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15 Four Stories Every Business Must Build

Stories build commitment. They allow us to go on journeys in search of our best self. They entertain, simplify, and inspire. They are easy to share. Great leaders are often great storytellers.

Sugar Pond via Flickr

The power of story as a business building and marketing tool is undeniable. A simple story can draw upon our emotional desires in ways that reams and reams of logical data never will.

While an uplifting story or even a tragic story can capture the listener’s interest, the real power of storytelling in business is that it permits a business to illustrate values and beliefs in action.

It’s one thing to say we’re trustworthy and quite another to share a story about the day your employees went without a paycheck because they so believed in what you were building and trusted you would make things right when you recovered from this unforeseen challenge.

I believe that every business must find and tell their core stories over and over again and then they must invite their employees, customers and networks to help build these stories into journeys worth taking over and over again.

Below are four core stories that must live in every business

The Passion Story

The is often the owner’s story, a tale of why they started the business, how the business serves their own personal mission or purpose in life. Why they get up and go to work, why they love what they do or what happened in life that set them on their current path.

The interior of the Grand Jury hearing room was anything but grand. It consisted of a handful of plastic chairs arranged in a way that made the jurists feel more like an audience than a court appointed arm of the United States Justice Department. Although I distinctly remember the lights, maybe it was me, but they seemed awfully bright.

What could I possibly have to offer as a witness in a hearing determined to bring federal charges upon one of my clients? As it turned out I was very boring witness with nothing to offer the case, but it was a turning point in my business and perhaps my life.

In the effort to build my business I had taken on a client that I knew was doing things I couldn’t support, that were counter to my own values, and I knew also in that moment that I would never again do business with a customer I didn’t respect.
And that’s part of my passion story. (To get the rest you need to buy the tell all book. Well, not really.)

The Purpose Story

This is mostly the story about why you do what you do in business and not at all about what you do. For many people this can be a story about mission or higher calling, but it can also be about who you serve and why.

When I was just starting to dream up the concept of Duct Tape Marketing I was operating my business as a traditional local marketing agency and doing work for organizations large and small – although I had already determined that I loved working with small business owners the most.

I had completed a very small amount of work for a very large organization and sent them in invoice for $1,525.00. When they paid the invoice, 90 days later, I opened the envelope and found a check for $152,500.00.

While there was a moment of temptation, I knew I had to return the check. I called and was directed to the five forms I needed to complete in order to return the check if I was to have any hope of getting my original bill paid.

That was the day I determined I was going to work with small business owners exclusively and set out to figure out how I could do that. There’s something equal parts gratifying and terrifying about doing work directly for the person paying the bill.

And that’s part of my purpose story.

The Positioning Story

This is the story that illustrates how you want the market to perceive your brand. Of course, perception is partly a goal and partly a measurement because some things are out of your hands. A true positioning story, however, is one that authentically captures your purpose in action – it’s how purpose is packaged in a way that allows the intended market to connect.

And, the best positioning, the best positioning stories can usually be summed up in one word.

Early on in my marketing consulting business I was invited to be part of a pitch for a very large piece of business. It was a national firm that wanted to hire a national ad agency, but also include a local marketing support company for the local branch.

The New York ad agency sent five people, all clad in black head to toe and armed with a 100-page deck filled with research and recommendations.

When it came time for me to offer my two cents I said something like – I don’t know, why don’t we just talk to some of your current customers? The meeting ended and the next day the VP that was conducting the search called and said he wanted me to do the entire project without the New York ad agency. To this day I can hear him say why – “you were the only one that said anything that was practical.”

And that’s part of my positioning story.

The Personality Story

This is the story that gets at how people experience your purpose or brand. This is the story that illustrates the traits that are on display in every action, product, service, decision, hire, process or promotion.

There’s a story behind how I came up with the name Duct Tape Marketing, but the real reason this name has served my brand so well is the association that people already have with all things duct tape. This allows them to connect their own personal stories of simple, effective and affordable use of this cuddly gray sticky stuff. (Okay, cuddly might be over the top, but you get it.)

The name comes packaged with its own personality traits and the only trick is to make sure that people experience the brand and the business in that same way.

And now for where the name came from . . . with apologies to my daughters.

My wife I decided to take a little mini vacation and figured the two oldest girls (high school sophomore and junior) could act as babysitters. You probably know where this is going and you’re right.

The party peeked at about 100 people I’m told. One of the guests decided to take my car for spin as well and bumped it into something just hard enough to knock a piece of plastic bumper off. In an effort to hide the damage my daughters duct taped the piece masterfully back in place.

There is a chance they would have gotten away with it too, but they carelessly left the role of duct tape sitting on the car hood, creating immediate suspicion when we arrived home.

The thing is, that’s when I knew Duct Tape Marketing would be the perfect name. If a sixteen year old could recognize the simple, effective and affordable use, then it might just be universally true as well.

And that’s part of my personality story.

27 The 4Ps of a Fully Alive Business

Back in the early 1960’s the American Marketing Association coined the term the “Four ‘P’s” as a way to describe the essential elements of the marketing mix. Since that time every first year marketing student has been taught to think in terms of product, price, place and promotion as they analyze case studies of companies real and imagined.

Much has changed in the last 50 years, including what product really is, what place entails, how package plays a role and, well, pretty much everything about what promotion looks like.

In fact, the very definition of marketing has changed dramatically enough to render the original Four P’s somewhat useless as a foundational marketing and business strategy concept.

Today’s most important business and marketing directive is one of building trust. Engagement, connection and story are the new forms of promotional art. Price is a function of value and place has become bytes and ether more often than a shelf or an office.

There is a home for the Four P’s in today’s business but it’s in the very mortar of the business and the story of its people rather than in a department on an org chart.

The Four P’s are now more about how a business is experienced than what it sells. They reside in the expression of human characteristics that turn commitment into culture and culture into customer.

The following elements make up a redefinition of the Four P’s for the fully alive business and further make the case that marketing is everything you do and every business is really a marketing business.

The Four P's of Business


The first element of the Four P’s in a fully alive business is the passion for living that the owner of the business brings. When the founder of a business can serve their own personal passion and purpose by growing the business, good things can evolve.

The leader of a business must have a great sense of passion for the business, but they also must be able to connect that passion with purpose in order to bring out the desire to commit in others. Leading with passion is how you put yourself out there and do what you were meant to do.

“A ship in port is safe but that’s not what ships are built for.” ~ Grace Murray Hopper


Purpose is how a business defines why it does what it does. It is the reason people are drawn to work in a business, it’s the reason they come to life inside the business and it’s the reason customers voluntarily become loyal ambassadors of the brand.

Purpose builds trust because it allows people to see their own values in action in support of something they strongly believe. A regular paycheck, important sounding title, or great deal on a cool product, probably doesn’t invoke much in the way of purpose.

Joining a business that is on an epic journey to create joy, change an age old industry, innovate under the nose of a Goliath, or just do a great deal more of the right thing – that’s purpose, that’s not simply a business it’s a cause and people will do some remarkable things inside and around the support of their cause.


Organizations that understand the power of purpose also understand that purpose is what they need to package as their reason for being, core difference and position in the market. They lead with why and let those attracted to that why create their own definition of what.

In fact, brands that start with purpose over product can effectively enter most any market with the same positioning and compete with entrenched category leaders. I know it’s become cliché to cite Apple as an example, but this computer company routinely blows competitors away in any market they enter. Think mp3 players and mobile devices – two categories they entered and dominate even though they’re a computer company.

Apple’s sense of why is so prevalent in their positioning that it wouldn’t surprise me if they entered the coffee market and became the category darling.


The final P is how a business uses desirable human traits or personality characteristics as a vehicle to allow all that encounter the business to actually experience purpose.

It’s one thing to state your purpose on a plaque or marketing brochure, it’s another thing entirely to live by a tangible set of daily habits and processes that offer proof of purpose.

We are drawn to people and experience that are simple, inspirational, convenient, innovative, playful, community oriented and filled with surprise. These are the personality traits that a fully alive business uses as the everyday creative language of the business.

These traits act as the filter for every decision and make up how the business is run internally and the brand is experienced externally.

Imagine what would occur if every college student today were taught these Four P’s. Imagine if every business were started with this framework. Imagine if everyone could go to work for a company built with this way of thinking at its core. Imagine if we could experience these Four P’s by simply becoming a customer of your business? What would that be like?

I don’t know, I think it would be pretty great.

11 Be the Red Leaf

So I come back from my chilly morning run and am greeted by the site of one lone red leaf popping out of a sea of green ivy and decaying brown leaves – and I can’t help but take notice.

Stand out – can’t help but take notice – of course, I immediately think marketing strategy.

Small businesses must be the red leaf. The market needs a way to differentiate all the green and brown leaves from one another so it uses price. Smart small business marketers, ones that can become the red leaf and place themselves squarely among the rest, stand out and compete on value.

Now, having said that, standing out is not simply about making more noise of being different for difference sake, standing out is understanding an innovation that a market needs and values and creating a brand that represents that message of innovation in every possible way.

Their are three kinds of research you should do right now if you aim to discover the best way for you to be the red leaf.

1) Study your competition – likely this will verify that everyone is saying the same thing and the opportunity exists for you to say something different.
2) Study difference makers in other industries – what do small business brands that you may already admire do that you don’t? Hire a coach who works with a different industry.
3) Talk to your customers – ask you ideal customers what you do that they value. Chances are it’s not what you think and greater chances are it’s what you need to tap as your essential difference.

Let me see if I can say this in dramatic enough fashion – you absolutely must tap or create a valuable point of differentiation and then build your marketing strategy around communicating that difference or your business will struggle to rise above the competitive noise.

Differences are everywhere waiting for you to claim them. They exist in the way you market, your products and services, in packaging of those products and services, in the delivery of those products and services, in narrow market niches, in your processes, and in your people.

When you find your red leaf and can honestly say you have no direct competition to speak of, you’re probably on your way.