Tag Archives: Brand

Powerful storytelling for business

by Amy J.V. Atwell

StorytellingI attended the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability conference (LOHAS 2013) in Boulder, Colorado a few weeks ago. As a first-time attendee, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, other than a focus on conservation, wellness and sustainability. I was pleasantly surprised at the diverse topics covered and, as a purveyor of words, the sessions titled “The Power of Story Telling” and “The Wisdom and Power of Words” caught my eye.

Rob Holmes, founder and chief storyteller (why didn’t I think of that title?) of GLP Films, presented the former session. A great story, he said, must be “powerful, engaging, educational and perpetual” and it must “take a risk.” To illustrate his point, he shared short clips of a few of his films.

I admit to being easily moved to tears, and the snippet of GLP’s “Okapi Conservation Project” certainly did the trick. The clip opened at about minute 4:31 and, after an intro of context-setting images accompanied by intense music, these words appeared on the screen: “In the early morning of June 24, 2012, a group of Mai Mai Simba rebels attacked Epulu Station, headquarters of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.” Pause. Next image: “They killed six people.”

Powerful and engaging? Check and check. Perpetual? You can bet that short film clip will stay with me for some time. My limited experience of okapis include brief sightings at the local zoo and crossword puzzle clues, but this film instantly pulled me into their story – and it left me wanting to know more about the people working so hard to protect them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As a writer, I don’t often have the benefit of music or powerful images to help tell my stories. I most often rely on words and the occasional still photo. As a business writer in particular, most stories don’t carry the impact and weight of a tragedy like the one at this African wildlife center. Still, I think Holmes’ lessons on how to tell a great story apply.

Below are a few of my key takeaways from his presentation and how I apply them to business writing:

Feature strong characters
Businesses are made up of interesting people. Your business is not your building or your logo. It is not even your product or service – it is you, your colleagues and your customers. A fact sheet on the features and benefits of your product is fine, but an account of the human experience goes so much further. A human face – a human story – allows your readers to connect with your business on a more personal level.

A recent food tour in San Francisco led my husband and me to Hog & Rocks, a ham and oyster bar. I think its staff page is a great example of how to highlight the faces – not just the food ­– of the business. After reading the page, you want to sit down to share a cocktail and watch a game with all of these guys.

Engage the audience
Again, fact sheets are fine, but your story needs to go deeper than that. Think about your story from the readers’ point of view: Why did they seek out your website/Twitter feed/newsletter in the first place? How can you meet that need and reel them in enough with your content to ensure that they stick around for awhile? Facts and figures might help them make a final buying decision, but your story is what will help make them a truly engaged fan.

One brand with some of the most passionately engaged fans is Apple (well, duh), and I love its web page targeted at creative types. It is a clear example of engaging a specific audience through the use of storytelling.

Take a risk
You don’t have to present your business or your product exactly the way the other guys do. In fact, I would argue that you can be a lot more successful by doing the unexpected. Be quirky, or shocking, or silly. As long as it fits your overall brand and strategy, taking a risk can make your business more memorable.

I met a local franchisee of this moving and junk removal company at a chamber of commerce event a few years ago. Just the name of the business is risky, but it’s memorable. I purposely didn’t cite the name because I want you to click the link to this company’s blog, which features a unique approach to public relations that helps it stand apart from other moving businesses.

I’d love to hear some other examples of great storytelling that you have encountered.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

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Be memorable, and be human. Perfecting your personal brand.

by Amy J.V. Atwell

personal brandA friend of mine, and fellow freelance writer, recently told me he’s thinking of leaving the freelance world because he’s “never been good at self-promotion.”

I also know professionals who don’t believe in posting their headshots on LinkedIn or with their newsletter articles – and these are director-level individuals who are making high-level business deals on a daily basis.

So, is posting a photo with a social media profile or newsletter shameless self-promotion? I don’t think it is. It is part of creating a memorable personal brand.

Here’s the thing: People don’t do business with businesses. Not really. Oh, sure, there are a few business brands so elevated that they attract millions of fans with a mere swoosh or apple symbol (assuming the product meets muster, of course). Is your business Nike or Apple? No? Then, bottom line, your business is you.

People do business with people. Your company might have a great reputation, and a great brand, but that only takes the deal so far. You and your interactions with customers are an extension of your company’s brand. The human element – a personal touch – helps sell your company’s products and services to customers, aka other humans.

Connecting with customers on an authentic level puts them more at ease. That doesn’t mean you need to become best friends with each contact – not at all. It just means you need to be human. If you’re simply a walking, talking billboard for your company, how will people remember you? Or will they remember you at all?

What if you change jobs or industries? When you try to reconnect with people in your network, will they have a benchmark for who you are, or will they remember you for the sales pitch and one-liners? Your personal brand follows you throughout your career, so it makes sense to be mindful of it and develop it.

With that in mind, here are some tips:

Don’t be the gal or guy people dodge at networking events.
Years ago, there was a regular at networking events I attended. He wore mint green plaid pants and salmon shirts, which was helpful for identifying him in a crowd – and planning my dodging strategy. I had been cornered by this guy before, and he was notorious for blathering on about his product and not much else. Which leads me to…

Don’t blather.
Take a breath. Take a sip of your club soda and lime. Create pauses that allow the other person to speak. If you never let the other person speak, you will never gain valuable insight into why this person could be a great connection.

Don’t just push – connect.
If you do all the talking, you might as well be practicing lines in the mirror. Your goal is not to push out as much information as possible. Your goal is to share ideas and discussions that lead to genuine connections.

Step outside your sales pitch and share something the other person can use. Not only that, but encourage questions and dialogue. The information you share should be the fodder for an interesting conversation. This rule applies both in person and online.

Do post your photo on your LinkedIn profile and personal Twitter page.
Before you ever meet contacts at a networking event or a business meeting, you are likely connecting with them online. Your photo, and a well-written profile, is your chance to make a good first impression. Do not underestimate the power of putting a face with a name (and title, resume and value proposition).

Do be positive.
At a recent business mixer, a contact and I quickly discovered that we had a business organization in common. This commonality would have been great way to develop a conversation and a connection had he not chosen to go negative immediately. He spent 15 minutes spewing venom about the organization and its staff, and I could not wait to make my exit. He did not leave me with a negative impression of that organization – he left me with a negative impression of him. I am not likely to seek him out as a business connection as a result.

You don’t have to put on a phony smile or fake an optimistic outlook, but do be aware that using positive words goes a long way in leaving your new contact with a positive impression of you and your business.

Do listen.
Pay attention to memorable tidbits about the other person and his or her business. Ask questions and use the information gleaned to further the conversation. Remember those pieces of information to start conversation the next time you see someone.

Do be yourself.
I love what Twitter has done for people on this front. In your short Twitter bio, you can let people know about both your business and personal interests in a few simple words. The same should hold true elsewhere in your online presence, as well as in your in-person conversations. You never know when your interest in vintage toys or WWII history helps forge a long-standing business relationship.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.