“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make but about the stories you tell”

So says one of the world’s great marketers, Seth Godin.

A photo of Rachel ExtanceThis Ask the Expert spot is in the capable hands of Rachel Extance who is answering questions on how to find the stories in our businesses, how to tell them in a way that connects with our customers and how to adapt them for different media.

This is a summary of a live Q&A.

You might be wondering:
❓What have stories got to do with business?
❓What kinds of stories can I tell?
❓ Do I need to be a good writer to use stories?
❓How do I know what stories my audience will be interested in?

Why should anyone care?

Q.  I sometimes hesitate because I’m worried my stories will be a bit cheesy or even why on earth would anyone want to listen to stuff about my life anyway?
Any tips for overcoming that?

Rachel Extance It’s an objection I hear a lot 🙂 It’s also not true. It’s a story we tell ourselves and part of resistance. You have lots of brilliant experience and knowledge to share. You talk to other people all the time. This is no different except that you are writing it down, videoing it or talking on a podcast. Treat storytelling like talking to someone in the pub or coffee shop. What do they want to know? How can you help? Is there a great story you have heard which you would like to share with others?

What have stories got to do with business?

Every business has stories to tell. These create touch points for your customers, they make you memorable.
We all tell stories all the time. About our day, the things we’ve heard, things which have happened to us.
Humans have been telling stories since our earliest days. They create an emotional connection. While you are telling a story, your listener or reader is there with you, seeing the same things as you and empathising with your situation (or that of the person in the story). Stories help us make sense of the world around us and see how things can be relevant to us. Telling stories brings customers into your world.

Q. How do you know what’s a good/right/helpful/engaging/appropriate story to tell for your business? I’ve seen people tell stories that show they are human but they’ve gone to far and made me doubt how good they are at doing the job! Also, do you have any tips for brainstorming story ideas when you don’t have any? Asking for a friend.

Rachel Extance That’s a great question. Storytelling isn’t about baring your soul (unless you really want to).
I subscribe to the BBC mantra of Inform, Educate and Entertain. These three things will hold you in good stead. For example, a few weeks ago Instagram introduced IGTV so if you were into social media or marketing, you could tell a story telling people that this has happened. You could then have another story educating people about how to use it, tips and tricks. And then stories entertaining people with it. These could be your own IGTV stories if it’s a platform that works for your business.

Stories don’t have to be your own. You could tell stories about how others have done something.

Tips for brainstorming: think about the articles you have read or videos you have watched over the last couple of weeks. What stuck in your head? Is it a topic you could write about too by adding your insights.
What questions do people regularly ask you? Could you create content answering these?
Write down a list of 10 topics. Keep adding to it. Not every one will make you a story but the more you think about ideas and write them down, the more you will get used to thinking about stories.
Your business is interesting. You offer a product or service people want. Tell them about it.

What kinds of stories can I tell?

There are creation stories (the oldest of all) about how you founded your company, the problems you wanted to solve, how you built your team, designed your branding, came to be in your location.

Then there are stories about your people: you, your colleagues, people you collaborate with, and of course, your customers.

You can also tell stories about your products or services. How people can make use of them. Recipes are a form of story. You start with some ingredients, they go through a process and there is a delicious dish or sweet treat at the end.

How to… stories are useful. People want to learn about what you do and we all have plenty of knowledge to share. How to make a cake, create a flower arrangement, make a raised bed, choose colours. And then you can tell stories about the individual elements as well. Talk about the plants or fonts or colours or herbs. Tell people about their background and uses.

Do I need to be a good writer to use stories?

No. It’s not about writing. It’s about telling people a story and bringing them along with you. You don’t need to write stories at all to make use of them. You can use pictures, record videos (nothing fancy, a piece to camera on your smartphone) or create a podcast.

Think about it as if you were talking to friends in the pub or over a coffee and what they would want to know about.

How do I know what stories my audience will be interested in?

A really good place to start is to see what people search for online. Then create stories about those topics.
Pay attention to the news. Is there a new development in your industry? Or is there something in the wider world which you could make use of.
For instance, I read a story yesterday about a woman who was encouraging girls to study science by writing Wikipedia articles about female scientists and their achievements. It’s a great example of how stories can make a difference and influence people so it’s one for me to share.

Q. I’m always a bit nervous of including too much personal stuff in stories in case of being judged or rather misjudged. Any advice?

Rachel If it’s something you are happy to share and by sharing you will help others going through something similar, it fits with your brand and your audience, then you should be fine. If you think you’re going to spend the next week or two cringing about it, then probably best not to share. There will always be critics. Ignore them.

Q. Any tips for making your story into bite sized pieces. There’s no point creating a beautiful 5 minute video, 2,000word blog post or whatever unless you can break that down into small accessible and informative chunks.

Rachel When you’ve created a story you need to make it pay its way. You’ve spent time on it and you want as many people to see it as possible.
You can share it on your social media platforms several times. Vary the time of day between posting, have two or three different version of the message and also think about the image you are sharing with it.
You can pull out quotes for instance and use them to create an image using a tool like Canva.
Another way of repurposing blogs is to turn them into short videos using Lumen 5.
Break your post into bullet points to give you the message you want to convey and layer with images.
You will be able to share a story at least 5 different ways.

If you’d like to know more about business storytelling and how to reach and influence the right audience, connect with Rachel at www.extance.co.uk or on Twitter @RachelExtance