You want new customers. You need new customers. If you are a small operation, like I am, you probably spend a good deal of your time trying to figure out how to get customers right now, as in yesterday, not tomorrow.
But running a small business is a long game. To sustain both your sanity and your bottom line, you need to attract customers who will not only buy your products and services today, but who will still be around a year from now, five years from now. People who will become not just customers but loud, loyal champions of you and your business.
So how do you find and nurture those loyal champions? For starters: create a compelling brand story.
Brand stories prioritize the "why" over the "what"
At the end of the day, we are all just people doing business with other people. And people are inspired by emotions, not information. If customers align with your business on an emotional level, they are much more likely to keep coming back for more. They are also more likely to tell other people about you.
Enter the brand story.
Your brand story is the narrative you create around your business. It goes beyond listing the facts of "what" you do, and instead centers on "why" — why you do what you do, and why your customers will want to be a part of it. It seeks to inspire a human, emotional reaction from your customers. (To learn more about the concept of "why" in branding, listen to Simon Sinek's influential TED talk, Start With Why.)
There are many different ways to write a brand story (I'll tell you about my approach in a minute) but all brand stories should have these three elements:
Humanity: Whether you are a solopreneur trying to gain coaching clients, or a fifty person company selling a product, it is important to remind customers that there are human beings behind your brand. It's okay if you don't want to feature yourself, as the company founder, in your advertising. There are other ways to give a human feel to your brand, like featuring brand ambassadors.
Clarity: If I put you on the spot right now, you should be able to paraphrase your brand story in a few short sentences. Attention spans are short, and potential customers need to understand your brand quickly and easily. Likewise, customers will have an easier time championing your brand to others if they can easily articulate its purpose and its worth.
A customer-centric message: Whether you are selling life-coaching services or handcrafted ice cream, your customers need to be able to imagine themselves using your services or buying your products. And they need to be able to imagine how doing so will make a positive change in their life, big or small. In his book, Building a Story Brand, Donald Miller aptly calls this "making your customer the hero of the story."
Putting your brand story into action
When I work with small businesses to create their brand story, we always start with a small but impactful first step: the brand statement (you might also hear it called the brand script or the core brand statement.)
After a lengthy conversation and some targeted exercises, we come up with a narrative, usually a few paragraphs long, that sums up the core of the business. We also boil this down into one or two sentences, an "elevator pitch" of sorts. All of this, of course, keeps the customer as the hero of the story, features the "why" of the business, and seeks to appeal to emotions.
This core brand statement is meant to be the starting point from which you create your website copy, your social media strategy and your marketing materials. It is the touchstone you instinctually refer back to when you talk about your business in networking meetings or when you pitch to clients.It is the platform on which you can build a lasting brand with loyal customers and loud champions.