Once upon a time …
You’re expecting a story, right? You might be disappointed. This really is more of an article about stories and what they mean for marketing.
What does it mean when somebody tells you your marketing must “tell your story?” You might think of that story as a biography or a history. For example, the business was founded in some year by some guy (or girl) from somewhere. It’s first location was at this place, and the business eventually grew to locations at that place and that place, too. It sells the best thing of its kind.
The customer as hero, not your business
Raise your hand if you’ve read business stories like that. Maybe your own business story reads that way. In these stories, the business is the hero. But when we read or listen to a story, we want to see ourselves as the hero. We imagine ourselves as Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars,” Ulysses in the “Odyssey” or Arthur in the various tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable.
So instead of the hero, businesses must create stories in which they play the role of sage, trusted adviser. Think Obiwan Kenobi in “Star Wars,” the goddess Hera in “Odyssey,” and Merlin of the Arthurian legends. These are the characters who lead the heroes through obstacles and guide them to their destinies.
Turn Yourself into Merlin
And so it should be for businesses in their marketing stories. They must provide the guidance and tools for customers to reach their goals, and customers must believe they are the heroes on a quest, even when it’s something as simple as shopping for bread and searching for a tax accountant.
Maybe searching for an accountant is not exactly a heroic quest, but when your client can’t stave off the IRS death star without help, you can play the role of wise Ben Kenobi, who’s experienced with solving those sorts of problems.
The Planet Fitness Story
So how do you figure out what your business story is? (There could be more than one.) There are lots of examples, but one I like is Planet Fitness. It’s a place to work out, and there are loads of those. What distinguishes it? It’s the “judgment-free zone.” If you’re just starting, out of shape, carrying a few extra pounds, even wheelchair-bound, it’s OK. No one, not even other patrons, will judge you, no matter where you are in your fitness journey.
That story appeals to people who are intimidated by the idea of going to a gym full of body-builders throwing weights around like Frisbees. Few — or at least not Planet Fitness’s heroes — want to be the 100-pound or 300-pound weakling next to that. There’s even a giant “lunk alarm” that presumably flashes and rings should some over-eager weightlifter grunt too expressively, flex too obviously or drop a 250-barbell to the floor after setting a personal record for a clean-and-jerk.
The Story Outline
Let’s deconstruct the story.
- Who are the heroes and customers Planet Fitness best serves? People who care about fitness and like to work out in a gym but are intimidated by some types of fitness centers.
- What’s different about Planet Fitness? The “judgment-free zone,” a safe environment for gym-goers, especially beginners.
- What do Planet Fitness customers need? What’s their quest? Getting in shape or improving their health.
- How is Planet Fitness the adviser to its heroes / customers? It creates an environment that feels safe for people who want to work out, but don’t want anybody “watching” while they do it.
By the way, there are plenty of buff Planet Fitness members. They’re there because they want to get through their exercise and move on with the day.
With the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic, Planet Fitness added a new story — “Social Fitnessing” — even before all of its gyms re-opened. It’s clear the company wants to encourage its customers to keep their distance and stay virus-free while getting into shape. Without judgment.
In Your Story, Everyone Can’t Be a Hero
Here’s one key to your marketing story. Don’t make everybody the hero. Planet Fitness is not for everyone. Ford buyers see themselves differently than Cadillac buyers or Mazda buyers. Apple Mac buyers see themselves differently than those who buy PC brands.
Sometimes your reason for starting your business can inspire your story. Why did you want to help people in the way you do or sell them the stuff you sell? How did you want to help or make people’s lives better? How do you?
In any marketing story, you should focus on what you do for your customers, not just who you are. Of course, It’s OK to tell people who you are, but that goes on the “about” page of your website. It’s not the story you should tell on your website home page, on your social media, your advertising, or your email newsletters.
What’s Your Story?
Try a “story” to see if it resonates with customers. You don’t have to write a novel, but rough it out.
- Who’s the hero?
- What do they need to complete the next step in their journeys?
- In your role as guide, how do you help the hero / customer?
It will take some imagination, some time and perhaps some conversations with colleagues or your own advisers. But once you write a story that makes heroes of your customers and your prospective customers, you’ll foster more customer loyalty and expand your audience.
If you’ve got a great business story, share it in the comments.