This guide is for consultants, advisors, and experts who believe in the value of business storytelling and the influence it has in attracting (and retaining) high value clients. The inspiration came from a survey where you told me you wanted to know how to "find your voice" and "build your brand authority" to improve your conversions.
This conversation goes by a number of different names...strategic positioning, positioning, being unique, differentiation, standing out, branding, brand story, brand message, brand authority, building a brand, finding your voice, voice and tone, knowing your why, having a purpose, and the list goes on...
To make this guide easy to read (and the instructions easy to follow) I am bundling ALL of these terms together into the phrase "tell your story". This is a guide to help you tell your story as a business as use that story as fuel for your content marketing.
I trust this guide is all you need it to be. Feel free to download the available resources and comment at the bottom of this page.
INTRO: Why Bother With Stories?
Very simply, stories are one of the most powerful communication methods we have. You are reading this post because you understand their power and want to use them in your business.
But just in case you are the kind of person that needs to see data, here are the results of research done by a social media advertising technology firm named Adaptly in partnership with Facebook. They ran two different campaigns to a similar audience encouraging subscriptions to Refinery29, an independent fashion and lifestyle website.
- The first campaign was “sustained call-to-action”. Basically, it was a 12 day campaign that focused only on generating subscriptions.
- The second campaign involved “sequenced” ads that told the brand story first, provided product information second, invited people to sign up third.
Key findings of Adaptly’s research:
- Among those who were exposed to the sequenced ads compared with those who were exposed to the non-sequenced ads, there was an 87% increase in people visiting the landing page
- There was a 56% increase in subscription rates among people who were exposed to the sequenced ads compared with those who were exposed to the non-sequenced ads
- People who were exposed to all three of the ads in the sequence converted at higher rates than those who had seen just one or two of the ads. People who saw even just one of the ads converted at higher rates than people in the control group who saw no ads.
In short: the storytelling campaign outperformed on all fronts.
But even with strong evidence like this, I've found something else to be true about business storytelling, positioning, and finding your "voice" in the market.
Developing a clear, well-understood "story" is hard.
Yes, you can "make something up". Yes, you can "copy" what you see a competitor doing. Yes, you can "sell harder" by using more of your personal energy and charisma to attract people to your business. But each is just a way to compensate for the fact that you really aren't sure what your story is. Most companies fall in one of two categories:
Conventional companies tell a "WE are the best" type story. For example:
- WE are honest.
- WE are number #1 in customer service.
- WE have friendly people.
- WE care about our clients.
- WE are experts.
It's "boring". It's "generic". It's "much of the same". Most importantly, your BEST client can't figure out where they fit because your message doesn't include them in it.
Coveted companies tell a "We are the best for YOU" type story. For example:
- This is who we believe YOU are
- This is what we believe is affecting YOU
- Our beliefs have led us to create the following plan for YOU
The difference is specificity. Coveted companies are specific about what they believe AND how their beliefs lead to specific offerings for their clients. Most importantly, your BEST client doesn't have to guess where they fit because your message speaks directly to them.
You need a system for telling great stories.
There should be a step-by-step process to help you find your "voice" as a company. The current advice available boils down to statements like "think about your beliefs", "write out your values", and "create a mission statement". But this just creates a list of what you think makes you special. There has to be a way to seamlessly sync what your BEST client wants with your story as a company.
Here is the bottom line and all experts agree: You cannot create compelling, client attracting content around your story if you are not sure what your story is.
In my mind there should be ONE process that:
- Discovers what you believe as a company.
- Documents your beliefs in a series of strategic positioning statements (therefore creating a "story") .
- Uses those strategic positioning statements as cornerstones for compelling, client attracting content
The following three step process is sharpest way I know how to do that. Enjoy it. Use it. Dominate.
STEP 1: What Is Your (Client Focused) Story?
Your BEST client is less interested in when you were founded, how you were founded, or how many different services offerings you have.
Your BEST client is most interested in your ability to include them in a story that reflects the challenges of their situation, points to a light at the end of the tunnel, and explains how you are going to walk with them until they reach "the light".
In other words, you should be telling a story about YOUR perspective on THEIR experience. And since we are talking about their experience, it's important to remember that your BEST client is stuck.
- Your BEST client would prefer to focus on something else (family, career, finances, etc), but they can't because they are stuck.
- Your BEST client is trying to navigate this situation alone and is “beat up” by the myriad of conflicting and confusing options they see each day. Which leaves them stuck.
- Your BEST client is counting on someone (preferably YOU) to help them understand, navigate, and find their optimal solution. In other words, they want you to get them UN-stuck
But you can't just walk up to a prospective client and say "you're stuck". As consultants, one of our advantages is the fact that we have an objective, third-party perspective. We are not as close to the issue and can see it differently. Do what great consultants do and frame the issue for your BEST client.
Acknowledge the NOISE. Remind them of the TRUTH. Tell them what you BELIEVE is possible.
Clear the fog. Settle the frustration. Help them see that a solution really is possible. Your first piece of value is to organize the facts of the situation in a way that helps your clients see clearly. You have to separate the NOISE from the TRUTH and then establish your BELIEFS as a company.
- NOISE: All of the pundits, theories, and trends that confuse your BEST client
- TRUTH: The undeniable facts your BEST client is forced to confront
- BELIEFS: The perspective your company adopts as it solves the BIG problem
Before you try to sell any services, you need to make it clear to your BEST client that
1 - There IS existing noise that keeps them from making the best decision.
2 – There ARE some hardcore truths they must acknowledge if they are going to perform well.
3 – Your ASSESSMENT of the noise and the truth has led you to a certain set of beliefs that will get them un-stuck.
But, how do you do "frame" a story for an entire market?
It's easy to frame an issue appropriately when you are speaking one-on-one with a potential client. It much more difficult when you are framing a story to position your company to the general marketplace. Fortunately, I have a method that takes (most of) the pain out of this process.
STEP 1A: Make a list of content that is already popular in your niche. Every market has an existing "level of consciousness". There are products, services, experts, books, television shows, websites, podcasts, and breaking news that help establish the current level of understanding your field. Make a list of what is already popular. Here are two simple ways to do this:
Let's assume that you are a consultant in the quick-service food industry. You work with franchised, fast-food operations to help them increase sales. Your primary keyword is probably "quick service sales".
Buzzsumo = shows you the most social results for your keyword (what you client finds online and shares).
Google = shows you the most popular search results for your keyword (what you client finds online and reads).
Between these two tools and a couple of good keywords you can easily get a list of 50 popular articles in your niche. These articles represent the current consciousness of your market. It reflects what your market talks about, reads, and believes most. This is very valuable context for your advice as a consultant. Move on to step 1B.
STEP 1B: Establish the Noise vs Truth vs Your Beliefs. Now here is the part where you start behaving like a consultant. Each of the articles you found was written with a particular "point of view" or perspective. Your job as the consultant is to determine which parts of each article are noise (distraction) or truth (necessary).
Simply read each article and review the main points. Determine if each point is noise or truth (distraction or necessary) and add some short commentary.
Step 1C: Find their themes. Find your themes. After you review 10-20 articles you will start to notice common themes in the articles. After about 30 articles you will notice how YOU feel about those themes. As you look at your notes, each time "theme A" comes up you label it noise, but each time "theme B" comes up you label it truth. You are now starting to create real data for yourself of where you stand as it relates to the ideas that currently affect your BEST client. This is the kind of story you should be sharing with your market.
Fill in the blanks. Your story takes shape here.
TEMPLATE #1 - NOISE VS TRUTH VS BELIEF
Now that you've done a bit of research, use the template below to summarize your beliefs as a company.
- The #1 distraction my BEST client experiences is [NOISE].
- The #1 undeniable fact my BEST client must face is [TRUTH].
- Our primary perspective in helping our clients achieve is [BELIEF].
Now fill-in this phrase.
In our company we understand that our clients are often distracted by [NOISE] as they make a decision about [TRUTH]. Our commitment to [BELIEF] allows us to help more and more people each day.
Your honest responses lay an excellent foundation for what makes you different...even what makes your business *special*. Most importantly, you are connecting your story as a business to the daily challenges of your BEST client.
These points might be “obvious” to you, but you need to call them out now so you can strategically communicate them to your BEST client.
Speaking of being strategic, let's take the raw data you just gathered and turn it into strategic positioning statements the rest of your company can use to communicate.
STEP 2: Develop Positioning Statements - Keep Your Story Consistent
Your research on Noise vs Truths vs Beliefs has clarified what your BEST client is up against. You know your BEST client is stuck. You know about the noise that currently distracts them. You know which undeniable truths they must face. You are clear on your own beliefs on how you can uniquely help them.
Now it's time to simplify all of this into a few, clear strategic positioning statements.
The Three Strategic Positioning Statements
Now that your story is much clearer to you, it's time to make it clear for the rest of your company. You need to create a couple of strategic positioning statements to give guidance to all who will communicate your story as a business. These statements will be the foundation on which the story is built.
Part 2A - Develop a Brand Ambition for your business.
The Brand Ambition clearly explains the major transformation you expect your BEST client to have in their long-term relationship with you. In short, it's how you acknowledge that your BEST client is stuck while painting a picture of how to get them un-stuck. Keep in mind, you may not be able to offer this entire transformation with your current services. That's fine. This is an ambition. It's what you plan to grow into as a company. It's also an invitation for your BEST client to take this journey with you.
Part 2A - Brand Ambition TEMPLATE
Template: [COMPANY NAME] specializes in [EXPERTISE]. We turn [FROGS] into [PRINCES]. As a result, these [PRINCES] experience [BIG BENEFIT].
Here a few thought starters to help you fill in the blanks.
- What is your company's greatest expertise? What are you known for? (EXPERTISE)
- Where are your BEST clients before they work with you? (FROGS)
- Where are your BEST clients after they experience your transformational work (PRINCES)
- What is the #1 thing your BEST client can now experience because they worked with you? (BIG BENEFIT)
Here is the Brand Ambition for Coveted Consultant:
Example: Permanently elevate the training standard for how to build a consulting practice. We transform intelligent, technically oriented, stalled leaders of consulting firms into insightful, inspired, business architects translating their specific expertise into a WOW experience for their BEST client.
Your Brand Ambition is your “rally cry”. It's the central idea that brings your employees, partners, vendors, and BEST client all together. But how do you measure your success against this vision? Great question. Keep reading.
Part 2B - Develop a Business Ambition for your business.
The Brand Ambition provides a vision for your business. The Business Ambition will provide simple measurements to understand your progress toward that vision.
Part 2B - Business Ambition TEMPLATE
Template: Our success is measured by helping our BEST client navigate [MILESTONE 1, MILESTONE 2, MILESTONE 3]. We will change [X] number of lives/businesses/organizations by exposing/training/fixing elements [X,Y, and Z].
Here a few thought starters to help you fill in the blanks.
- What are the major sticking points for clients during transformation? [MILESTONE 1, 2, 3]
- What number of BEST clients do you need to put a “dent” in this issue? [X]
- What are the major benefits of working with your organization in this transformational way? [X,Y, and Z]
Here is the Business Ambition for Coveted Consultant:
Example: Build a tribe of 1,000 consultants armed with their own customized Coveted Consultant playbook. Their playbook will include a clear marketplace MESSAGE, profitable MARKETING funnel, and an efficient MANAGEMENT structure.
Your Business Ambition is how you measure success. The business ambition quickly clarifies which numbers deserve measuring and how you plan to track your progress.
Part 2C - Develop your BEST client testimonial
What will your BEST client say after they have experienced your transformational services? You may already have your perfect testimonial. If not, feel free to use the outline below to create one.
Part 2C - BEST Client Testimonial TEMPLATE
Template: My name is [NAME]. Before I met [COMPANY NAME] I struggled with [ISSUES 1,2,3]. While working with the company I was introduced to [STRATEGY 1,2,3]. Now I experience [BENEFIT 1,2,3] and I feel [EMOTION 1,2,3].
Here a few thought starters to help you fill in the blanks.
- What are the major sticking points for your BEST client during transformation? [ISSUES 1, 2, 3]
- What three strategies does your company use to combat these sticking points? [STRATEGY 1, 2, 3]
- What are the major benefits of working with you in this transformational way? [BENEFIT 1, 2, 3]
- How will your BEST client feel after experiencing each strategy? [EMOTION 1, 2, 3]
Here is an example BEST client testimonial developed for Coveted Consultant:
My name is John Brown. Before I met Coveted Consultant I struggled trying to manage client acquisition, client service, and new employee training simultaneously as I grew my business. Coveted Consultant simplified the approach by helping me get re-aligned with my responsibility as the leader of the company. I needed to get reconnected with the core value proposition of my business and communicate it to my BEST client and support team.
Together we developed an overall MESSAGE for the company, decided on the best MARKETING model for me to attract/retain new clients, and solidified a MANAGEMENT model which lessened my daily responsibilities. I'm no longer flustered by an influx of new clients or startled by a sudden lack of new inquiries. I know which numbers matter most in my business and my vacation days are set months in advance. My business (and life) have taken on a much more peaceful rhythm.
This is an example of what your BEST client is going to say once they have experienced your BEST offering. Having this statement allows you to connect the dots in your services offerings. Are you treating your clients in such a way that this testimonial will be their logical conclusion?
Congratulations, your business now has a "story".
Together these three items (Brand Ambition, Business Ambition, and BEST client testimonial) create a clear and concise picture of the story that drives your business.
- Brand Ambition - declaration to the marketplace of the journey (transformation) you intend your BEST client to experience
- Business Ambition - how you plan to measure the journey (transformation) so that it can be repeated
- BEST Client Testimonial - a detailed example of one client's individual journey (transformation)
If you notice, these strategic statements just shifted you from talking about the products/services sold by your company to journeys/transformations enabled by your company. Welcome to the world of storytelling. Your business will never be the same.
Let's keep going, because now you have to get this message out!
STEP 3: Creating Content - A Simple System
When you begin to create content there are two main questions:
- What do I say? (What is my core message?) [Done in Steps 1 &2]
- Where do I put it? (What marketing channel makes the most sense for my business?)
Message comes first. Focus on the client.
If it wasn't already obvious how important Steps 1 and 2 were, it should be obvious now. Creating great content begins with having a great message. Once you know what your message is then you can use appropriate marketing channels to get the word out.
Marketing channel comes second. Focus on your strengths.
Once the message is clear then it's time to choose a marketing channel. You have two main questions:
- What do I create? (What format should I use?)
- Where do a put it? (What platform should I use?)
Most companies spend way too much time trying to figure out, "Which magical social media platform is going to create instantaneous results after I post one piece of content?"
It's a poor question. It's also a confusing one. Let me help simplify your options (and your strategy).
If you were going to start a content strategy today, this is what I would advise you to do:
Step 3a: Brainstorm content ideas based on what you believe...
- about your BEST client
- about what effects your BEST client
- about the role you play in fixing your BEST client's problem
[You've already done this hard work in Steps 1&2. Smile and continue.]
Step 3b: Create the content by interviewing your thought leader
Here is the easiest way to structure these interviews to create high value content that scales. Take the main themes you discovered in Step 1 and create a FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) series. The interview will flow like this:
- How important is [theme #1] in this niche? (Fill in a theme and respond with how you know it affects your audience)
- What challenges might someone be up against as they try to navigate it alone? (Respond with the noise and truth of their situation)
- What happens worst case if they get it wrong? (Respond with your beliefs, feel free to use an example or case study)
- What happens best case if they get it right? (Respond with your beliefs, feel free to use an example or case study)
- What is the process for solving this situation for good? (Describe the core transformation in your Brand Ambition)
- If someone is listening and needs help now what should they do next? (State your relevant call-to-action)
Step 3c: Post, Syndicate, and Distribute
- Video record the interview to begin video marketing.
- Use the audio from the interview to fill your audio podcast.
- Transcribe the interview and use it as a value-filled written blog post.
- Summarize the main ideas and build a visual infographic.
- Create a follow-up checklist to help the reader execute on the ideas and generate leads.
You've just turned one high-level piece of content (an interview) and opened up five different marketing channels. How's that for leverage?
Welcome Your New Strategic Advantage
In conclusion, what have you just done?
- You discovered what you believe as a company.
- You documented your beliefs in a series of strategic positioning statements and framed your story.
- You used those strategic positioning statements as cornerstones for compelling, client attracting content.
But here is the best part...your competitor isn't likely to do ANY of this. What I've learned in my experiences working with clients is that being "authentic" takes too much work and "copying" is so much easier. So while your competition is busy copying each other and sounding more and more alike...YOU will be cutting through the chatter with a message that actually resonates with your BEST client.
All you have to do is follow the steps here.