Everyone wants to market better. From big businesses who can no longer reach consumers with ad fatigue to startups who want to punch above their weight with grassroots ad campaigns, storytelling in business depends upon a brand’s ability to create lasting connections with customers. To enact true business transformation, a big brand needs to touch consumers as closely as a tiny startup can; similarly, small startups with big aspirations need to figure out how to reach massive audiences in addition to the clientele it reaches through local initiatives. Smaller brands might be envious of the massive followerships its larger competitors amass, but larger competitors often envy the personal engagement levels smaller companies achieve.
Is this a case of the grass always being greener, or can everyone learn from each other and reach a happy medium?
Most brands, regardless of size, want to grow. Whether that’s in company size, market share, revenue, reach, or some other metric, businesses don’t like stagnation.
No businesses are more aggressive with their growth rates and targets than today’s startups. When they’re on to something good, startups like Uber, Snapchat, and Yelp achieve levels of success unthinkable in old business standards. Whether you fit the conventional mold of a Silicon Valley startup or are an established enterprise seeking to inject some new life and growth into your brand story, it helps to think like a startup.
What does that mean? Well, at startups, everyone has a role that goes well beyond its traditional on-paper definition. The CEOs do more of the dirty work themselves, and everyone in the organization carries a disproportionate amount of weight. Jacqueline Darna, the CEO of a medical company that produces the No Mo Nausea bracelet knew that it took more than just a sassy name and great science to sell a product—so she personally wrote notes to several high-visibility celebrities and influencers encouraging them to try the product. Says Darna, “that’s how we were named hot celebrity moms’ pick in this month’s Star Magazine.” Nobody should be above a good arts-and-crafts project (literally or metaphorically speaking), especially when it leads to a feature with huge exposure.
Small brands know the importance of press that can’t be bought with a full-page ad, which is something that larger enterprises sometimes forget. All the advertisements in the world can’t get you the same street cred as finding your brand mentioned among hot celebrity gossip, trending on Twitter, or in the iTunes store Top 10 Apps list. Matthew DeSantis, CEO of Brightkey Software (producer of a third-party virtual keyboard for Apple’s iPhone operating system), told me that his team went straight to the people who are responsible for getting apps on that list—the consumers.
“When we launched Brightkey Keyboard, we wanted to target the early adopters. And what better place than to reach them than in line for iPhone 6s at Apple stores? We hired Brightkey brand ambassadors to pass out donuts and coffee (complete with Brightkey branded cups and napkins) outside 12 different Apple stores on iPhone 6 launch morning.” This is more than a cute story about a team of startup fanatics handing out treats to Apple junkies; it got Brightkey media coverage in major markets across the country and landed them the number seven spot in the US App Store on launch weekend.
Ok, so maybe the whole donuts-and-coffee thing works for a little while, but what about brands whose business and customers are way too big to be swayed by free snacks?
That kind of question can lead to a critical misunderstanding about storytelling in business. Nobody is “too big” to connect intimately with customers. And whether you use grassroots marketing or a more developed content strategy, it’s imperative that you share your company’s unique and zany passions in clear ways. That’s the biggest lesson we can learn from brands of all sizes that have launched successful campaigns—it’s not that any one campaign (or pastry) that’s going to change your marketing career forever. But it might be what it takes to get your foot in the door (whether it’s with publications, investors, or consumers).
Brand storytelling is all about the careful balance of the “how” and the “why”—that is, how your brand’s product or solution is unique and why you decided to do what you do. That’s the reason small startups can have disproportionately huge reach when they tell the story of why they exist in such unique ways. People love hearing the story of a small group of people who rallied around a common problem and came up with a unique solution.
Great stories rise to the top; great stories told through consistent brand journalism placed in creative outlets have reach and staying power that extends far beyond their expected scope.
The importance of refining your brand story cannot be overstated. Storytelling in business is about so much more than simply buying advertisements or picking a good way to spin your story. The common theme among creative entrepreneurs who managed to defeat conventional marketing wisdom was that there really are some things that money can’t buy. And at the very top of that list is the placement and credibility that only comes from successful storytelling. I talked with Andre Kay, founder and CEO of Sociallybuzz—a social media reputation and management company—who told me about the way he personally created content that brought his brand to the next level:
“As the CEO and Founder of a social media startup back in 2009, I needed to find a way to build credibility and visibility for our new startup. I researched and found all the top news sources reaching my target audience and requested to be a guest writer to share my knowledge on social media. I picked things I knew would bring value to their readers. I wrote one article per month for three straight years, and the results speak for themselves. If you search Google for ‘Social Media Services for Restaurant’, ‘Social Media Services for Franchises’ or ‘Social Media Services for Nightclubs’, we’re on the first page in the top three searches for free.”
This is about so much more than just saving money, though. The story you create by contributing your knowledge and telling your story organically, creatively, and uniquely is truly priceless—because digital paper trails and industry reputations can only be created when your reach goes far beyond traditional sponsorships and ad campaigns. Business innovation is a combination of considerations that leads to transformative changes in brand reputation, growth, and success. When it comes to storytelling, learning what to say and how to say it really is priceless.
Want to learn more about business transformation and scrappy marketing techniques for businesses of all sizes? Subscribe to the Content Standard Newsletter.