One of the most common struggles for small businesses, startups and solo entrepreneurs is standing out from the competition. The good news is, there's a powerful strategy to do just that. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most under-utilized: a personal story.
A personal story is a narrative about the origins of your business, product or service. Since it's your story, it immediately sets you apart. And, in an infinite sea of blogs, businesses and brands, that's a huge advantage. It's also one being emulated widely: Take a closer look at marketing today and you’ll see that the world’s largest brands are literally spending millions of dollars to sound smaller.
That means you already have the marketing advantage that your larger competitors are seeking. Here’s how to take full advantage of that.
1. Select an arc from the epic story framework.
Nearly every epic tale contains most, if not all, of these story arcs:
- Reluctant hero
- Fleeting victory
- Devastating defeat
- Moment of grace
- Ultimate victory
Consider The Lord of the Rings: Frodo Baggins lives in the Shire, a paradise graced with great beer, verdant pastures and parties galore. Yet disaster is imminent in Middle Earth: The ancient villain Sauron has arisen once more.
Our reluctant hero Frodo is, through a series of events, entrusted with the immense task of destroying the ring and defeating Sauron. As the story progresses, Frodo experiences a string of victories, but then a devastating loss occurs: the loss of a friend and mentor.
While your business may not have saved Middle Earth from certain doom, you’ve likely experienced at least one of those seven arcs. Whatever the situation, there’s a story there to tell -- especially if you combine it with one of the following:
2. Choose a story element.
Stories often contain the following dramatic elements. Highlight just one of them for now:
- Hero or heroine
- Untold facts
- Story behind the story
- Breaking news
In The Lord of the Rings, the villain isn’t just Sauron and his minions. The unseen villain is humankind’s greed and lust for power -- an infinitely more dangerous foe.
The elephant-in-the-room is the idea that of all the warriors in Middle Earth -- a deft ranger, a sharp-shooting elf, a stout dwarf and a powerful wizard, the least likely candidate -- a tiny Hobbit with little combat experience -- is the one that physically carries the ring and goes into the heart of enemy territory.
If you consider the story behind your own business or brand, it’s likely that at least one of these six story elements will come to mind.
3. Write your story and tie it to your brand.
Select just one component from each category above. You may well have something that resembles one of the following:
- You launched your organization because of a devastating loss in your family, say, a drunk driver, and you want to help others experiencing the same kind of pain.
- You’re now the reluctant hero, taking the helm of a floundering family business. The reason for the company’s struggles? Everyone knew that the founder, your father, wasn’t open to new or innovative ideas, but no one could broach the subject. It was the “elephant-in-the-room” until you stepped up.
- You’ve had a successful C-suite career and by all appearances live an optimal life: You have money, status and influence. But the story-behind-the-story is that you no longer find your work fulfilling; or you've tired of the corporate grind; or you long to help multiple organizations rather than just one company. This is why you’re making a pivot into speaking, consulting or writing.
The beauty of a personal story is that it is unique, real and relatable. The best stories are specific enough to be believable, yet universal enough to be relevant. Once you add a few names, dates or locales to your story, you'll have a powerful, persuasive and profitable component to your marketing. Then, you can leverage the advantage you inherently have over the bigger brands you compete with.
So, what exactly is your story?