Hey, small businesses! Let me tell you a story…

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Once upon a time, there was a small business with a great story to tell – but its owner didn’t realise what power she had within her grasp.

Brand storytelling. I suspect a hard-nosed businessman or woman like you is already rolling your eyes.

I suspect you think those words conjure up fairytale books, and the thought that woolly phrases won’t get you a good return on investment.

Here’s a secret – you might know brand storytelling by an older, more business-focused name: your USP.

Brand storytelling is all about differentiating your business from those of your competitors.

In a crowded marketplace, your unique selling point is unlikely to be that you offer products or services completely unlike those of your competitors.

It’s likely to be that your business has a unique story, and your story is the key to forging the best way of ensuring your good return on investment: a strong business relationship between you and your customers.

Your customers want to know about you, how your business began, what it stands for, what its aims are, and how they matter to your company.

There is so much choice. Technology means that choice is now available at the click of a smartphone key. You cannot rely on being the only provider of wedding stationery in Bury, for example, when your customer can Google dozens of other providers in the North West of England alone, order online and get items delivered to their door.

With choice comes confusion. Customers are faced with making far more decisions than ever before when it comes to choosing where to spend their money.

Your job is to make the choice easier for them, to let them know you understand their problems, and will solve them.

Faced with a list of anonymous businesses and a business which tells them its story, customers’ choice starts to become easier.

Businesses which have built empires on telling their customers all about themselves include Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and Innocent Smoothies.

Both companies have introduced personality into their marketing as a result of telling their tales.

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Here’s an example from the Ben & Jerry’s website Our History section: “From a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, to far-off places with names we sometimes mispronounce, the journey that began in 1978 with 2 guys and the ice cream business they built is as legendary as the ice cream is euphoric.”

The site says the business began with a $5 correspondence course in ice cream-making from Penn State and a $12,000 investment ($4,000 of it borrowed).

Its history section clearly shows how far the company has come, and how it has developed its company values.

Ultimately, if the firm had produced ice creams people didn’t like, it would have failed. Spin won’t cover up a bad product or service.

The company had good products, and its storytelling process has helped it carve out a niche with a loyal customer base who feel part of that process. They keep coming back for more.

Here’s some of the storytelling on the Innocent Smoothies website: “We started Innocent in 1999 after selling our smoothies at a music festival. We put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies, and put a bin saying ‘Yes’ and a bin saying ‘No” in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the ‘Yes’ bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.”

That’s a powerful story: “We do this because we have a great product, because people said we should, because we have the get-up-and-go.”

Customers like that narrative.

Innocent’s website uses cartoons and a great visual timeline to show how the business has developed. See that here.

Don’t think your brand’s story ends with the tale of how you set up your business. Everything you do feeds your narrative, whether you like it or not.

Customers will talk about your business online and in the flesh, it’s up to you to have your input into that conversation and steer it in the way you want it to go.

What’s the best way of creating the next chapter in your brand’s story? A good service backed up by testimonials from your clients.

Sian Richardson set up her CV writing and careers mentoring business, Career Master CV Solutions, four years ago, after extensive experience working in banking, business mentoring, and human resources.

Her history, as a former military spouse, meant she knew the challenges being faced by veterans leaving the armed forces for Civvy Street. She also knew the skills former service personnel would bring to any company.

“I went through career transition with my husband who was lost after completing his military career and entering Civvy Street because of redundancy in the 1990s. Also, I started the business because I knew I could use my skills and experience to help people after helping friends and colleagues,” Sian says.

She decided to build a bridge between veterans and businesses in civilian business with a specialist arm of her company, http://www.careermaster4military.co.uk/.

“It was important to develop trust amongst my customers. They needed to know I understood their problems, and the best way of showing them that I did was to share my story with them,” she says.

The next step, of course, was sharing her customers’ testimonials with potential clients.

“It’s great when a client gains that interview from the CV I’ve written tailored for their application, and wonderful when they go on to clinch that job. Some have been looking for a new role in civilian life for some time, and getting that job is a huge weight off their shoulders,” says Sian, who is based in South Wales.

“Their testimonials can give hope to those who’ve lost their way.”

There is, of course, another good reason to tell your story – it could well get you coverage in the media, which is always looking for fresh stories and good angles.

A call to a newspaper telling reporters a shop is opening will never be as interesting to them as a call which says a shop is being opened by someone who is investing their redundancy settlement after the closure of a major employer in the area, for example.

Here’s to the next thrilling chapter in your brand’s story.

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