This article was originally published on The Sedge.
Marketing. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this is not your favorite part of being a Change Creator.
It might even be the last thing on your list. It might feel a bit scary or uncomfortable; it might feel like a task outside of your wheelhouse, or it might be something you wish you could simply avoid altogether.
As a Change Creator, the entire reason you started your social venture is to serve your community with a product or service that improves their life.
You don’t want to worry about ‘getting in front of customers’ or ‘pitching’ or ‘promotional campaigns’. And you certainly don’t want to feel like a sleazeball! You don’t want to feel like you’re pulling the wool over people’s eyes, or pushing too hard for a sale.
You just want to do the thing that makes a difference.
If you’ve ever felt this way, I have great news for you: there is another way to share your impact brand and position yourself as the go-to company (or person) for what provide. You can market your social business in a way that feels authentic, values-driven, and human.
First, let’s look at what branding and marketing entail.
Anne Miltenberg is the founder of The Branding, where she co-creates branding strategies with social entrepreneurs. In her interview with Change Creator, Anne shared what branding means to her:
“Branding is framing who you are, what you do, and why it matters. It’s having a deep understanding of who needs to know you, and how they’re going to find out about you.”
Once you’re clear on who you are – your brand – you need to share it out and connect with the people who might be interested so they know you exist and are aware of the products or services you provide. That’s where marketing comes in.
Think of it this way:
If you have something that your community needs (which I’m sure you do), your job is to make sure they know about you. To that end, branding and marketing are not ‘nice to have’, they are essential activities to deliver on your mission.
People who need you are not going to find you out of thin air, or in a haystack. You need to be visible and take action in order to reach them.
I’m sure you’re doing your best to share your message. You’re probably sharing ‘who you are’, ‘what you do’, and ‘why it matters’.
But are you doing it in a way that sticks with people?
Every day you’re taking action in your business, and this shows that you walk the talk, which is important. Your actions will help reinforce the facts you’re sharing about who you are, and why you matter.
That’s great. But there’s actually a third ingredient that is going to be the most essential to help you connect with your audience and share your brand in a way that they remember, can relate to, engage with, and will share with others.
This ingredient is using storytelling in your branding and marketing.
When you use story effectively in your communications, it helps people not just understand, but connect with who you are. It helps them think of you when they need that thing that you’re delivering or creating or doing.
Here are five ways you can use story to connect authentically and meaningfully with your audience.
#1 – Share something personal.
This comes up naturally in stories but it’s worth mentioning because sharing something personal is a great way to form a deeper connection with your listener.
As a purpose-driven entrepreneur, the reason why you do what you do is an inherent advantage. It can be a unique driver for communicating with your with your people (although remember that you still need to have an offer that is competitive and creates real value).
As the founder, you want to use story to share why the work that you do is meaningful to you individually. You don’t need to keep your messaging ‘all business’. You can share the personal reasons why the work you do is important to you. Including this personal perspective will resonate with your audience and definitely make an impression about why they should remember you and the work that you do.
# 2 – Don’t be afraid to show your imperfections through story.
You might feel like you have to have it ‘all figured out’ in order to have a professional brand. But this approach can distance you from your audience and supporters.
The reality is, through your stories, you can show a little bit of imperfection. It could be hesitations or vulnerabilities that you might be feeling. No matter who you are, you have experienced challenges. Having doubts, questions, and vulnerabilities is a part of the human existence that we all share, and that’s why it’s so powerful.
If you’re willing to share some of those imperfections in your messaging and in your stories, it makes them that much more relatable to the people who are listening. They’re not thinking that you’re some mannequin up on a pedestal who has it all figured out, like a polished robot.
They see, “Oh, wow, this person is totally human. Their business is their passion and their business has flaws, too. And that’s okay. And I actually like them better for that because they’re real. And I get them because I have those challenges too.”
It creates a bridge where your audience can relate to you, and this shared experience can be extremely powerful for your for your brand.
#3 – Communication is a two-way street
Marketing is about standing alone shouting from the rooftops with your message, hoping it lands on your audience.
It is a two-way street with your potential customers and wider community. It’s important to give space for them engage with you, to respond and share what they think about what you’re doing. To give their feedback about your product or your offering or services.
I like to think of marketing as relationship building and it’s similar when it comes to your brand. Your audience wants to be part of the conversation, not just shouted at.
Sharing your story provides people a way to connect with your brand because stories need both a teller and a listener, otherwise you’re just talking to yourself!
Since stories are just as much about you as they are about your listener, you need to make sure that you provide channels for them to engage. Open that space. If you don’t invite them into the conversation, they’re not going to have any reason to raise their hand and talk to you.
It’s your job to make sure that you are opening up that two-way communication with your audience. Stories are a great way to do that, again, because you’re relating to people on a personal level and you’re sharing your experience and imperfections.
When you start from there, you can say, “Have you experienced this too? What’s your experience with this situation? What do you think about that?”. You open up the dialogue.
Make sure you’re always asking questions and letting your audience know that you want to hear from them.
#4 – The hero of the story is (spoiler alert) not you or your business.
Although it opens up the connection, people do not listen to you for your stories. They listen to make meaning in their own lives.
They are listening for ideas and greater understanding that applies to their own situation and objectives. It’s a very human thing to be fairly centered around your own life – you’re the one living it after all!
So your listener wants to know how, whatever you’re sharing, effects them and their life.
That makes them the hero of the story!
In the standard story arc, the hero is the person who goes through the journey. They try, they hit challenges, and they go through a transformation of some kind. They come out of their life experiences a changed person.
The hero of your brand is not you – it’s your customer, the person who is benefiting from the value that you create. This is a concept that Donald Miller outlines in his book, Building a Story Brand,
Donald explains how instead of being the hero, your role is to be the guide. You and your business are there to support the hero on their journey. No matter what kind of product or service you offer, whether it’s for a paying customer, or a beneficiary who is engaging with that value, it’s really all about them. And the more you keep that in mind in your stories and in your marketing, the more authentic and meaningful brand you will create.
#5 – Show transformation with examples.
I’m sure this is old news to you, but great stories have a beginning, middle and an end. As mentioned, usually there’s the person who encounters some kind of challenge or conflict, and they need to figure out how to move through it, coming out a changed person.
This arc can be summed up as a transformation, or a before and after. You want to use examples in your communications to show that you understand what that before and after is for your hero customer. You get where they’re at and you want to help them move through it.
The better you can describe that transformation through tangible examples, the more people will feel heard and understood. With that trust, they can rely on you as a guide in this transformation.
Those are the five tips I have for you to use story as you build your brand and connect with your audience as an authentic social entrepreneur who hopefully is getting comfortable with marketing and selling because really, it’s your impact is there if you don’t have customers?
Remember, if you’re not sharing your message with a wider audience, aka marketing, then why are you around? Why are you in business? And why are you doing this work? The people who can benefit need to hear from you and it’s your job to make that happen.
If you’re ready to craft the most compelling founder’s impact story, there might still be room in Captivate. Captivate is a 6-week program to help you articulate your story and put it at the heart of your marketing, so you can cut through the noise and attract your best customers, funders, partners and supporters.