10 Steps to Tell Your Story and Stand Out in a Crowded Market
Storytelling gives you a unique opportunity to create a memorable impression when you tailor content, delivery, method, and message to connect with clients – and stand out in your market
There is an art to using stories to connect, convince, and create raving fans. Just like your favorite TV show or book, the way the writer hooks you in is to first attract your attention, then they create a connection.
After they have you, the story moves forward, adding details and layers to keep you engaged. Then, an end, a kicker, a delightful, sad, earth-shattering, matter-of-fact event that brings satisfaction.
People are hard-wired to listen to stories.
There was probably a caveman version of “ A guy walks into a bar…”
Stories are a way of sharing. We share our experiences. Facebook, LinkedIn and social media sites are filled with ways that we share our great – and lousy – experiences.
Brands tell stories, too.
A restaurant might tell the story of its founder coming from Italy and working three jobs to save up to build a backyard brick oven because he was hungry for the pizza this mama made in the old country. How he went from baking pies for the neighbors to a 6-chain restaurant that still makes the best a-pizza in the region.
The restaurant website shows photos of the young founder standing in his backyard and behind the counter of his first hole-in-the-wall pizza place – and Instagram photos posted by current customers.
A candy company proudly boasts of still using the same taffy machine that it bought in 1920. They put the machine right in the window along the boardwalk to show off – and a YouTube video of old home movies showing the taffy machine at work in the 1950’s and 1960’s,
Clothing companies that manufacture in America can tell stories about making heritage designs or cutting edge fashion on Pinterest boards. Car companies talk about luxury and reliability. Stories about founding or traditions or cutting-edge technology on industry blogs.
Real Estate agents could talk about what got them into the business – and their passion for connecting clients with the right home. They can post video tours of their neighborhoods so clients can get the feel of a place. Facebook allows them to connect and answer questions. Tell the story of making a house a home.
Ready to get started?
Let’s look at the 10-step method to stand out in a crowded market.
“Go where the money is…and go there often.”
Willie Sutton, bank robber, 1901-1980
Step One: Define Your Goal
Goal: Turn Lead Into Sales. Increase brand awareness to increase sales.
You won’t get where you’re going unless you have a goal
Let’s say you’re a Real Estate agent. You have a long-term goal of increasing sales (doesn’t everyone?) . Before you plunge into your marketing, take some time to do a business audit and review.
- How are you going to let your buyer know that you are THE EXPERT in your area? That you know which neighborhoods are great for commuters and which are home to the best coffee shops and bars?
- What do you want to achieve? Increase your long-term leads? Get some listings immediately? Sell a house that’s been on the market a little too long? Be very specific.
- If you have more than one goal, put them in a priority order. It’s much easier to focus and be clear when you are working on a single goal.
- What does success look like? 20% increase in foot traffic? Two more listings monthly? Adding 50 people to your client list? Be very specific.
- How fast do you want/need to achieve your goal? Want versus need are two different things – and can mean different things to your time/money budget. Set out a timeline for achieving your goal.
- Do you have a deadline looming? Is your market seasonal? New housing development coming on the market? How does this effect your goal and timeline?
Just like Harry Potter’s quest to vanquish the evil Lord Voldemort, the best stories must have a goal that is achieved in telling the story.
Here is a link to more about SMART planning.
Step Two: Describe Your Customer
For our fictional Real Estate agent, let’s profile our potential customer…
- Want to be close to transit and shopping.
- Want access to amenities like gyms and restaurants.
- May have some challenges around student loan debt.
- Needs to be close to work.
- Doesn’t want to “overpay” for the right house
- Stressed about lack of inventory.
- May feel overwhelmed by the process.
- Want to balance preparing the house to show well while not spending a lot of money.
- May have emotional ties to their home.
- May be moving because of work or family needs.
- May be looking at school data to help them decide.
- Wants a fast, easy, clean closing
- Wants to get as much money as possible
Everyone – and every brand –
has a story to tell –
but you need to tell the right story to the right audience.
Your marketing probably revealed some additional demographics that help you describe your ideal customer: 30-55, income between $100,000 and $350,000, etc., etc.
All that goes into the sauce to help you tell your story.
Step Three: What Problem Do You Solve?
Here is where you begin to make the deep connection with your customer. Step One set out your goal. Step Two had you define who your product is for. Step Three takes you into the WHY.
Why does your customer choose to work with you over a competitor?
- Are you quicker, better, cheaper, more desirable than alternatives?
- Will you make the process as stress-free as possible?
- Do you take away pain, embarrassment, social consequences?
- Are you thought of the THE EXPERT in your area, with insider knowledge and the best advice?
- Do you have a track record of getting the house sold? Of finding the right house for your buyer?
What is your customer’s problem – and how are you UNIQUELY able to solve it?
The keyword in that sentence is UNIQUE. Take time to really figure out your UNIQUE selling proposition (USP in marketing terms).
This is the heart of your story…
Once you really understand the problem that your customer is trying to solve, figure out how you can solve it better – and then work on building your brand story around that solution.
State the problem. Feel the pain. Use your UNIQUE ability to solve the problem.
Step Four: Gather Your Assets
Make a list of EVERYTHING you have related to your company.
Did you grow up in a family of Real Estate agents? Work your way through college selling houses? Have you spent your career working with builders to create houses that meet the specific needs of your market?
No better way for buyers and sellers to connect than understanding what drove YOU to become a Real Estate agent.
Customer testimonials and reviews.
There is a LOT of research around social proof. People don’t actually have to personally know a reviewer – buyers will assign a lot of trust to a stranger IF they think that the stranger has nothing to gain from a great review.
If you have been in the business for years – and perhaps worked with clients on multiple transactions, ASK for a testimonial. Most people are happy and flattered.
If you don’t already know who your ideal customer is – time to find out. Reach out to your existing customers. If they’re local, take them for coffee or hold an open house. Not local? Engage on social media.
Start the conversation and get to know them. And then figure out the common threads.
Step Five: Figure out the WHERE
Social Media: There is lots of demographic info available that will point you to best places to reach your audience. Young males? Head over to YouTube. Females of all ages? Pinterest. Is your product or service photo-worthy? Get thee to Instagram.
For Real Estate agents, I recommend focussing on Facebook for immediate results. With billions of users worldwide, you can find your audience in your specific geographic area and create engagement.
Blogs/websites: Are there sites which attract your demographic? Audiophiles have review sites. Tech enthusiasts have sites that cater to both broad and narrow subjects. Fashion? Food? Travel? Whatever your customer is interested in, there are sites that feed their passion.
For Real Estate agents, think about all things home related. Builders, aspirational room designs, movers, attorneys – they are all connections to your clients.
Where does your customer hang out?
What blogs do they read?
Who do they follow on Twitter or Instagram?
Conventions/events/trade shows: Do you sell a B2B (business to business) product that benefits from a hands-on demo? Is your product the next big thing at Comic-Con or CES?
If you’re a Real Estate agent, would a booth at a home show be a way to meet your customer? What about a local, town-oriented event for sponsorship?
Partnership/Complementary business: Is there a natural fit with a related business? Are you the peanut butter to another product’s jelly? Is there a mutually beneficial relationship that will make both of you new customers and money? Joint venture? Partnership?
For Real Estate agents, local movers, home builders, attorneys, interior decorators, home improvement contractors, and relocation companies could all be good sources of mutual referrals.
Step Six: Be a BIG FISH in ONE (or maybe two) bowls…um…platforms
Based on what you’ve done in Steps 1 – 5, select one social outlets. If you are really trying to jump-start your business and you have lots of time (and maybe some money for marketing) you can pick TWO. No more.
Based on Willie Sutton’s advice, “go where the money” and customers are.
It’s tempting to want to jump into a lot of areas. How hard can it be to get going on LinkedIn and Instagram and Facebook and start sending out press releases? You figure that more is better when you’re trying to get traction.
And there is the temptation to focus on social media because it’s free, and everything else costs money.
Yes and no.
Even though a lot of social media is “free”, I liken it to getting a car rolling up a hill. Not impossible, but it does take some effort.
Understand that, like getting that car rolling, the first few months are going to take up a lot of resources to keep up with an active presence. The worst thing you can do is be starting and stopping. Whatever momentum you got, you lose when you aren’t consistent.
Go deep on one (or two) social platforms. Post, engage, search out your audience and build your credibility.
Don’t overlook something that will cost you money in the short term if it really is the best place to connect with your ideal customer. Yes, this means social ads.
Create a rich environment with engaged users. Better to be fully committed and successful with two and then expand as you gain attention – and customers.
Remember…this is only a start.
Create a rich environment with content and interactions.
Give yourself a little time to make connections.
Then leverage those connections and add new media outlets one at time.
- Select your social platform(s0 based on where your ideal client hangs out – not where you or your peers hang out.
- Fill out the profiles completely. Add user photos, bios, profiles, links – whatever they will let you add to beef up your presence.
- EVERYTHING on any social presence links back to your website “start here” page.
- Create a business page and/or group and cross-post content from your website to your social accounts to seed the page with content.
- Join 2-3 groups where your ideal customers hang out and you can be helpful. Post content, answer questions, and be helpful. Always include a link back to your “start here” page.
- Add a tab/form to sign up for your email list (see Step Five – Email Marketing).
- Scrub your “drunk with friends” and “kitty playing the piano” posts. Once you engage, you want people to take you seriously.
Here are some social media templates and cheat sheets to get you started.
Step Seven: Craft your story for the platform
Now that you know your customer, know where to find them, and have identified the two areas you’re going to focus on to start, it’s time to map out HOW you’re going to tell your WHY story.
What do you need to tell stories in these outlets? Video, photos, testimonials? Do you already have enough that really tell your story or do you need to create them?
Focus on the HOW and WHY of telling the story.
Be brutally honest here – but also be willing to take a fresh look at what you already have.
- Can materials be rewritten or repackaged? Can they be combined in different ways?
- Your goal: use the medium (social media, website postings, video) to create stories that connect.
- Use YouTube to give a video tour of your neighborhood so prospective buyers get an inside look
- Pinterest could have boards where you post customer’s before and after photos of prepping a house for sale.
- Instagram might feature updates of what is new to the market.
Bottom line: using the specifics of the media and the platform, craft the story you want to tell.
Step Eight: Create Content. Lots of Content.
So…let’s recap here.
You have defined your goal. You know who you want to reach and the most likely places to find them. You have picked two story venues to write for and you’ve started to suss out the best way to use these venues to connect.
Now comes the fun part. You begin.
By selecting your story venues, you may spark different ideas about content and production.
If video is part of your storytelling, consider if you will use animation, slide share, video, photos, or some combination. Do you already have these assets or do you need to produce them?
Build your story around your goals (Step One). If you are trying to raise brand awareness, focus on stories that don’t sell directly – founders stories, how-we-do-it, testimonials, tours, and background. Remember your goal is to get people liking and talking about your company.
Be consistent and be helpful. Give before you expect to get.
Post a lot.
Get a calendar and add content regularly. Google rewards ranking positions for frequent relevant content.
How often? While there are some variations across industries, research shows that you should be adding new content at least 3-5 times a week.
Google also rewards for quality of content. That in-depth piece on market conditions and forecasts will help your ranking.
Create content that is about your brand – but that also speaks to the larger topic.
BIG SECRET REVEALED: Google also rewards for content from other quality sources that you reference. Example: Let’s say you read a piece in an industry blog about a new environmentally sound way of refinishing floors, you can comment, excerpt, and link to that piece. You get rewarded not only for adding content but linking to a quality source.
Step Nine: Keep the conversation going. Season with social proof.
Whether on you website, social media, or any other venue, keep adding stories. Make the conversation richer. Comment, reply, add details. Post new photos. Add a video comment.
Add social proof.
Open up reviews. Data shows that people will trust perfect strangers who talk about your products. If you have a good product, be brave enough to let the good and the bad fall together. While people trust strangers, they trust the overall reviews when they feel that the reviewers have nothing to gain and are posting honest opinions.
When users comment or ask questions – respond! If one user is asking, many other users might be wondering the same thing.
There is a strong temptation to delete less flattering comments. And yes, there will always be Internet trolls whose sole purpose in life is to try and pick a fight. Defuse what you can, delete anything defamatory or ugly, and let the rest of your customers see the transparency of your process.
Don’t wall yourself off from customers. Be honest, Treat it as a conversation not a confrontation.
Step Ten: Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
When I tell clients that this last step is the hardest, they rarely believe me.
“We’ve done the hard work. We have a system.” And most of the time they do.
But after a couple of months, maybe a week or two slides by without content. You don’t assign someone to take over videotaping customer testimonials after Chris leaves the company. You get busy and a month goes by without posting or commenting on Facebook.
That’s why you have to plan.
Create an editorial calendar for the year. You know your business cycles and industry events. Build your stories and conversations around them. This is not an overnight quick-fix. It usually takes at least 6 months to see any uptick in customer inquiries and sales. Plan the work and work the plan. It will bring success.
Now here’s another helping of secret sauce
Plan for spontaneous opportunities to tell your story.
If there attention is on something that is a natural fit for what you do (news about the effectiveness of music while learning plus your wireless speaker business = opportunity to tell your story) then jump in and create content to piggyback on the wave of attention.