What's Your Story?

May 6th
posted in

With Google making the life of the SEO harder and harder, it pays to add as many marketing strings to our bows as we can. In this article, we'll look at a way to brand and position using stories. Hopefully, if we have a good story, and tell it well, people are more likely to remember us, and more likely to pass the story on.

Are We Special?

Most people think their site is special. But, by definition, few sites in a given niche can be special.

If we target a keyword term, that many other sites are targeting, we'll probably write a similar keyword-loaded page, including the same synonyms, derived from the same keyword tools, using the same headings in bold, in the hope of appearing in the top ten list of pages - which are just like the others.

We may distinguish ourselves by managing to rank in the top three, but, as we know, there are no guarantees we'll maintain this advantage.

We Need Something Else

If SEO is our only strategy, then this will only work if few other people are using SEO. How many niches worth fighting for are like that these days?

Not many.

Generally speaking, the more mature the niche, the more you need something besides SEO. You need to make as much effort to stand out as possible, otherwise people will likely overlook and forget you. There are too many other sites and options.

Let's look at a differentiation strategy based on stories.

Why Use Stories?

Stories are universal.

The human race has been using stories for thousands of years. We use stories because they are informative, memorable, and easily spread to others. Isn't that what we want our sites to be, too?

Every news story is a tragedy. Every religion is a story of redemption. Politicians tell stories, some of which are true! The alternative would be to give people a string of disconnected data and facts. Such data and facts may be 100% true, but they are seldom memorable or easily repeatable. Telling a compelling story is one good way to contextualize information, and make it more meaningful.

A story isn't just words on a page, saying how great a company is, and what products they have, and if you want them, you should "click here". That's surface. Think of "story" as a sub-text, the underlying, perhaps unspecified tale of who you are, what you're doing, and how you can help people solve their problems. This is a form of positioning, and branding, but I find it's helpful to reduce those high concepts down into a simple narrative. It helps bring a lot of different, and sometimes complicated, marketing aspects together.

Everyone can tell a story, especially about themselves.

The Mechanics

Every business has a story.

Take Amazon.

The Amazon is the largest river in the world, which is an appropriate name for a site which aimed to be the largest retailer on the planet. Amazon is huge. Amazon is huge because they took the shopping experience, made it easier, and people loved it. With one click, a customer could order a book, or a DVD, and many other products and have it sent to them. Amazon faced some huge challenges. Just how do you store and ship a vast array of products and still make money? Amazon do massive volume, and use unique, sophisticated tracking and packing systems to overcome these challenges. Amazon's cloud computing service alone has revenues in excess of $500m.

Amazon's story is mostly about "being big". All very well for Amazon, of course, but what about the little guy showing people how to build stuff? There's a story in that, too.

Tim Carter founded "Ask The Builder.com". Tim provides tips for DIY, answers building questions, and provides product and tool reviews. Rather than the home DIY enthusiast going out and buying manuals, or hiring an expensive builder, Tim provides his information for free, and his video's provide depth that printed books do not. Tim clearly cares about building, and the home DIY enthusiast. Tim's gone a step further, and told his life story.

Try boiling your site down into such a story. Once you have a story, you can then flesh out narratives that flow through everything you do, from your graphic design, to your copy, to your approach to customer services.

For example, Tim's story is a "small, personal" story. It is fitting that he doesn't have a glossy, corporate theme, as this would grate against the narrative. Rather, the site is a bit raggedy and amateurish, in a good way. He is providing one-to-one personal help, so it fits that he talks directly to camera. It fits that, unlike Amazon, you know who is behind the site. It fit's the the About Page is a personal history. It's approachable. It's all part of the "small, personal" story. It helps make the site more convincing, and hopefully more memorable, if common themes are repeated.

A story helps achieve focus, clarity and distinction.

How To Construct A Story

If you're having problems getting started, here's a work-plan.

1. Describe Your Brand

What do you do? Make it short and sweet i.e. "Provide advice to home DIY enthusiasts". "Sell books online".

2. Where Did You Come From, And Where Are You Now

How did you start? Why did you start? What did you do before you started? What position are you in now?

3. What Challenges Do You Face?

What problem do you solve? What are challenges have you overcome? It helps if these are the same challenges and problems your customers face.

4. Personify/Quantify These Challenges

Did you overcome people? Organizations? Time? Money? Lack of knowledge?

5. Who Is Your Target Market?

Who, exactly, are you trying to help? Where do they live? What is their time of life? What challenges do they face?

6. What Does Your Target Market Care About?

Security? Being first? Individual care? Low prices? Value?

7. Why Should They Buy From You?

What do you offer that other sites do not?

8. What is your end goal?

How do you know you're completed what you set out to do? What is the measure of victory?

Answer these questions, and it becomes easy to make decisions about design, positioning, branding, and marketing.

Hopefully it helps make your site more memorable, too.

Published: May 6, 2011

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Comments

May 6, 2011 - 3:53pm

Excellent strategy for differentiating your business large or small - best of all everybody's got a story in them.

May 6, 2011 - 7:25pm

I'm working with site that has a lot of video content (flv & mp4).
Some of the files are local, but some of them are from partner's projects.

Is there any link checker for such kind of stuff, for remote media files? It's not enough to check that link to the file return 200.

Very often partners are removing files but instead of 404 page their site still sends 200 code and some kind of sorry page. But it kills flash player on my page of course, and as result I have page with dead content.

So it's important to know that for example ******/movie.mp4 is real movie file, but not just live sites page.

Thanks for any help.

May 7, 2011 - 9:37am

Your blog is consistently of such a high standard, that it's boring to keep commenting...

The idea of telling a "story" is not new, but like a lot of old things, you tend to forget them and when you are reminded, you see them in a new and fresh way.

Your article has done this for me on the concept of a "story" (aided by your helpful tips on how to do it!). I now feel enthused about getting mine and some customer sites telling their story. Thanks again guys.

By the way - it all started nearly 60 years ago in a small fishing village off the east Anglia coast near Harwich......

David

May 9, 2011 - 4:18pm

This is a great blog post with good solid tips for any business of almost any type. Thanks for breaking it down in that way so that anyone can use this information to make their site and blog better. You are very correct in this: Stories do tend to get people to pay attention at times - and continue paying attention. After all it's not the attention that hurts a company, it is rather the loss of attention that hurts one's business.
John Souza
SocialMediaMagic.Com

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