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How to Market Your Business: The 7 Rules of Storytelling

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

Whether it’s your social media, your blog, your About Me page on your website or all three, marketing is about story-telling. And we want to teach you to tell your story better.

What better way to learn how to tell a good story than to look at some of the best storytellers in the business.

Pixar, the movie production company, has 22 Rules of Storytelling that they use for every movie they make.

These rules offer incredible lessons on how you, a small business owner, can better tell your stories on social media and on your website.

If we’re being honest, though, 22 rules is a little daunting, so we are going to start with our 7 favourites.

Rule 1: Stories are Universal

When you're posting on social media or on your website, make sure your audience can relate to what you're saying.

Think about your favourite Pixar movie (or any movie) in which you find a relatable character. Why do you find a story or character relatable? Is it the infallibility? Someone who always does the right thing?

Probably not.

It’s the ups and downs of life that people relate to. It’s vulnerability, authenticity. It’s their mistakes, their humour, their spirit, their laughter that makes a character relatable.

Rule 2: Make Sure You Have Clear Purpose and Structure

Often on social media, when we have no idea what to post, sometimes we just try to post anything.

But before you post, ask yourself, “what’s the point? What do I hope to accomplish from this post? What can my audience gain from this post? What value does it provide? How can I take this post and relate it to my business?”

While there is no need to overthink it, there is something to be said for thinking about the structure and design of a post. Do your posts on social media consistently involve a lot of text? Is that what your audience wants to see and routinely read? Are your blog posts set up to be easily read? Are your posts visually appealing?

Structure is important: templates, format, medium. Purpose, though, is especially important.

Is your visually-appealing post relevant to your business?

If we, as communications company, wanted to celebrate Mean Girls Day with a post saying only, “It’s October 3rd,” it would be completely off-brand, completely irrelevant. It offers no value and no meaning to our audience.

However, we could take that trend, post it, and write a caption about how it’s time to have your holiday marketing strategy well on the way. Or we could say, “It’s October 3rd. Which means it’s a good day to post on Google My Business, because any day is a good day to post on Google My Business.”

Remember that you're not just selling products and services. You're selling your products and your services. Make sure your audience knows that, too.

See the difference? It doesn’t help to post just to post, or to hop on a trend just to be trendy, without putting your own stamp on it. Tie it back to you, your business and your story.

Rule 3: Give them Someone to Root For

Think again about your favourite movie, Pixar or not. Think about that relatable or endearing character. Throughout the movie, aren't you just hoping with all hope that they'll succeed in the end? You're rooting for them.

In your small business, you are that character. You want your following to root for you; to want to see you succeed.

If you only post your products, we can’t connect with you. There’s no human element and what we end up looking at is a basically a flyer or catalogue where the pages turn very slowly. If we only wanted to see your products and services, we would go to your website.

By putting yourself out there you give your audience someone to root for, and that emotional connection leads to loyal, supportive clients and customers.

Remember that these aren’t just products and services you're selling. They are your products and your services. Make sure your audience knows that, too.

Rule 4: Create An Emotional Appeal

No, we’re not suggesting you lay on the guilt with this one. I'm not saying it's "Buy my stuff so I can afford to buy my kid a birthday gift."

It’s about ripping down that curtain between the audience and Oz. It’s about being open and honest and human.

By using emotional appeal, we’re talking about having a sense of vulnerability, a theme which has been repeated throughout these rules.

Share your hard days.

Share the days when you added a bit of nutmeg to your coffee and it was the best thing to help you get through the piles of inventory you had. Show us how you cried tears of happiness when you got a puppy, and can’t wait to have his sweet face greet your clients as they come into your store.

Be authentic.

Rule 5: Surprise Me!

Pixar films tend to stray from the traditional fairytale story. 'Damsel in distress is saved by a prince and they live happily ever after.' Yawn.

There needs to be an element of surprise to keep audiences interested, to keep us engaged and coming back for more.

If you’re not a dancer, dance anyway. If you don’t normally go live on Facebook - go live. It doesn’t have to be the content that’s surprising. It can be the medium used to share the content.

It can also be the context of photos, taking products out of their element or normal environment to have some fun and add the unexpected.

Picture this:

You sell running shoes. You share a photo in January, in which someone is walking on a red carpet, a fancy dress on, but with the skirt lifted to reveal running shoes, with the caption, “running into awards season like...”

Or you own a high-end restaurant. Show your 5-star meal on a paper bag (or borrow your kid's lunch bag), “not quite like your school lunch, but guaranteed it will still be the best part of your day.”

Make it memorable.

Rule 6: Keep Your Posts Simple and Focused

We have so many things going on in our lives: so many elements. And there are so many things we want our customers know about and to buy.

But, the bottom line is that you can’t put all of that into one post.

It’s too much and too overwhelming for your audience. Our attention spans are pretty much trash now, thanks to our phones, the pace of our lives and how we consume content. So keep your posts and your messaging simple and keep it focused.

Ask yourself, could this post be split up into two or more?

This will also allow you take what may have been one post and break it up into several pieces of content. And who doesn’t love having more available content?

Rule 7: Keep Your Audience in Mind

This rule really summarizes the first six.

We tend to push what we want to sell. What we want to buy. We create our social media, our blog, etc about us, and for us. We rarely think about the audience the way that we should. After all, if we were doing this for ourselves, we would be writing in a diary, not posting on social media.

Always remember to think about what’s it like to be in your audience's shoes. What are they doing? What are their needs? How are they consuming content? What questions might they have that you can answer? What problems do they need solved that you can help with?

Remember that famous John F. Kennedy quote? It was something along the lines of, “ask not what your audience can do for you; ask what you can do for your audience.”

We’re paraphrasing.

Give your audience a story that makes them want to stick around and keep turning the pages. Give them a story that makes them never want to see, “The End."

Perhaps they never will.

Want to watch Toby talk about the rules of storytelling? Click here

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