Beyond sales pitches: How to tell your story

By Laura Haight

How do you know a good story? Of course, only you know what interests you, but there are some general signs that you’ve found something that trips your trigger

  1. You read past the headline.
  2. You learn something you didn’t know.
  3. You learn something you think you can use.
  4. You want to know more about it. 
  5. You want to share it with some else.

Not all stories will hit all five high notes, of course. But nailing two is a good start.

Every marketer, social media expert, and SEO purveyor devotes an extraordinary amount of time talking about the importance of content marketing and building a blog for your business. reports that 60 percent of all businesses have a blog; but, of those, 65 percent have not been updated in more than a year. There are probably several reasons this happens, but I want to focus on one: They don’t know what to write about.

Storytelling is the heart of content marketing and some businesses have those stories in droves. Others struggle to get past the sales pitch and fall flat in developing or holding an audience.

Let’s focus on helping you find ways to tell your story.

Go beyond – and behind – the pitch

You will be tempted to write sales pitches. Don’t. Facebook and Google have done extensive research and quantified just how much people don’t like being targeted. That’s caused both these platforms to adjust their algorithms to reduce the visibility anything with a clearly identifiable sales pitch is going to get. Even if you aren’t writing for one of these sites, it’s an important point to remember. Your blog is a relationship tool. Eventually, you want to convert those relationships into sales; but just like personal relationships: You don’t propose on the first date.

Think of blog post as conversation points. When you go home tonight and tell your husband what happened at work today will it be “We sold 25 new widgets today” or “We got this great letter today about how one business used the widget that we hadn’t even thought of.”

Here are three ideas to help you look at your business differently:

What do you know? Your area of expertise is not selling widgets, it may be project management, developing young talent, making great hires, seeing the “next big thing”, overcoming obstacles. These are all topics that are of interest to diverse audiences. How did you – or your company – evolve?

What do you have? You’ve got best practices, data, customers, employees, business collateral, third party partnerships. If that all sounds boring to you, you are way too “inside the box”. We love fun facts and your blog doesn’t have to be limited to words. You can – and should – explore more visual ways to tell your story like infographics, audio and video. Entire magazines (think Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company) have been built on lessons we can learn from others. One of the biggest assets for both your company and your blog is your staff. Don’t be afraid to get personal. If your company values community responsibility, talk about your staff and how they give back. It’s not shameless if it’s real.

The best stories are built on depth of information. In your story, your data provides a bottomless well of information about trends, attitudes, and interests. The data may be boring, but the story it tells can be fun, enlightening or thought-provoking. Avoid the common mistake of reeling off a litany of numbers and still not telling their story.

What are you? A trainer, a philosopher, a risk-taker, a people person, a process person, a manager, leader, nerd, wonk or visionary? The experiences – both successes and failures – that have solidified your values and your company’s culture can be the source of great stories.

Celebrate successes

By this, I don’t mean the dry press release that announces you won an award or nabbed a big client. While those are stories, what is always more interesting is what led to the success. Give credit to your team, tell the story through the experiences of the staff who made it happen. Achievement is a journey. Looking back and remembering where you started is a big part of any story of success.

Make it personal

You are more than a collection of organs, efficiently pumping blood, dispelling toxins and enabling motion. You are also a repository of ideas and experiences. And your business is more than widgets and a dry recitation of statistics. Zappos, the online (mostly) shoe emporium, focuses its blog on culture and lifestyle and its expression through fashion. But it also has a section of “musings” which includes profiles of its staff and stories about their interests. Locally, The Iron Yard’s blog offers personal stories of students’ motivation, and the story of its “All Hands Conference” last weekend through the social media posts of attendees.

Avoid the impulse to write about what you think people will be interested in, even if you aren’t interested in it. Blogging should be personal and authentic – the two most valuable assets in telling your story.

If you write it, will the readers come? Building and holding an audience can be more work than writing the blog. More on that in an upcoming column.

Laura Haight is the president of Portfolio, which works with small businesses on communication and telling their stories.

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