Use Stories in Your Marketing Communications to Get Noticed & Remembered


‘We see the world not as it is, but as how we are’

– Anais Nin

Want to stand out from your competitors? …. but don’t know where to start? Is marketing something that you feel is out of your comfort zone? How do businesses go about differentiating themselves in a crowded market?

It’s simple.

Share your story to connect better to your customer and you will build your business.

What’s your business story? Can you craft the story of exactly what it is that you do? Can you create your story so that you can connect better with your target market?

Psychologists, neuroscientists and more recently marketers have become fascinated with storytelling. Storytelling is a critical skill for business communication. Did you know that 70% of what we learn is through stories? Stories are how we make sense of the world and crucially for business, it is what we remember.

Apparently, inside our brains, we have ‘story templates’ ready and waiting to insert the information we receive. If this information is presented in a story format it sticks better. Think of information you take in from presentations, websites and conversations. It’s not the facts that stay with you long term, it’s the stories. Often they aren’t seen as stories, they are sometimes merely situations painted or real life examples that we identify with. Anais Nin said that ’we see the world not as it is, but how we are’. It’s these emotional brain connections – as marketers, as strategists and business owners – that we try to appeal to when presenting businesses to the market.

Marketing is based on the notion that if people really knew what you did, what you are really good at, they would want to buy from you. Marketing isn’t a blunt instrument that paints all customers the same or that sees everyone equally as your potential customer.  I hear ’everyone is my customer’ quite a lot from clients when I first meet them. The logic, I know, is to think you are increasing your chances of sales but in fact you are reducing your likely conversions. You need to be clear about exactly who you are targeting first, then figure out what matters to them. If you don’t know enough, or have a lot of old assumptions, then get out of the office and find out. Get into stores, on the internet, snooping your competitors, questioning your customers. Do some work on it. You need to know this in order to craft your story.

In the stories a business tells – be it on a website, promotional leaflet or sales email –  customers need to identify with the problem being solved.  They need to see themselves as the customer you describe, as the person who needs that exact problem solved. Most business websites set out talking about their services or product features instead of the customer’s problem. They fail to connect and inspire action.  They use too much jargon, come across bland or forgettable, or worse sound just like their competitor. When they do talk about themselves they can do it coldly – they think ‘professionally’ – but without any real impact. I’m always trying to get clients to put more of who they are and who their clients are into their communications. OK, you won’t appeal to everyone, but that’s the point. You appeal better to the customer you are trying to attract. The ‘about us’ section is one of the most important pages on a website. It’s one of the most visited pages on a website. You want the prospect to think ‘she’s like me’ or ‘I like that’.  ’That’s my exact problem’ or ‘that business is for me’. This is the connection that inspires action.

So in summary, the benefits of using storytelling in your business communications are;

  • Story puts a human face on information. Jargon without human connection is forgettable.
  • Story improves the overall comprehension of what it is you do and can simplify complex ideas.
  • Stories are memorable – they help support the retention of the business information and as well as the retelling of it.  
  • Effective stories persuade. Good sales people will tell you that people buy on emotion & justify their purchase after on logic.
  • Stories help to sell your business without the hard sell.

How can I find the story I need to tell?

Because we are so wrapped up in the details of our business it’s often hard to see what story we need to tell about our business.  Sometimes an outsider can see it better. Or even better a good customer. Someone removed from the day to day running of the business. When you’re too close to something you often can’t see it.  There are different types of stories we can tell in business

  • Your Back Story; How you got started, your eureka moment if you had one.
  • The Passion Story: Why you love what you do. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
  • The Personality Story: Your approach to how people might work with you.
  • The Customer Story: Who are your customers? What work have you done for them? How do your customers talk about the help you’ve given them.
  • Employee Story: How employees/co-workers explain the business – the’feel’ or culture of the business

How to tell your story?

There are a number of tools and techniques in telling compelling business stories across. Some are free to activate, they just take some research and thinking time to develop. Others need some funding. There’s one or two options to suit your business:

  • Websites Introducing your business to prospects? What’s the best way to do it online or at network events? The best way by far is to talk about the problem the target customer is having (preferably clearly, quickly and succinctly). Here’s a simple approach put forward by Mojo Life  that you might consider using. Instead of talking only about what you do, a long list of services (which can switch people off) you can use a technique called P.A.L. People are always more interested in what you have to say, when they see themselves in the story. They connect more with it. So PAL is about 3 things;
    • Pain – This states the problem or challenge faced by the target audience. In case of my business for example,  it’s businesses who struggle with effective communications, who are overwhelmed by new media and online marketing options, and who are too busy in the day-to-day to work on growing their business.
    • Asperin – is what you do about it, your experience, your way of doing business. Have you a proven ability to transform businesses or problems?
    • Legacy – This is the ’happy ending’ you create for customers. Why they are ‘better off’ having worked with you. This could be an aspirational future you pain for them.
    • What’s important to note in the PAL approach is that most of it is about the customer, their current and future state. Too many SMEs just talk about themselves!
  • About us’ sections that have ’soul’. You’re a human being, and so is your customer. The about us is one of the most important and neglected pages on a website. Here’s a nice example of an engaging about us page that draws you in and gives you a real sense of the owner behind the business. Three Thought Bubbles.
  • Videos are so effective in conveying business story in an compelling, memorable, sharable way. Here’s a great example of a UK business doing just that; Mojo Your Business.
  • Customer testimonials in old fashioned text, on LinkedIn or even better video/audio.  Hearing your story through your customer is gold. I have some testimonials for how I work here. Case studies or real market examples of what you do are excellent ‘stories’ for business to business.
  • Email marketing’s effectiveness has quadrupled in recent years. it’s because there is consent in being contacted, people have given their email because they are interested in something you do or info you have. Nurture relationships by connecting often with customers and prospects by sharing educational stories, recent successes, news, inspiring stories. Consider newsletters, nowadays there’s great tools like Mailchimp & Newsweaver which have some degree of design for engagement and measurability for tracking effectiveness. Veronica Maria Jarski runs an engaging blog via her newsletter
  • Portfolio pictures, photos, images, Infographics to paint picture that will be remembered.
  • Audio interviews with engaging, relevant content. Audio podcasts are making a comeback! It puts the human side of your business across in a way that stands out. Here’s a Galway accountancy business called Bradan Consulting using audioboo to tell it’s story in 2 minutes.  This was crafted, recorded and edited by Weave a Story
  • I also plan to run a series of Marketing over Coffee podcasts in the future. This can be used for  ’how to’ guides, new launches, interviews, blogs. I am in the process of recording these.
  • Online slideshows, presentations can add to your story better than just text … especially if you are on a budget.
  • PR – local and national news – stories shared online and in traditional media can reach big audiences.
  • Customer generated content – It’s much more powerful to hear about how you rate or work from your customers. Ratings were Airbnb’s strongest card in instilling trust. Do you have recommendations on your business or customer testimonials? I share my endorsements here in ‘How I work’. Endorsements on LinkedIn,  feedback, comments, retweets all help spread your story to new audiences.
  • Guerilla marketing,  unexpected or out of the ordinary marketing. This can be low cost and very effective. For example a dance school flash mob launching a new product.

These are just some ideas. Even if you take just one idea and try to activate it. Telling your business story well is such an effective marketing tool. It helps you stand out in a crowded marketplace.  It’s all about human connection. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should always be inspiring.

Share your story. Connect better with your customer.  Build your business.


Is Branding really relevant to Small Irish Businesses?



 Is Branding really relevant to small Irish businesses?



First off, recession aside, it’s not all about big budgets. Just because you run a small business doesn’t mean you can’t build a brand. SMEs can sometimes overlook the importance of brand building or feel that brands are for big businesses with college know-how. This is a mistake. Your SME business could also be a brand whether you know it or not. And if planned correctly it can help you grow your business sustainably.

There are a lot of myths and misunderstanding around branding. First of all … what is it all about? Is it a logo? A tagline? The look or typography on your marketing literature? The advertising you do? The events? Does it include the look of the website?

What is branding anyway?

Here’s Seth Godin’s definition. “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.

So a brand is the ‘extra’ people are willing to pay verses alternatives. Why might they be willing to pay this premium? It’s about building an emotional relationship between offering and audience, the X Factor. From the way your phone is answered, how goods are delivered, how you speak to and treat the customer, how complaints are handled … even how invoices are paid. From the events you do (or don’t do!), to the advertising you print, to the look of your place of business, to the tone of all your customer communications. Branding is the sum of all the contacts with your business. You could say every contact your business has externally is an attempt at creating your brand; the good, the bad and the ugly!

How insanely curious are you about finding the exact range your customers want? The small things they value, the interactions they appreciate, the tips they love and the price they are willing to pay?

On a recent trip into town I was heartened by the customer driven initiatives I met in cafes, hairdressers, craft stalls and small retail stores. It struck me that some small businesses really go that extra mile to show their customers that they want them to keep coming back. Whilst others simply do not. They rely on low price, promotions, busy streets and cheap products to draw the crowds. I know from running my own business that (unless you are located on the main thoroughfare for what you sell) it’s a lot more efficient to get repeat business than constantly trying to convert new clients.

To understand what your customers value, the little touches, the things that might cost a little but mean a lot … are the first steps you make in building your brand and crucially takes conversation away from price. So that you don’t need to be the cheapest provider, with the promotions. So you can seek out the customers your business deserves. Who are willing to pay the price premium you want to command. 

So, when I seek a new hair salon, as I have done recently, and I could go to any of the 100+ salons in Dublin, how do I choose a new one? Price? Expertise? Location? Convenience? Recommendations? A mix?  Maybe. But what makes me come back? Indepth stylist consultation and great service delivery, complimentary latte on arrival, surprise toast if it’s a morning booking, expert products cross-sold, loyalty points system that discounts future visits? You can be damn sure I appreciated these customer focused initiatives and will give them my custom from here.

Is Branding worth the effort?

In short yes. The benefits are long term and sustainable. When you craft what your brand is all about;

  • In these price-obsessed times we live in, you get to take the conversation you are trying to have with your target market away from price and the dreaded race to the bottom.
  • People ‘get’ more quickly what your business does and what you are all about.
  • The market stops weighing you up against your competition every single time they think about the category you sell in. They become more loyal to you because you make them feel special, their life easier, better.
  • As a business owner your overwhelming choices in terms of marketing opportunities are narrowed and your communications become easier to plan.
  • Your customers start doing your marketing for you (via old fashioned things like repeat business and word of mouth recommendations as well as social media sharing, online recommendations, endorsements etc).

In my next blog (click here) I lay out 10 simple tips to creating a brand for your business that can be applied to SMEs and larger businesses crafting a new brand or rebrand.



A meaningful, punchy elevator pitch

Do your marketing messages do anything for your business?  Do you go to network meetings and stumble across your words when asked to publicly introduce yourself? I’ve done it. Is your website, flyer or promotional literature a never-ending list of all the services you can provide? Again, I’ve been here.

Do you go on (and on) when someone asks you to explain what exactly you do? Covering everything from where you come from, how long you have been in business, where you are based and a long list of generic, forgettable services?

What’s the one thing you want to say?

If you had the chance, what silver bullet message would you communicate to turn prospects into customers? In other words what’s your 30 second elevator pitch or your business one-liner?

This is a question I ask my clients when trying to work out the best communications strategy for their business.

I usually get lots of answers, not one. Bullet points of well meaning, generic messages that could easily be that of their competitor. Often overly formal, impersonal, sometimes techy. Always needing more work.

I don’t say this lightly, like it’s something that’s easy to do. It’s not.

There are those who might say “if you could say what you do in one line, then it’s not worth doing!!” I take the point, but only concede that OK, it can be two.

If you don’t put out a clear, easy to remember position about your business then someone else will, Chinese whispers style. If you don’t think you have a story, think again, it’s what people say to each other about you. Better to take control and craft the message than leave it to others. Better to be known for one thing that sets you apart.

It’s usually after I meet a client and have a good chat with them about their business, asking some probing questions do I get to the crux of this.

I understand why this happens. I run my own business, and know that business owners are busy running their businesses, fulfilling orders, meeting deadlines to really stop and think about this.

Besides, it’s not exactly easy to get down to the one thing you are really good at doing. It’s hard to say why you are REALLY different from your competitors – who say they do exactly what you do. It can be frustrating when the first answer that comes to mind isn’t the right one. The right summary may not always be immediate and can take a little research to get it right. Sometimes other people who know you well can see it clearer, or your best customers will say why they use you. If it was easy, everyone would nail it. But the reward for those who do it well is getting noticed more. Surfed more. Bought more. Recommended more.

What is marketing all about anyway?

Related to this is the common misunderstanding about what ‘marketing’ actually is. It’s what a lot of people commonly view as advertising. First of all, let’s say what it’s not. It’s not a blunt instrument that tries to talk to everyone, talking to a diverse audience en masse. A common misunderstanding is to think that you are reducing the size of your potential market by appealing to a niche segment, when in fact you are doing the opposite. If you have a service or product that appeals to a certain segment of the market more than others, then focus on that segment. What problems or needs do they have that you can help them with? How can you show them your business is for them? Marketing is knowing the customer and market you operate in, inside-out, and using that knowledge to grow your business. It’s based on the notion that if someone knew the truth of your business, what you’re really good at, they’d want your service or product, they’d want to work with you.

In Summary:

To arrive at your one liner, your tagline, your flyer headline or website home page message – think about a couple of things;

  • Get an outsider opinion about what you are good at. Better again, research it, have your happy customers tell you.
  • Know who you are talking to. Your market is not everybody.  You need to pick an audience your business appeals most to in order to craft the message that will mean something. What does this customer value? What really annoys them? How do they use this product or service? What’s their story? Do you really know? If not, you need to ask them, walk in their shoes.
  • Will your target customer really identify or connect with the problem you are highlighting? Can they see themselves your one liner or homepage message? Would they think, ‘Yea, that’s me, I have that problem!’
  • Are you talking about yourself in your communications more your customer’s problem or need?
  • Start somewhere, you can always refine and improve it. It’s something I’ve done over time.

In summary, if you’ve got 30 seconds, say what the customer needs to hear, i.e. the problem you can help them with. 

Síodhna McGowan – Inspired Thinking – helping SMEs who struggle with their communications by shining a light on what they do best so they can grow their business.