“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” —Robert McAfee Brown

Small businesses spend a lot of time and attention trying to get customers into their location or onto their website. That’s money spent on advertising, search marketing, signs, and everything that goes into generating leads.

And then all of that effort frequently falls apart when someone shows up in person or on the website and has a lackluster experience of the business. Poof! All those resources spent getting them to that point go down the drain.

So how do you make sure that person has a good experience of your business so that they’ll spend money on your product or services?

In person, good service will set you apart. The first moments are critical. Imagine someone coming into your home – you invite them to sit down, have something to drink or eat, and engage them in conversation. And that helps someone feel welcome and relaxed. Your business greeting process needs to accomplish the same welcoming experience: people don’t stay or spend money if they feel uncomfortable, awkward, or unwelcome. You have an opportunity to not only create a good experience – you can also start to build trust. Demonstrate to them that your business will always make sure they are heard, seen, and respected.

Now, all of that may seem obvious… But think about the times you’ve entered a business and no one has spoken to you, or they continue conversing among themselves and don’t acknowledge you, or there’s nowhere to sit to wait, or no information about how to check in or get in line or what needs to happen. None of that feels good – I’m betting any experiences you’ve had like that didn’t endear you to that business.

Online – when someone finally does come to your website to check you out – the process is much the same. People need to know what to do next, to feel welcome, to know they’re in the right place, and to be able to find the information they’re looking for.

You could accomplish this on your website in straightforward, obvious ways: calls to action, menus, headlines, arrows, and buttons. And that would work. That would be like the government office that has arrows on the floor and sign posts telling you which window to go to, and roped areas for where to wait in line. It’s all functional and works, but not very engaging or inspiring. Or memorable in a positive way.

Humans love stories. So put your website together as a story leading your visitor through the process of understanding your business, how to find things, and help them move to the next stage. Put them at the center of the story: the hero that has found the right place.

Perhaps this all sounds crazy, hard to do, and unnecessary. Well, it’s not really all that hard to do. And it’s not necessary – you could just do the obvious that I mentioned above: the buttons and arrows approach. As for crazy, it’s human – and humans are quirky, unpredictable, and appreciate good experiences.

As for how to do it, let’s go back to the in-person experience. Imagine you’re the customer. (Note: I’m assuming a critical constraint in this example I describe so that we can apply this to a website: so instead of having the business just ask how they can help, they actually need to create a journey for you to go on in the business.)  Here’s how it might look: when you walk in, you have 2-3 options for where to go depending on the category of what you’re there for: Option 1, Option 2, Option 3. You choose Option 2. You head in that direction. You then learn from a sign that frequently people who choose Option 2 have found that a particular course of action has been very helpful. So, you decide to give that a try. An employee shows up and explains how that might work for you, what’s next, and invites you to give it a go.

(I realize that was kind of a vague description – you could imagine a book store, or a clothing store, or an accountant’s office. They all fit.)

Now, we can take that description and apply it to your website. A visitor arrives. Your website paints a picture of how your business feels to a customer, using imagery, words, and the look and feel of the page layout. So, the visitor experiences a general impression of your business.

Next, you have some words about what they might be looking for and how that might fall into one of 3 options. You have descriptions of how those options help customers solve problems. And an invitation to learn more about what that involves.

In just a few paragraphs, headlines, images, and buttons, you’ve communicated how you’ve helped other clients, what you offer, how it differs for various types of challenges, and where to go to find out more. That’s a story – you’ve offered a storyline. You’ve helped your visitor feel welcome, and given them some autonomy while also offering help.

While all that really sets you apart, an additional advantage is that the experience they have with you is memorable. In part that’s because they had an easy time ‘walking’ through the experience. And if you’ve created a story, that increases the chances of being remembered dramatically, because there’s a sequence and steps to take.

Here’s the bottom line:

  • Make sure you have a compelling experience to offer someone who’s come either in person or online to see what your business is all about.
  • Storytelling creates one of the most compelling human experiences. Use it to help people feel good and remember your business.
  • Keep the story simple, but keep it a story.
  • Remember that your visitor/customer needs to feel a sense of welcome and autonomy at the same time.
  • And they need a happy ending: finding a potential solution to their challenge that’s also part of a good experience.

Creating a good (or great) experience requires really understanding your customer. Spend time listening and getting to know who you best serve and what they like most about buying from you. I’ll discuss this more in an upcoming post.

Now you can check out the experience your website offers, as well as the in-real-life one you might have, and see how you’re doing on creating a memorable storyline for your visitor or customer.

“And do you know what is the most-often missing ingredient in a sales message?  It’s the sales message that doesn’t tell an interesting story.  Storytelling . . . good storytelling . . . is a vital component of a marketing campaign.” —Gary Halbert

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