When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story’s voice makes everything its own. – John Berger, Keeping a Rendezvous
There is just one thing I have to say about marketing.
Tell your story
All you have to do when you want to get started with a new project – building a business, moving your career on – is tell your story.
If you’re not used to doing this, be warned, it’s going to take some time until you feel like you’re getting it right.
So start telling stories five, ten years before you think you’re going to be ready.
Because every good story is about your life, and it starts, “Once upon a time,”
Why marketing yourself comes down to stories
Think back to a few hundred thousand years ago, when our ancestors first huddled around a fire in a cave.
Imagine a hunter, standing at the cave wall, putting the final touches on a drawing of the day’s hunt – the animals, the chase, the trap, the kill.
One image – there’s no Powerpoint, no fancy visuals – just the scene.
Imagine the story of the hunt, told by the hunter, perhaps with a few embellishments – perhaps the buffalo are a little larger than in real life, perhaps the snakes a little more vicious.
But it’s the story of their life, their day, the animals, the chase, the trap, the kill.
And the audience listened, with rapt attention, lit by flickering firelight, to the story, learning and being entertained.
We’re not really that different from those people – a few hundred thousand years doesn’t make that much of a difference in our genetic makeup.
Flickering firelight, or the mobile screen, will draw us in every time.
What will keep us there is story.
So what’s your story?
The story mountain
Let’s go back to the first year of school where you learned about story mountains.
You go up and down the story mountain, starting with an inciting event – an introduction, and then build up the story until you reach the top – the problem. Then you have a resolution to the problem and an ending.
It sounds really dull when you put it that way – and it’s even worse when you apply it to your business as in the image above.
Your story starts with an opening, an introduction to you. You move on to make an assertion and build up to an example that sets out the problem or problems your clients typically face. You then talk about how you solve that problem – showing the result you get and providing proof and then you move on to the next step.
You’ll see this pattern in almost every YouTube advert out there, except people will normally start with the assertion (I’m going to show you how easy it is to make money on Amazon) and then do a build up including an intro (Hello, I’m Jane Bloggs, and I started with nothing).
Now, the thing to remember about things like story mountains is that they are an artefact – something created after the fact.
First lots of people told stories and then someone said, “Hey, look at this, it looks like there is a pattern here that all the good stories follow.”
And for your business the most important element of the pattern is that when you say something – make an assertion – back it up with an example.
For example, if you’re a video production company, then when you say something like “We specialise in videos showcasing manufacturing processes,” you follow up with, “For example, here’s one we did for ABC manufacturing that helps you understand how their complex machinery works.”
You probably already do this naturally, if you’ve spent any time already in a sales role.
If you haven’t, the idea is not to do this mechanically, but to start doing it intentionally.
Start being intentional about following your assertions with a proof point, something that helps to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing.
When you do that you’ve created a mini story, something that the listener can follow along with – and what happens when a listener hears your story is that they recreate it inside their own heads – they make it their own.
Now you are a part of their story, and you’ve just marketed your way in there.
I can’t tell you what tools and methods to use in your particular situation – I don’t know enough about you.
But I can give you a prescription to take, which goes as follows:
- Understand yourself, your idea, your business
- Apply your understanding, learn through practice on the job or with projects
- Condense what you’re learning, find the nuggets that matter.
- Explain that condensed version – to yourself, to anyone who will listen to you face to face
Then, when you’re ready to face the world and market yourself:
- Select a medium you like communicating in – writing, audio, video.
- Make something every day.
- Look back at what you’ve made, reflect on it – see what you did well and what you can improve.
- Revise it in light of that reflection, if you can.
- Publish it.
But, you ask, what about quality, finish, polish, sound, video, editing, music?
That’s up to you – but remember that every additional thing you do makes it harder for you to get your marketing message out.
If you can do it by firelight using a cave wall then do it.
If you need to spend ten hours on fancy animation – then do it – but accept that you will probably be able to do less.
Quantity often leads to quality over time, but a focus on quality at the beginning can be paralysing because of the amount of effort you need to put in.
So start simple, start with what you already have, start with the simplest possible setup and technology.
The good news is that the vast majority of people will not do the doing – the minute you start intentionally working on telling your story you’ll start to set yourself apart.
And when you have this story to tell, in the early days, you will need some help getting it out into the world.
That’s where your friends and other complementary organisations come into the picture.
We’ll talk about them next.