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6 How to Make Your Customers the Hero of Your Story

I use the idea of hero a fair amount when I talk about what we do. I don’t use it in an egotistic way, more aspirational really than anything. I think aspiring to be a hero to someone is a good thing.

kindercapes via Flckr CC

You can substitute leader if you like, but I love the image of hero because I think it paints a much more vivid illustration of the whole package – struggle, denial, acceptance, achievement, and purpose.

While I think it’s important that you and your business strive to be the hero in somebody’s story, I think it’s equally important that you understand how to position your customer or community as the hero of your story.

Below are some of my thoughts on how you do this and if you find yourself thinking this sounds a bit like crafting a screenplay, it’s because there’s a bit of that art to it. In fact, there’s a book I would recommend to anyone that takes this idea to heart. It’s called Save the Cat – The last book you’ll ever need on screenwriting by Blake Snyder.

Learn their backstory – Before you can really thrust you customer into the hero’s role you have know who they are and you find that out by knowing where they came from, what’s bugging them and what they really would rather have that they don’t.

This kind of information isn’t rentable, you have to dig, and it’s starts with asking, listening and paying close attention. I don’t know how you could manage this, but I’ve always thought the greatest marketing research tool you could ever create is family dinner. You could learn more than you would ever need about a person by going with them to their parent’s house for dinner one Sunday.

So, short of that, how could you learn what makes them tick. Spend time and earn the right to learn about them outside of your business context. Follow everything they share in social media, it’s a lot like Sunday dinner in there at times.

There is no greater way to earn trust than to demonstrate you understand someone’s story.

Give them an antagonist – Every great story has a bad guy or girl, it’s what makes us cheer for the good guy or girl.

There are times when you draw your customer closer by simply helping them understand who or what the antagonist is. Sometimes they don’t even realize what the problem is that your business can solve. Many times you have to help them see the extent of the enemy’s grip.

Now, more often than not the word antagonist here is simply a metaphor for a challenge like leaking profit, poor time management, wasted effort, lost opportunity, living in pain, or needless risk, but you have to help them understand what they are up against.

Call them to duty – In order for someone to be a hero they must be called – they must have an idea to serve.

Your marketing story must give them hope that they have the power to overcome whatever the challenge is. I know this is starting to sound a little dramatic, but that’s the point, a connection to a higher purpose or at least a meaningful idea is much stronger than simply trying to convince someone that they need what you have to offer.

In order to create impact in the life of your customer they need to feel like what you have to offer is hope and empowerment. Those are pretty strong words and you’ve got to believe them if your customer is going to be the center of your story.

Help them persevere – Once you’ve demonstrated that you know who your customer is, you know what a rough time they’ve endured trying to results and you know what the future overcoming their challenges might look for them, you’ve got to be prepared to demonstrate you’ll be there with them until they do overcome.

I guess you could demonstrate this most easily in your sales, service and follow-up, but it must be a part of the story that your customer understands is a given.

Free them – Finally, help them understand the results they’ve received, help them measure just how far they’ve come, how much impact they’re making on your business and perhaps in the lives of those they now impact.

Since I’m attempting to apply these rather abstract ideas to no particular business I know some will find this idea a bit confusing at best.

Here’s my suggestion, grab a piece of marketing copy you currently share with customers and ask yourself this series of questions:

  • Does it demonstrate they we get who they are?
  • Does it paint a picture of the real challenges they face?
  • Does it provide hope for what a future without those challenges could be like
  • Does it give a solution for how those challenges could be addressed?
  • Does it offer proof that others are indeed experiencing these results?

2 Creating Analog Experiences

Marketing podcast with Ramon Ray (Click to play or right click and “Save As” to download – Subscribe now via iTunes or subscribe via other RSS device (Google Listen)

So much of what we do in business today can be done virtually, digitally and technically.

So much so that I believe we actually have to make an effort to meet in a way that allows us to acquire hugs and handshakes in the good old fashioned offline analog way. In fact, I further believe that making an effort to fuse the online and offline worlds is how you build deeper and richer experiences much faster.

Ramon Ray hosting the Small Business Summit

A few of my favorite ways to create analog experiences:

  • Bring five customers together for lunch so they can meet each other
  • Host MeetUps focused on a very specific topic of interest
  • Go spend some time shooting video of a strategic partner or customer
  • Host a small peer-to-peer panel discussion with customers and prospects
  • Create a day long event co-hosted by several strategic partners
  • Hold annual customer appreciation events or learning events
  • And of course, don’t forget to get out there and attend some events

Once you get the hang of creating offline events you could even take this to much higher level and start creating paid and sponsored events.

My guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is Ramon Ray, Editor of and producer of the long running Small Business Summit, which he has co-produced since 2006.

In this interview Ramon shares:

  • The benefits and pitfalls of creating events
  • Technical details you need to get started
  • The best ways to create an engaging program
  • How to get people to sign up for events
  • How to attract sponsors to underwrite the event
  • The math of making money with events.

24 How to Use Instagram to Tell and Sell Your Marketing Story

Marketing is about telling stories and few things tell a story faster than a picture. In fact, images are growing faster than any other form of shared content online due in large part to the tremendous growth of camera equipped smart phones.

Facebook is the world’s largest photo sharing site, but others sites such as Pinterest and, the popular iPhone app, Instagram have also attracted large followings based primarily on the ease of photo sharing.

Reclaimed rock quarry in Curritiba Brazil from my Instagram feed

Instagram is a photo-sharing site that’s a bit of a Flickr meets Twitter. iPhone users download the Instagram app and then share images after applying a range of effects and filters.

Other Instagram users can “like” and comment on images and follow users to view their images in their own feed. Users can also easily post the images they upload to Instagram on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr if they choose.

As with many social networks, personal use has spawned most of the growth. With heavy adoption however, businesses are now starting to take note of ways to use the Instagram tools and network to promote their business.

Naturally image heavy businesses such as hair salons, graphic designers, and remodelers have obvious uses for the photo sharing site, but any business can find ways to use the network and the growing set of tools supporting it to supplement their marketing efforts.

Below is a list of some Instagram applications that can help turn Instagram into a marketing tool for your business.

iDarkroom – This isn’t really an Instagram related tool, but it’s a great tool to use to enhance your images before you upload them to Instagram

Webstagram – This tool helps you search, sort, tag, follow and comment on photos shared by other users. One of the ways to make Instagram pay off is to build a following and part of that is done by finding and following relevant users and adding your comments to their images.

Instagram is a simple tool and lacks many of these basic tools so Webstragram makes using Instagram much easier.

Postagram – This might be my favorite application. Postagram allows you to turn any Instagram image into a postcard with the push of a button. Then Postgram sends your postcard for less than dollar. Think about how you could send product images to customers or showcase a project you’re working.

What if you took client images at an event and turned them into personal postcards? This little tool could produce tons of good will and buzz in the right hands.

Printstagram – This tool takes your Instagram images and allows you to turn them into posters, mini prints, and mini books.

Again, I’m thinking of some pretty cool ways to create project and client story books and present them as visual reminders of the relationship.

StickyGram – This app takes your custom Instrgram shots and turns them into magnets. It’s like having your own little promotional products creator right in your phone, but potentially much cooler.

Think about the artistic and relevant community shots, event shots, and product shots you could turn into a library of giveaways.

Canvas Pop – If you want to take up a notch Canvas Pop will take your Instagram images and print them on canvas frames.

Think about the artsy ways you could showcase your work, your staff or your customers with this tool.

56 Do People Know Your Story?

story timeMister Rogers frequently told his audiences, “It’s hard not to like someone once your know their story.” I latched onto that phrase the first time I heard it because I think it delivers a powerful business lesson.

People connect with stories that move them and most every business can and should tell a story that helps prospects and customers connect at a deeper level. I truly believe the Internet, while making it easy to find information, has left us craving real connections, with real people, and the companies they serve.

A carefully crafted marketing story is a tool that can serve any organization trying to break through the clutter and connect with new markets. Once you uncover a story that helps people connect with your organization on a more personal level, you must use it and tell it as a key element of your brand. The story can be used on web pages, in marketing collateral, and as a tool to recruit new folks to your team.

To find and create a marketing story for your organization, one that can act as a backstory for why you do what you do, I suggest you look at your business like a writer developing a great character.

Think about the things that draw you into a story. It’s usually a character that creates a dramatic impact through actions, desires and shared experiences. Great stories and characters usually come to life through the careful telling of seemingly small details.

A seasoned writer might use the following kinds of questions to help get started unearthing the key marketing story. Play with answering some of these and you just might discover your most important marketing message to date.

  • What do you know about where this business is going that no one could know?
  • What is your industry’s greatest flaw?
  • If your business could choose a new identity, what would it be?
  • What is your favorite customer story?
  • What is your secret wish for your business?
  • What is the greatest challenge your business must overcome?
  • What is your greatest fear for your business?
  • What is your greatest achievement/disappointment?
  • What about your childhood shaped you for this moment?
  • What choices have you made that you regret?

So, have you got a story to tell?

Image credit: Sugar Pond

15 Can You Illustrate a Simple Truth?

The best stories often illustrate one simply truth for the reader and in doing so can illuminate an idea, a principle, or belief in far greater fashion than an overt statement to the same effect.

I believe this notion can be applied very powerfully to something I call the marketing story. Your marketing story is a tool that can and should be included as one element of your suite of education based marketing materials, but done correctly, can facilitate a prospect’s ability to connect and trust in ways that are far more powerful than any other marketing document.

I would like to suggest that you add a story, something personal or telling in nature, to your marketing message toolbox as a way to help prospect connect more deeply with your company. Reveal through your story why you do what you do, where you are going and how your intend to serve every customer that walks through your door.

This is certainly not a history of your business. The best marketing stories start from one simple idea and build in engaging ways, much like the stories we all grew up relishing at bedtime. There are a handful of classic story formats – who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going, I know you, what I’ve overcome – but like to start with one idea and build.

Here’s an example of a story starter – mind you, I don’t have any idea where this would go, but it reveals something about me that I could work with for a story.

Growing up there were ten children in my family and I remember vividly the times we would all pile in the Impala station wagon for family outings. Legend has it that on these occasions my father would playfully remark to my mother – “I’ll watch John and you watch the other nine.” It seems my insatiable curiosity to discover people, places and things led to some anxious moments for my parents.

OK, I believe there is a relationship to what makes my business go, a simple truth, contained in this nugget, but I also believe it speaks much louder to a prospect than if I just blurted out what makes me tick. The key of course is to then take this story starter and wrap it into my already established core message in a way that is magnifying.

Years ago I worked with a man who ran a very successful window cleaning business. I drew this story out of him and became the centerpiece of his marketing efforts. He printed on the back of his invoices, ran snippets of it in radio ads, and shared it with prospective customers and employees alike.

Marketing Story Example: A Tale of Passion