplify your branding and, in fact, the rest of your marketing.
Example: As an Educator archetype, my marketing focuses on how I share knowledge with clients. My clients succeed by applying what they learned.
So I tell stories about clients who became successful with storytelling. I tell stories that simplify complex or unusual ideas. I rarely tell stories about myself, except briefly to illustrate specific points.
When I delve too deeply into personal stories about my cats or vacations, my audience rebels!
I do share some of those stories but they’re not a part of my marketing.
Let me illustrate with stories from two money coaches.
Harry has adopted the Educator Archetype as a basis for branding. He’s identified 2 ways a family might save money to send their kids to college.
One way will most likely lead to frustration; another way will accumulate real tuition money.
So he tells what I call a “2 guys” story – you have 2 people, one successful and one who falls by he wayside. This could be the famous WSJ story – 2 young men start work the same day in the same company; one rises to be a vice president and one runs a small dept.
What’s the difference? The successful one read the WSJ.
Elaine fits the Role Model archetype.
She relates to clients as a friendly mentor. Her message is, “I am just like you. I reached the success you’re seeking. If I can do it, you can do it.”
Elaine might tell a story about starting with a low-income family. She got through college on a scholarship. When she started making money she had to learn how to save and invest.
Or she might have a story about being married to a man who handled all the finances. When they divorced (or when he died) she had to learn the basics. It was tough. So she came up with a system…
Role models are the only archetypes who can market successfully with struggle stories.
Story Question #3: Will the story position me as an expert?
For this purpose, you tell stories of how you help your clients and you’re careful NOT to be a fairy godmother.
A health coach, Sara, tells a story of working with a client who depressed. He’s suffering all kinds of health problems including diabetes. She comes across a free exercise machine and gives it to him, suggesting he use it just 5 minutes a day. He gradually starts working out. His energy grows. A few months later many symptoms have abated and ultimately he gets healthier.
Two concerns with this story.
First, the story has to be realistic. Can you really reverse symptoms that fast? I don’t know…but some people will wonder and you’ll lose them.
Second, Sara plays fairy godmother. She finds an exercise bike. A stronger story would have her following a system to identify what her client needs or better, helping him find what he needs. You can’t count on finding what you need, for free.
People have memories. A coach told a story of going broke 3 years earlier. The only problem was…I remembered her from here years ago. She wasn’t the least bit broke.
What’s a better story?
A consultant with an Educator archetype writes about the time he tried to follow a guru, back when he was just getting started. He followed all the guru’s advice. He posted on social media. He took out lots of Google ads. He followed the guru’s email advice.
Nothing happened. What was wrong? When he reverse-engineered the guru’s own marketing, he realized the guru had two advantages: a big name and a huge list. Converting even a small portion of that huge list would bring significant rewards.
If you’d like to use storytelling to develop your own brand, let’s set up a consultation. The Strategic Intensive helps you created an integrated solution – your story, your strategy and your content creation. It’s not theory: we usually map out your next steps right on the call. Click here to learn more.