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Storytelling in Digital Marketing

We discuss a storytelling tool that can help you to develop the strong narrative that connects you with customers at an emotional level.
A tool available for download in accessible format from the bottom of this page.
© University of Southampton 2016
In this article, you meet Alan Rae who has many years of experience in advising small businesses. He introduces a tool that can help you to develop the strong narrative that connects you with customers at an emotional level.
Some of the practical advice he outlines below might be helpful to learners who are wondering how to get started with storytelling and with digital marketing in general.
Before reading this article by Alan, you may first like to watch Lisa’s interview with him (4:38) (the interview is available from YouTube).

Making your story clear

As someone running a business, you are responsible for the sales and marketing – even though it’s perhaps not what you set up the business to do. It’s quite likely that you have not had much chance to get trained in marketing and that you have been trying a scaled-down version of what large companies do.
You may wonder why following ‘the rules’ doesn’t seem to get the results you want. This can be because they were designed for multi-national corporations selling consumer products. The vast majority of smaller businesses need to do something different.
You need to develop a strong offer that people want to buy. If you have done this right, then it will start to fly quite quickly – it will be like pushing at an open door. Then you have to tell your stories in the right places, both online and face-to-face.
In order to make this work, you need a strong narrative that connects you with the customers at an emotional level.
Here is a tool (available in either PDF or MS Word formats to download from the bottom of this page) that you can use to develop such a narrative. It asks you to compare your needs and aspirations with those of the client. Quite often, it’s possible to see a connection straightaway.

Communicating your story

Once you have your story clear, it’s important to get it out there into the marketplace.
In the business-to-business world, you get most of your work through personal interaction – frequently face-to-face communication.
But you need something else to back it up – this means either written/printed material or online media. In my view, business in general and sales in particular is like a drama.
The action of the drama is the interaction between you and the customers, staff or collaborators – while the scenery is the online or written material. You can have a drama without scenery – but generally, the drama goes better if it’s there.
In today’s world, people are looking for social proof that you:
  • know your stuff
  • deliver what you say you will
  • are likeable – or at least easy to deal with.

Developing a web presence

And they find it by searching for you online, either before or after the meeting. They may even check you out on their mobile phone or tablet while chatting to you…
So you need to have something good for them to find that delivers the social proof they’re looking for.
As we all know, it’s quite possible to waste a vast amount of time online, so we need to be really efficient and effective in the way we use the tools at our disposal.
The aim is to create some online ‘real estate’ that makes you easy to find and which looks and sounds credible.
If you are operating in the business-to-business world (B2B) selling services, you are unlikely to have to do much in the way of selling online, yet you do need a web presence.

Using a free blogging platform

The easiest way to produce that is using a free blogging platform (such as WordPress). This has the capacity to easily make use of templates, add-ons and widgets to enhance the appearance and give you the capacity to embed the content that your own customers need.
If you are reasonably comfortable with using the web, you can use the free version yourself, without needing a web developer.

Using LinkedIn

You will also need some kind of social media presence. Traditionally, LinkedIn is considered important for business since professionals of every specialism use it.
You can add your profile in as much or as little detail as you wish and add links to online examples of your work.
There are many relevant industry groups that you can join too, and attempt to catch people’s attention that way.
It takes a certain amount of work to make it function well for you, but it has some real advantages.
One is that nearly everyone you’ve worked with is there. This gives you a much bigger network to ask questions of and to catch up with.

Using Slideshare

The other advantage is that it allows you to embed your blogposts and presentations on Slideshare. This gives you the ability to showcase what you know. The presentations that you create are readily indexed by search engines, which improves your visibility.

Using Facebook

Facebook is a conundrum. Many people think of it as being mainly for personal use, but they may be missing a trick.
Facebook ‘Pages’ are the recommended way of showcasing what you do but you might find that creating a Group is more useful because it encourages more discussion.
I have a group called How to do Business that has 1,600 members and this increases by about ten people each day.
Better still, some good content gets posted there which I have been able to embed, via a widget, into my websites. As long as I weed out the spam posts, Facebook is a good resource for me, particularly for market research purposes.

Sharing your story offline as well as online

I could go on all day about tricks that small businesses can use with social media, but the most important thing is to come back to the face-to-face. You have to fish where the fish are. You can get referrals and sales-leads by working your back-catalogue (via people you already know), but the way you get business is to have prepared your story and then arrange to collide with people who want to buy what you have.
Traditionally, you do this by going to the right exhibitions and conferences. If you can speak at them, so much the better. Then it becomes a numbers game.
“Luck is where opportunity meets preparation” – but you need to engineer the opportunities intelligently. It is not about building a massive wall of material and avoiding going out to talk to people.
You need a narrative that connects you with the people you want to influence. This means communicating values that you share with them in a way that matches with the way that you actually operate.
If you are not clear and believable, people will leave your site and they won’t relate to you well when they meet you.
So in summary:
  • develop a good story that makes it absolutely clear what you do
  • create some digital collateral that’s well optimised and positioned in the right places online
  • and then go out and tell your stories!
© University of Southampton 2016
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