Giving Life To Your Messaging With Storytelling

Why is it so hard to tell a business story? Because you can’t stop selling. There, I led with the punchline.

You’re trying to sell your products, services and ideas. That’s fair. But in order to get people to hear and remember you–to get your sales and marketing efforts to stick— engage in more storytelling and less selling.

Here’s how to move your communications to the next level with the art of storytelling. First, know what a story is. It’s the why, how and examples that showcase why your products are better than anyone else’s offerings.

A message simply states what you want people to know. Think of it like the conclusion of the story. You should definitely have messages. The story, however, gives life to your messaging. It leads up to that conclusion.

Stories have characters, a plot, conflict and resolution, a beginning, middle and end, and they leave the reader or viewer with something that makes their lives better or helps them feel connected in some way.

So, who are you characters? That one should be easy. Your customers, your employees and other stakeholders are all characters. What have they done with your company? (Big hint about storytelling: what do people like to hear about more than anything else? Something about themselves.)

What is the plot? This goes beyond “Customer A” bought “Company B’s” product and all was well. But what happened when “Customer A” really started to use the product? How is their life better? In fact, talk about how you identified the problem they needed solved to begin with. What conflict existed to get your product into their hands? Once they started using what you offer did the heavens open up and angels sing? Okay, that last question was a tad dramatic, but you get the point.

Be sure to organize your story logically, starting at the beginning (we had this great idea!), providing a middle (all was almost lost!) and end (we made it!). Ask yourself how did you identify there was a need for your product? Then what did you do to bring it to market? And how did you get it into customer’s hands? What did they experience once that happened?

Avoid the temptation of cramming in every virtue of your business and tell the story–the real story.

6 Things To Do Now So January Is Smooth(er)

dreamstime_s_4544417

Ah, the holiday season. It’s either a time of scrambling to complete projects before the end of the year or it’s completely dead. Not dead-dead. Just quiet and filled with emails and messages that deliver the (hoped-for?) message “let’s hold off until January.”

But is this something to wish for? Come January 2, your to-do list could be a mile longer than usual. Besides projects to complete and the renewed energy a new year brings, landing new business is often at the top of the list. Below are things to do in December to make your January less crazy.

  1. Have coffee or lunch with new vendors, partner organizations and other key stakeholders. The environment is generally more relaxed and you’re giving these new potential partners time to think about how they might help you before you need them. This ensures when you do need them, they can be better prepared.
  2. Clean your office. Everyone has something that is sitting around on their desk (or under it), in the corner or tucked in a closet that either should be filed, sent to someone else or be pitched. See how clean you can get your desk top. Then revel in the extra space you never knew you had.
  3. Empty your email inbox. Are you laughing? Of course, you are. Try it anyway. It may take an entire day, but file or delete anything that you can. At least get that inbox down to one screen. If you can’t, perhaps some delegating is in order? If you can, imagine the relief an empty email inbox can bring. (I do this once a month at minimum.) If you haven’t already done so, set up rules for certain emails so they file themselves in folders.
  4. Write down your goals for 2017 — both for your career and your work. With December’s more relaxed business environment, your brain now has a chance to stew and simmer on these ideas. Don’t do anything on them–unless you really, really want to. Just identify them. When January rolls around, you may find you’ve had a few subconscious brainstorms that will make tackling these goals easier.
  5. Celebrate your successes in 2016. Given the pace of life, letting your victories go by unnoticed is common. Think of all the things that went well in the last year. Pat yourself on the back and throw a little party, even if it is just internally. In fact, do this several times in December. You deserve it, and acknowledging what went well will provide a little extra bit of energy needed to tackle a new year.
  6. Take the time to thank someone who contributed to your success. ‘Tis the season of gratitude after all. Remember the simplest of compliments can pack a wallop. Send a handwritten note, email or text with a simple sentiment, such as “Before the year ends, I want you to know your work on XYZ made all the difference.”

These are simple activities and can help you ease into January. You don’t have to do them all. But definitely clean out your email inbox. Trust me on that one.

Three Mistakes To Avoid in Storytelling

dreamstime_s_29087585

Storytelling is not all fun and games. Avoid these mistakes we see far too often in business communications–and how to avoid them.

  1. Don’t confuse a message with a story. In its simplest terms, a message is a conclusion you wish people to reach. A story is the journey that gets you to that conclusion with a beginning, middle and end. A message is the end.
  2. Don’t make your story all about you. Make it about your customer. People like to read about other people–unless that person is a narcissist. Don’t be that person Don’t only talk about how great you are. Share how great you are through the eyes of someone you pleased.
  3. Don’t confuse your fancy terms with clarity and understanding. The term, XYZ Company Advantage, may sound like a terrific name for a loyalty program, but would your customer automatically equate that term with such a thing? Label things for what they are: XYZ Customer Loyalty Program. (Okay, it’s oversimplified, but you get what I’m saying, right?)

Part Six of the Modern Communications Plan: What Will You Actually DO?

A well thought out communications plan has a set action plan. That’s not to say this section doesn’t allow for change. But having a baseline of activities tied to a communications strategy will give meaning to what your team does on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

This tactics section should include all the things you’re going to actually do.

 

collection of apples with peel isolated on white background

If media relations is part of your strategy mix, how are you going to go about executing that program? Pitch story ideas, make announcements (and what kind and how often?) via press releases, attempt editorial coverage in trade media or the business press or other? Will you need an internal editorial calendar to motivate internal staff to contribute?

But, beware. Whenever you feel your communications plan is “all over the place,” look to see if your team is stuck in just staying busy.

Instead of making decisions on the fly to hold a contest on Facebook, how will this activity move your branding, communications goals and strategy forward? Thinking about developing a PSA series? Why? Is your audience particularly visually focused and enjoys videos? (See the target audience section.) And, how will you ensure they actually see them? (See communications channel section.) Is your team working on providing stakeholders with tool kits to help spread the word? Again, why? Have your stakeholders requested this? And how will that further the reach of your messages to the right people?

The tactical section also informs the resources needed and timeline you must employ. Get as detailed as you believe you need to, depending on the size and characteristics of your communications execution team. Some people need a detailed road map, while others do not. Regardless, put at least the highest level tactics into a master calendar.

Know some strategies are not easily predicted, such as media relations and social media efforts. They are iterative in nature and require your ability to be agile and act on unforeseen results. For instance, you may issue some news and find 12 target media outlets interested in the story. You may have to drop everything to handle the interest. Or, you may find you’ll have to push your stories and messages harder than first anticipated. Build in some room in your timeline to manage the level of success (or failure) that is reached.

Next up? The “we won’t” list..

Read the entire modern communications template here.

A Template for the Modern Communications Plan

Beyond the usual strategy and tactics (reaching out to reporters, attending trade shows, etc.), what are some of the things that need to be considered as part of today’s communications planning? Below is a template that we use for planning our client’s overall communications and special projects. Throughout the summer, I’ll blog about each part, including providing questions that need your answers, tips and techniques, and identifying the big changes taking place in the world of mass communications.

1. Vision
This section is a one paragraph answer to how the organization wants to be known. Or, if it is a project, what do we want to leave behind when the project is complete? An example would be for a nonprofit organization to be the “go to” source on all things related to their cause.

2. Goals and Objectives
This section differs from the greatest accomplishment in that goals are things you reach (milestones such as audience numbers) and objectives are things you create (happenings from new conversations and ways of thinking to a certain status).

2a. Our Greatest Accomplishment
This section highlights the single most important communication accomplishment that the organization or project can achieve. An example would be for an organization to have changed a particular conversation in its marketplace or to introduce a new idea.

3. Target Audience
This section can include demographic data, market research, and other information that showcases who you are communicating to.

4. Main Communications Channels
This section should describe the main channels (social channels, traditional, media outlets, events and shows and more) that you are going to use to push our your information, thought leadership and ideas.

5. Strategies
This section discusses the main strategies employed and why. Employing social media, engaging in media relations, community relations, holding events, launching a new “theme” for your industry — these are some tried-and-true strategies you’ll find in a plan.

6. Main Tactics
This section is the action plan. It answers what you are going to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to move the communications effort forward. Hold contests on Facebook? Develop a PSA series? Provide stakeholders with toolkits to help spread the word? this section houses the details.

7. “We Won’t” List
This section does precisely what the title says. Knowing what you will not focus your attention on (but could) is vital to ensuring focus.

8. Content Strategy
The section addresses how you are going to assess, develop and manage the ideas, thoughts and content you will use to direct conversations, viewpoints and reputation and image.

9. Positioning, Messaging & Storytelling
This section should include your message guide, from a positioning statement, value proposition to spotlight pitch on the organization or project. It sets the message tone so everyone is clear on what you are going to say and how.

10. Monitoring & Measurement
This section, one of the most well-intentioned but often ignored areas, will go into how to tell how you are doing and how to share that with managers, executive teams and other stakeholders.

11. Team Players.
This section will identify – by name – who is going to design and implement the plan.

12. Timeline.
How are you going to ensure your company will use it? There is no sense in having a communications plan if you aren’t going to use it, so plan out your activities. Set dates.

Lucky number 13: How much money are you willing to spend? The reason there is no formal section above is because, in my 30 years of experience, every organization is different around money. Some know exactly how much they want to spend and will tell you up front. Others wish to see a plan with a budget attached before making a decision. Regardless, began to talk about money early and as the above template unfolds. The plan will usually tell you how much you need to spend to be effective. Decisions can be made from there.