We talk a lot about the importance of storytelling when it comes to your small business or nonprofit blog or website, and even how you use social media. We’ve moved away from merely spitting out messages, particularly hard sales or marketing messages, and are now emphasizing the need to tell your story. Your story as a brand, your story as an owner or manager, and the stories of your employees, customers, and clients.

Telling your story isn’t just a matter of having something to talk about. There are actually a number of reasons why it makes good sense, and why you should take the time to rethink your online strategy, and begin telling your story:

1. Stories are how we think and process information

We think in terms of stories and narratives. This is why we watch television and pay money to go to movies. We like the narrative of a good drama, with tension, conflict, characters, and perhaps even resolution. Our lives are not only one big story, but they are made up of shorter more discrete stories. Linear narratives are much easier for us to process than more abstract depictions.

2. Stories open us up to scrutiny

These are the concepts of transparency and authenticity you hear so much about. As we tell our story, we aren’t writing fiction. The goal of telling your story is to tell the truth. As we open ourselves up and share our story, we not only share the triumphs and the good stuff, but we might also share the down times and the warts. If we embellish our story, people might call us out on it. Telling our stories makes us vulnerable. But it is also very freeing.

3. Stories are compelling

Remember: telling the truth doesn’t have to be boring. Some of the most compelling movies and books are works of nonfiction. Right now my son and I are watching Ken Burns’ Baseball, and it is far from boring. You might think your story is boring, but others might not. Stories have the ability to move us. You’ve heard the cliche: it made me laugh, it made me cry. Good stories can sweep us along through a wide range of emotions.

4. Stories provide context

Each little blog post, web page, status update, photo, or video provides a small piece of the puzzle. They are elements of your story. But as you put them all together, they give your customers the big picture; the context. What made you start your business in the first place? What changes have you made over the years and why? How have you responded to changes in your community and culture? What needs were you trying to meet, how have those needs changed, and how are you responding?

These are all a part of your story that help others better understand who you are and what you do, and why they should even bother caring about you.

5. Stories make connections

The best stories are the ones with which we connect; the ones where we can identify with one or more of the characters or the plot line. The ones where we see ourselves as a part of the story, no matter how fantastical it may be. Perhaps you’re a veteran of the American military. That’s a part of your story, and other veterans will see that and it will resonate with them. These connections make the possibility of relationships and community that much more real.

6. Stories help keep you on track

When we tell our story, it’s not just for our customers and clients. It can be beneficial to us as well. This is why the oral tradition was so important in the days before the printed word; it allowed for people groups to carry on their traditions and remember where they came from. As we tell our own stories it serves as a reminder of our journey and our purpose. It helps us remember how we got where we are, as well as our motivation. It’s far too easy for us to drift off path from our original focus or mission. Our story helps to keep us on track.

7. Stories are a great form of marketing

Most of the best marketing and advertising is a form of storytelling, even if it’s just a 30-second commercial. When we watch television, we avoid the commercials as best we can. Commercials are an intrusion; a reason to leave the room or change the channel. But I bet we’ve all been in that situation where we’ve actually clicked on a commercial that is on Youtube because it is so compelling in some way. Most of the commercials that end up going viral online, the ones that people actually want to watch, have one thing in common: they come in the form of great stories. Some are funny, some are dramatic, some tug on our emotions.

Telling your story might just be the best form of marketing you can do, for all of the reasons I’ve listed above.

Need help getting started? Check out Chapter One of Dan Portnoy’s book, The Nonprofit Narrative. Sure it was written with nonprofits in mind, but the principles apply just as well to small businesses.

How are you telling the story of your brand?

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