Why Spend A Whole Day Considering Your Business Story?

We have developed an entire process to help businesses and nonprofit organizations address their positioning, messaging and storytelling. In that process is a planned day-long, all-hands-on-deck summit.

The first response we get to this process is, A whole day, you say? We don’t have that kind of time.

If you are thinking about boosting your messaging or introducing storytelling to your sales and marketing plans, you know something is amiss. If something isn’t working well and you know there is an issue, you don’t have the time to not spend an entire day addressing it.

I hate to break the news, but a 2 hour session squeezed into an already-packed Board of Director’s meeting schedule won’t cut it. (Can you tell I have been asked to do this more than once?)

Your language helps creates who you are and what people believe. Unclear or stale messages with no story punch to them equal invisibility or worse: wrong ideas, which can be circulated far and wide in today’s world of online communication. If you are not communicating who you are, either someone else will (and, they will likely be wrong) or indifference sets in (which is hard to shake).

When your corporate or nonprofit messages are working well you will find

  • —Sales and marketing efforts resonate with whom you want to attract
  • People in general refer to you in good terms to others
  • Cohesion will exist among staff, board and team members
  • Your processes are simplified, which includes materials development, lobbying initiatives, media relations, and media work
  • The media and bloggers will pay attention and (should) write about you truthfully
  • Capitol Hill, policy-makers, legislators and regulators listen (if you are trying to get them to)
  • Your company or industry’s reputation is boosted with all target audiences
  • Appropriate partners and stakeholders are attracted

If you scored your organization against those outcomes above, how would you rate? Spending an entire day to make that list above workable would be worth it, no?

Part Four Of Knowing Your Audience: Their Spotlight Pitch

The final installment of our 4 part series around knowing your audience for better messaging and storytelling is the most simple and most complex at the same time. It will require extreme objectivity, a modicum of honesty and a tinge of bravery. Here goes.

What would your customer’s spotlight or elevator pitch about you say?

  • Take a moment to enter a mental place of objectivity about your products and services.
  • Write down three key points your customer would say about you if they were trying to sell a friend on getting involved with you. (If you answered the 5 questions posted on Tuesday and conducted some “fly on the wall” monitoring from yesterday’s post, you should know these.)
  • Take out anything that you wish they would say, but probably wouldn’t.
  • Write up a 4 sentence spotlight pitch.

Now, what aspects of it should be included in your organizational story or business narrative?

Part Three of Knowing Your Audience: What do they say about you?

This is part 3 of a 4 part series on the importance of – and exercises for – knowing your audience before developing your story. Yesterday we discussed the 5 questions to ask about your audience.

Part 3 to fully knowing your customer, member or client?  Know what your customers say about you to others.

Smart leaders know that what you hear on customer surveys and even focus groups isn’t always the whole truth. The subtle difference between what they say to you and what they really think and report to others can be the intelligence you need to make subtle shifts in your presentations, speeches or messages.

For many years, retail outlets have hired “mystery shoppers” where owners hired individuals to pretend to be a customer and then report back on their experience. (Did you know there is a Mystery Shopping Providers Association?) But, there are other ways to be the proverbial “fly on the wall.” A few include:

  • Monitoring social networks, forums and groups for your name or product name.
  • Setting up a Google alert on your organization (and yourself).
  • Monitoring the comments section on media and blog postings that discuss you and your organization or products and services.
  • Simply asking the people around them (other vendors and other customers or members) what they say.

Asking them yourself via direct visits and calls and market research activities is important. But, knowing what they say when you leave the room is priceless.

Part Two of Knowing Your Audience: 5 Essential Questions

Yesterday, I discussed how important it is to know your audiences deeper than ever before.

Today, could you answer the following questions about your prime target, your sweet spot customer, the group or person you need to influence?

  1. What are the top 5 things on their minds right now? What is keeping them up at night? (e.g. keeping their jobs, growing their company, completing a project? Something more specific?)
  2. And, what magic wand do they wish they had to resolve their concerns, issues or challenges?
  3. What are 3 things that motivate them? What is most precious to them (e.g. time, money, health/vitality, power, success/admiration, security, comfort, legacy, making a difference/contribution)?
  4. What tone of voice attracts them? (e.g. humor/entertainment, serious business/security, urgency?)
  5. What was their defining moment or defining experience that led them to possibly needing you and what you have to offer?

Whether or not you are about to make a sales pitch, are getting ready for a presentation or speech, about to launch a fundraising effort or other activity, knowing the answers to these questions will make your stories and presentations and messages much more powerful. Take the time to answer them.

Job Number One In Storytelling & Messaging: Knowing Your Audience, Deeply

How much do you know about who you are trying to influence with your messages and storytelling? Do you know what they hear when you speak or write to them? Do you know when and why they vote you off the island or ask you to exit the dance floor?

You may believe you know them quite well. Sales force feedback, focus groups, surveys, and direct conversations give you good information. But, is it enough?

In today’s world, understanding who you are speaking to, including the things that have nothing to do with what you do or to what end you are trying to influence them, is not just important. It is expected.

For instance, do you believe the residents of Love Canal heard the news of the Japanese nuclear meltdown earlier this year the same way you did? I am sure you didn’t hear it the way I did, as I lived two hours from Love Canal when I was young. I heard about Love Canal incessantly until we moved to Virginia, where no one seemed to have heard of that terrible environmental tragedy. Of course, in the 1970s we did not live in a 24/7 news and information culture, so there were a great many people who did not hear much about Love Canal. But, our world is different now, where news of events spread as fast it happens.

You wouldn’t know how I would react to nuclear plant news unless you got to know my background and, on top of that, put “two and two” together about my childhood location and news of the day. This may not mean much if you are trying to sell me shoes. But, this information would mean a great deal if you were trying to get me to buy land, which just happens to be near a nuclear power plant.

Listening to who you are trying to influence is essential to communication success. The first steps are quite obvious:

  1. Put what you want to sell on the back burner for a minute and listen.
  2. Get honest about how much you know about their world.

But, a third step is less apparent: ask them about things that go beyond the immediate “sell.”

Tomorrow is part two of a four part series, which will address the 5 questions to ask your target audience.

The Difference Between Telling the Truth and Being Accurate

One of the main characteristics of a powerful message or story is that it is appropriate. This means telling the truth. But I often hear people mixing up being accurate with telling the truth. Let me explain.

I worked with an environmental law firm on their messaging a few years ago. What an interesting project. For one, working with attorneys brings a whole new perspective to what constitutes “accuracy.” For these legal minds, telling the truth about their firm and what they do meant having to give every detail, in chronological order, with many caveats including changing statements from “we did X” to “we helped with X.” And, in the process, the truth was too often lost.

This organization is one of the most successful environmental advocacy organizations in the country. They have more than 25 years of successfully “winning” (meaning progressing environmental cases to a better outcome) most of the time. But, few people knew of this organization.

No one has 20 minutes to hear the punchline. The truth of this organization is that they win – a lot. The accurate picture is that sometimes it takes them seven years and a trip to the Supreme Court to get them to agree with a lower court’s decision that then allows them to move on to the next level, which is just one step toward getting the energy industry to finally clean up those dirty coal-fired power plants.

While certain aspects of their longer story can be compelling (and should be kept), too often people are on to the next story before they get to the message that this organization is a good investment for donation dollars because they are able to turn those contributions into time well spent.

(Note: They have since changed their messaging and now are shining examples of what constitutes “just enough” facets to see the diamond that they are in all that coal dust.)

Ensuring your messages are appropriate does not mean they should be boring. But, rather they should tell the truth, be authentic, and with just enough elements to get people to stay with you as your explain why you are important to them.

As singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash one said in a songwriting seminar I took years ago, you’re trying to tell the truth in your songs, not every detail that got you there.