Your Brand Is a Story (and You Might Be Telling It Wrong)

Every business transaction is really just a story that’s being shared between two people: the teller (seller) and the audience (customer). If you set up a good story in your sales pitch, your prospect will want to find out how it ends happily for them.

But there’s a catch:

In order to close a sale, your pitch has to be telling the right story, at the right time, to the right audience. Get any of these factors wrong and your odds of a happy ending plummet fast.

If you’re attracting prospects but they’re not converting as often as you’d like (or, worse, not at all), then you have a story problem. Here’s how to figure out where you’re going wrong and what to do about it.

Baby Desert Tortoise hatching

Not your ideal prospect.

PROBLEM #1: You’re attracting prospects who aren’t ready to buy now

Is your audience even aware that they have a problem?

If not, you’ll have to make them aware of it. Once you do, not all of those prospects will be sufficiently motivated to solve a problem they’ve just discovered, unless the risk of ignoring it is likely to cause them significant hardship.

By and large, if you’re attracting an audience that’s only becoming aware of their problem, or if they don’t see its downside as a sufficient enough threat to require an immediate solution, then your product or service may be premature to market. In that case, you have two potential fixes:

  • shift your focus to only attract people who are already aware of the problem and who are actively seeking a solution (which is a much smaller audience to target)
  • shift your goal from sales to education (to achieve early brand awareness buy-in from your audience now, so they’ll be more interested in buying from you later)

While every prospect is a potential buyer, you must tailor your story to attract the ones who are most likely to buy from you now so you can stay in business long enough to serve your slower-moving prospects later.

Trust me, I’m an expert.

PROBLEM #2: No one knows who you are, so they don’t trust you to solve their problem (yet)

Big companies and major influencers have a “halo effect” around their brands: because they’re already well-known by their target market, any new product or service they introduce comes “pre-vetted” by their audience’s bullshit detector. This helps brands easily add new revenue streams to their existing channels, because if Product A has already been proven to work, people are far more likely to pre-trust Product B.

But what if your prospects have never heard of you before?

How can you solve this critical perception problem? By applying social proof.

Testimonials, referrals, reviews, case studies, client lists, search engine rankings — each of these factors into a first-time visitor’s impression of your brand. Even if they’ve never heard of you before, they’re looking to see who else trusts you and why you’ve shown up at the top of their search results.

What details in your marketing copy are conveying the happy endings that your current and past clients and customers have enjoyed? If you don’t have any listed, now’s the time to ask your best customers to explain your benefits back to you in their own words.

Awkward Yeti Heart and Brain and Coffee

Heart + Brain = Joy!

PROBLEM #3: You’re appealing to your prospects logically OR emotionally, but not both

How can you tell if your value proposition is broken? Simple: if you’re talking about yourself more than you’re talking about your customers’ results, you’re telling the wrong story.

But an effective value proposition needs two ingredients: logic and emotion.

Your features — what your product or service does, and how it does it — make the logical case for your pitch. They assure your prospects that you understand their problem, you know how to fix it, you have the experience they can trust, and other people already believe in you.

Unfortunately, this is where most pitches stop. When you’re too close to your own solution, of course it makes sense to you, so why wouldn’t it make sense to everyone else too? This causes many businesses, nonprofits, and startups to ignore the second, equally important step: creating your audience’s desire for a solution that leads them to purchase.

Your benefits — how your prospect will feel after you’ve solved their problem, and the ways their lives will be better once that problem is eliminated — make the emotional case for your pitch. They ask your audience to imagine a better future for themselves, and they inspire them to take the necessary steps to achieve that better future — one of which involves buying what you’re selling.

If you’re not converting your prospects into customers, review your pitch to make sure you’re addressing your prospects’ logical and emotional needs, and make sure both halves are balanced.

While everyone is different, most people actually make emotionally-based decisions and then retroactively seek out a logical justification for them. Thus, both halves of your pitch should be represented in your pitch in order for your prospects to feel comfortable buying from you.

If you overindex on logic, you’re inviting your prospects to compare you to others solely based on price or efficiency (and that’s a game you may lose). If you overindex on emotion, you’re asking your prospects to make what may seem like a big financial risk without yet understanding if their investment will be worth it (so they’re likely to put it off).

You vs. your competition

PROBLEM #4: You’re not differentiating yourself from your competition

Even if your prospect is aware that they have a problem, they want a solution, and they consider you to be able to deliver results they’ll appreciate, they still may not buy from you.

Why?

Because they may like someone else’s brand story better.

Your brand’s story is a tribal signal. It’s intended to attract other people who share your company’s values. It’s the reason some people buy Fords, some people buy Hondas, and some people will never buy a Ford or a Honda.

Are you attracting prospects whose values align with yours?

Are you attracting prospects who enjoy interacting with you?

Are you attracting prospects who, after seeing what your vision of “a better future for them” looks like, say to themselves, “Not only do I want that future, but I want this brand to get me there”?

If the answer is no, then your problem is the way you’re telling your story.

Microsoft and Apple both make computers, but you can tell a lot about how someone views themselves based on which computer they buy.

Target and Banana Republic both sell pants, but you can tell a lot about how someone views themselves based on where they buy their pants.

Budweiser and your local brewery both make beer, but… you get the idea.

You’re probably not the only company offering a solution to your problem of choice. So look at your competition. Can you define what differentiates your solution from theirs?

More importantly: can your prospects?

If not, you need to highlight the values, the style, and the tone that sets you apart from your competition. Keep refining your message until your prospects can not only tell you apart from Competitor Z, but they can also tell which of you they prefer to buy from.

Then keep optimizing your message to make sure their answer is “you.”

You can’t stand out and blend in at the same time.

Want Help Fixing Your Company’s Story?

Good news: that’s what I do for a living. Contact me and let’s set up a time to discuss your particular challenges. I’d love to help you tell a much better story in your marketing and your bottom line.

Not ready to take that step just yet? No worries. Just follow me on Twitter for more storytelling tips.

Image credits: Baby Desert Tortoise by K. Kristina Drake, LEGO pieces by Charles & Adrienne Esseltine, and Cows by Andrew Prickett via Flickr Creative Commons License; Heart and Brain by The Awkward Yeti

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