Unlock the Magic in Your Story Now

Get the Free 20 questions to Ask Before Launching Your Idea workbook when you sign up for occasional updates.

Get the Free 20 questions to Ask Before Launching Your Idea workbook when you sign up for occasional updates.

Articles filed in: Storytelling

Only We

Starbucks has been the only coffee chain since the 90’s where you can legally buy a Frappuccino®. Try selling a whipped iced coffee with that name and you’ll be busted by the intellectual property police. You can’t call your customer service centre the Genius Bar® either, that doesn’t mean you can’t have one.

Even a few short years ago the opportunities to confidently say ‘only we’ abounded. Features and benefits, along with factories and platforms were difficult to duplicate. Today we have one man magazine publishing houses and very different opportunities to tell the ‘only we’ story to our clients and customers.

This might sound like bad news, but actually it’s the best news for tiny app developers, boutique designers and solo-entrepreneurs. The ‘only we’ of the industrial era has become the ‘only I’ and ‘only with us’ of the digitally connected era.

Your ordinary story has always been what makes you extraordinary. You just have more opportunities than ever to see that for yourself and share it with your audience now.

Image by Nathan Makan.

The Story You Tell Is A Choice

The story you tell is a choice.
Creating a series of lines in the sand.
Symbolic of values that you’re not willing to compromise on.
Your brand can’t be all things to everyone.
This and that.

The brands that stand out, that have soul, that win by being different, choose.
They choose to stand for something, then make that something the foundation of their story.

What’s your story? What lines in the sand have you chosen to draw?

Image by Martin Kalfatovic.

Something For Everyone

Pineapple Chili flavour ice lollies aren’t for everyone. And plenty of people hated Go The F**k To Sleep, which became a best seller by delighting parents with a particular worldview.

If everything was created for the market of everyone, there would be no room for art by Banksy, t-shirts by Threadless or $500 beats by dr dre.

Your job is to tell the best story you can to the people who want to hear it. To surprise, delight and bring joy to those people and to gently close the door on the people who don’t want to listen. Don’t worry about converting the life long Egg McMuffin eater to your Green Juice detox regime.

Unsubscribers, critics and naysayers are a gift. Say a mental thanks to them for saving you the job of working out who your right people are. Then go out and do everything in your power to woo the people who matter.

Image by Gavin Golden.

How To Tell A Good Business Story

Start with the truth.
Identify the worldview of the people you need to reach.
Describe the truth through their worldview.
~ Seth Godin

What picture are you painting of your business? Are you trying too hard to sound more professional, bigger, slick, more polished than the competition? Is your story riddled with jargon instead of illuminated by truth? Does it make customers feel something?

Jargon puts your clients to sleep, kills the conversation dead,
and sucks the soul out of ideas

Think of your business story as the first date. As a way to start establishing the kind of relationship that leaves people wanting more. Your story doesn’t need to give all of the information, it simply needs to foster the next conversation.

Here’s some inspiration for you;

Skype is software that enables the world’s conversations. Millions of individuals and businesses use Skype to make free video and voice calls, send instant messages and share files with other Skype users. Everyday, people also use Skype to make low-cost calls to landlines and mobiles.”

“37 Signals ~ Goodbye to bloat. Simple, focused software that does just what you need and nothing you don’t.”

And you don’t have to be one of the big boys to do this either, tiny businesses are doing this too.

”At Sherbet we keep it simple; freshly baked goods handmade on site in small batches, using the best quality ingredients- Madagascan vanilla beans, French Valrhona chocolate, free range eggs, and fresh seasonal fruit. Inspired by the cupcake bakeries of New York city. Welcome to Sherbet.”

Future Shelter products are designed by Adam Coffey and Jane King. We are driven by the need to create new and interesting products that are not mass produced but carefully hand crafted and locally made. It matters to us that our products experience a happy life from start to finish. We produce them lovingly in our workshop with care and attention to detail. We like to choose environmentally friendly ingredients (either recycled materials or reclaimed from local businesses) but we also consider the life of the product too. We want our products to last and be passed down through future generations.” [retired copy]

Ristretto Perth’s Coffee and Espresso Specialists. Source, Roast, Share. Doing good things to good coffee in the Perth CBD.”

“The gifted people at Rochelle Adonis create a decadent feast of cakes and confections that will close your eyes and widen your smile.”

Does your business story make your best people breathe a deep sigh of relief, as they whisper;
“Thank God I’ve found her, where do I click, how do I book, when can I buy?”

Image by digitalexpress.

Brands Are Shaped By The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Coffee chic is not merely a creation of Starbucks, no more than flawless design is the singular domain of Apple. What these companies do with a clever brand story, is make it easier for us to buy into the wants that we associate as being part of our story.

What we actually believe to be the truth about the brands we love has as much to do with trendy interactive spaces we enjoy lingering in and exploring, as it has to do with products we consume or want to talk about.

Brands are what customers perceive them to be,
and never just about what marketing departments communicate about products bought and sold

Back in the 70’s you could tell a story about who you were depending on which brand of doll you played with and what kind of bicycle you owned. Those stories you told yourself mattered almost more than the things themselves, just as the stories your clients can tell themselves about doing business with you today matter.

What story can your customers tell themselves when they visit your website, use your product or walk into your cafe? Is it the one you hoped they would be telling?

Image by Miguel Jimenez.

Why Knowing What To Leave Out Matters

The secret of any great book, movie, business, product, or service is in the editing. As an entrepreneur or creative, your understanding of what to leave out is just as important as what you decide to leave in.

Christopher Nolan will no doubt leave hours and hours of carefully crafted shots and scenes from
The Dark Knight Rises in the cutting room, and the movie we see will be so much the better for it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re designing an app or a shoe, framing a photo or a company, creating a course or a website, your editing decisions are the key to pulling the whole thing together. Like the perfect final cut, your product and brand story needs just the right combination of carefully selected elements.

The act of editing out is what makes a good story an epic

Taking a metaphorical blue pencil to your ‘thing’ isn’t easy. Sometimes you’re too close to the work to understand what details really matter. And sometimes it’s just too hard to toss hours of creative energy aside.

Take a step back and pretend you’re not you, stand in your audience’s shoes. And above all, don’t wait for the day when the whole thing is perfect to bring it to the world. Even Christopher Nolan makes mistakes and lives to create another day.

Over to you, how do you self edit? How have you made something you’ve created better by taking a step back?

Image by Thomas Milne.

How To Write Great Website Copy

So you’ve got the crash hot website, the perfect calling card for your business. Fantastic! There’s just one problem you’ve got to fill it with engaging content that not only showcases what you do but gives potential clients a sense of who you are and how your business can help them. I’ve stared down the barrel of empty web pages…. often, so I feel your pain.

Where do you start and what is the best way to position yourself digitally? I found some useful tips in The Little Black Book of Business Writing whilst browsing at the airport recently (why are all the best books right there under your nose to tempt you just before you fly?). This handy little volume is an easy read and has sections devoted to different areas of business writing from proposals to resumes, minutes to media releases.
So what did the Little Black Book have to say about writing website copy?
1. Avoid slabs of text, use short paragraphs, catchy headings and incorporate graphics.

2. Never stop talking, don’t lose your voice. Write your side of a terrific conversation

3. Tell a story with elegant simplicity rather than by enumerating accomplishments.

4. Don’t waffle and use generalities, use compelling real world examples.

5. Break your business story into five or six categories-your tabs and use them to position you.

6. Greet your reader and show them the way in. Tell them who you are, what you think and how you define yourself and your work.

7. Don’t feel you have to say everything. Your website should start a conversation not stop it.

8. Make prices, dates, places and details easy to find using dot points and colour.

“Use writing to do business,
not to sound like you’re doing business.”

Great advice!
What’s worked for you? What challenges do you face when writing your service descriptions or website copy?

Image by Image Abstraction.

Brand Names Are The Start Of A Story

From the moment the blue line appears on the pregnancy test and for the next 35 weeks, the one thing that obsesses most couples day and night while waiting for their new arrival is what they will call her. They compulsively leaf through baby name books, trawl websites and test out sound combinations and meanings. They poll friends, write list upon list, crossing off here, adding there, agonising about the legacy of this one decision. Since time began humans have instinctively understood that a name is the start of a story.

When we name our children we are writing the opening lines of their first chapter. We want to give them names they can grow into. Their names are part of our vision of what we hope they will one day be in the world and researchers have proven that names can have a lasting impact on outcomes for individuals in later life.

Names are not simply designed to identify, they really can take us in one direction or another. And so it goes with brand names, book titles and product names too. Companies know that names can make or break, that they build mystery, can form the basis of a movement or create cult status. That’s why ‘Purple Cow’ is a more compelling title than, ‘Marketing for Today’, and why Innocent was a genius way to begin the story of a juice and smoothie company.

A great name can take you places a good name can’t. A truly great brand name makes room for a new story in people’s hearts and minds and can position a good product beyond it’s utility.

Don’t set out to name a company or a product,
set out to name your vision of what you want to see in the world

Design your brand name to create lofty expectations, to make people believe something, not just notice it, and to signal your difference to the world.

Image by Kai Chan Vong.</a

How Virgin Wins With A Better Story

Good Story means something worth telling
that the world wants to hear. ~ Robert McKee

Every time a customer encounters your marketing they are filling in the blanks. Their perceptions about your business are being etched in their minds and if you’re doing a great job, in their hearts too over time. All marketing beings with a great story. A true story that your customers want to believe in.

You are telling your story with design on your website and words in your copy. Piece by piece from your product to premises, packaging to profile photo, music to mission statement, you are sending out clues about what it means to do business with you.

Every detail of your story
is part of the interface between you and your customer

Over the weekend here in Australia, our national airline was grounded in an attempt to settle a longstanding dispute over pay. The entire fleet of 108 aircraft stopped flying, leaving passengers both here and abroad stranded. A story and reputation built over decades was shattered in one day. All the taglines, refurbished lounges and commitment statements will not save you if the rest of your story doesn’t add up.

Virgin has just repositioned itself as a real alternative to Qantas for the business traveller. Virgin tells an upbeat story about improved standards, fabulous staff, putting customers at the centre of everything they do and then sprinkles it with the magic of red high heeled shoes (which Virgin Atlantic is bringing back for stewardesses). Their response to the Qantas crisis (extra flights, access to lounges and information about stranded passenger discounts), shows customers that their brand is living the story not just telling it.

Image by Kevin H.

What Story Can People Tell Themselves About You?

This is the story of two businesses. I tell it often. Two cafes, that are literally side by side on the same street. One has a shaded elevated outdoor seating area with a view of the ocean. It is bigger and has a couple of comfy couches inside, where customers can relax over a light snack. On a beautiful Sunday morning at 9am they have a sign outside saying; “Open all day, for breakfast, drinks and snacks.” There are two people sitting inside.

The tiny cafe next door is smaller. They have extended their seating area outside onto the pavement. You don’t get a view of the ocean because of the lower elevation. They have made the most of the available space by placing low orange coloured stools at little square tables. Some people miss the cafe as they drive past because it’s tucked in between the petrol station, the larger cafe and behind the bus shelter. At 9am on the very same Sunday it is packed to bursting. There are people spilling out onto the pavement and others waiting both inside and out for a table. Why?

The bustling little cafe with the orange stools does serve great coffee, expensive cakes and organic homemade food. But what differentiates them is more than just coffee. They simply make their customers feel part of something special; a shared secret. Customers who go there feel that they belong. They believe that where they drink coffee says something about the kind of life they have and the experiences they enjoy.

Behind every business statistic, reader, website visitor and customer, is a real human being who wants to matter.
People the world over care about and pay more for things that make them feel that they matter.

People don’t want experiences and things that are fabulous, cool, beautiful, empowering, trendy, delicious, sexy, cutting edge, healthy and smart. They want to be all of those things. And your business must give them the opportunity to shape the story of themselves.

People are looking for a reason to do business with you. So why not give them a great one?

Your customers, clients and readers want to feel something and they want you to help them get there. What story can people tell themselves about why you’re different, why they love your brand and feel compelled to do business with you?

*This is an open Q&A thread. Post your brand story questions, with links to your website where appropriate and I’ll answer them.

Image by Henry.