Storytelling: The Small Business Advantage

Filed in Marketing, Misc. by on July 2, 2013 0 Comments

How do you approach telling your business' story? Image courtesy of Jeffery James Pacres/Flickr Creative Commons.

How do I reach my audience?

Website? Check.

Facebook Page? Check.

Twitter account? Check.

Successful small business marketing outcomes? Not so fast.

In today’s information-rich world, marketers and small business owners often get caught up in the technical side of communicating to customers, but forget about one very important factor. We’re still talking to humans.

That’s why Ideahaus sat down with Pittsburgh-based small business marketing strategist and author of Blogging For Badass Small Businesses Shawn Graham to see if we could get to the bottom of what’s missing in today's communication strategies.

His prescription? Tell better stories.

Small businesses are unique.

Graham believes that small businesses are presented with a unique set of challenges compared to large retailers due to smaller budgets and fewer staff, but that does not necessarily put them at a disadvantage.

“They don’t have a dedicated marketing department oftentimes, and that means that any connections they have with their customers are direct connections,” said Graham. “They can pull in those experiences as they think about how they communicate with their customers on a daily basis and use that to guide their online content or anything they share via social media.”

Shawn GrahamFor example, Graham argues that small businesses should take advantage of their size by implementing an agile communications strategy that moves beyond product and price. While those details are clearly important in any operation, small business customers often look for more than technical specs.

“Customers that look to shop at small businesses are not only looking for interesting products, but also the story about how the business came to be and how the products are created,” said Graham. “That attention to detail isn’t always present with some of the larger businesses.”

While size prevents small businesses from competing with big box stores in some capacities, it also presents an opportunity to differentiate from them. Small businesses are perfectly positioned to develop unique, powerful connections and the best way to do that is through telling stories, Graham argues.

Back to brick and mortar.

Sure, telling stories online authentically and effectively is difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. One of the best ways to find your online storytelling voice is to look to the past, according to Graham.

Graham explains that the experience a customer has visiting your website the first time should be reminiscent of walking through the doors of a brick and mortar store.

What questions would a customer ask? What information would be important to tell them about your business and your products? But, most importantly, how can you emulate the passion for your work you show in face-to-face conversations using online media?

Every word on every page.


Do your customers feel like they are sitting around a campfire or a conference table? Image courtesy of smcgee/Flickr Creative Commons.

For Graham, every keystroke is another chance to connect with a customer. But, he warns, it is important to prioritize meaningful connections over empty engagement.

“You could post a picture of a cat and get a lot of engagement, but ultimately, that’s not sustainable,” explained Graham. “You want to share stuff that’s related to what you’re doing and what you offer.”

Empty EngagementWhile online communications tools produce plenty of meaningless banter in the business world, they also provide opportunities to engage customers like never before. Graham suggests developing content, gauging audience reaction, and then refining the content until customers and business owners alike love the messaging.

Ultimately, that process of informed storytelling is what differentiates successful online messages from hollow content.

“It’s looking for those opportunities to share personal experiences and stories and to create content that’s interesting and relevant,” said Graham. “You work so hard to get people to come to your front door or your website and you want to make sure you are able to share interesting content that’s going to pull them in and differentiate them from their competitors.”

Where do I go from here?

Take a look at your current online messaging strategy. Do you see holes in your current online story? Are you lacking the personality and authenticity that separates you from your competitors? Do you feel like you aren’t really explaining who you are effectively?

Don’t be overwhelmed if you answered yes.

Next week we sit down with Graham again to tackle one of the most important and most feared parts of an online business’ web presence — the About Us page.

What are some great examples of small business storytelling you have recently seen?

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Evan is the Ideahaus Community Staff Writer.

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