Are You Telling An Effective & Memorable Story?

Are You Telling An Effective & Memorable Story?

Think back to the last time you gave your “elevator pitch” and told someone what it is that you do and what your business is all about. If you’re like most people, you froze for a moment like a deer in headlights and then tripped all over your words trying to find just the right ones.

Is that because most of us don’t know what it is we do? No, of course not. We just don’t know how to communicate it effectively — we end up pulling facts out of the air and rolling them into a ball every time the question comes up.

Why not take the time to create a memorable story that you can tell, and that those you tell can tell to others? It doesn’t have to be a long story — in fact, the shorter, the better — but it does need to have all of the main components of a story. And since most of us haven’t given that much thought since high school, here’s a refresher course.

Every good story has:

  • A Hero. Obviously, right? But what most businesses get wrong is that they think they’re the hero. The hero is the customer, the main character of your business’s story, not you! Think about how your story changes when you consider the customer the hero. Would you use others-centric language when telling your story? Would you think about your customer differently? Would you think about yourself differently?
  • A Problem. Every hero has a problem, be it internal or external, but the secret to remember here is that connected to every external problem is an internal problem. Sure, your hero may have dirty air ducts (external problem), but the reason they need them cleaned is that they’re concerned about their children’s health and want to be good parents (internal problem). Think about the problems your hero has and the real reasons they need and seek out your help. Consider the underlying internal problems and the emotions associated with them so you can better craft your story and make it resonate with those you’re telling it to.
  • A Guide. That’s you! You’re the Yoda who’s been in your hero’s shoes (to some extent) and knows what needs to be done to resolve the problem. To be an effective and trustworthy guide, you have to have two things: authority and empathy. If you have one, but not the other, your hero isn’t going to take your advice or follow your lead. 
  • A Plan. The plan is what you offer the hero to help them with their problem. In it, you need to address the negative emotions the hero is dealing with; reassure him that you get it and that the plan can work; show him what’s at stake if he doesn’t take action; and show him what success looks like if he does follow the plan. This is where the story shifts — you’ve guided him through the plan and let him know what action he needs to take. You’ve done your part and now it’s all in the hero’s hands.

So, now that we’ve covered the basics of storytelling as they relate to business, how can we translate the framework into an elevator pitch? Let’s use Spark Marketer as an example. Let’s say a stranger comes up to me on an elevator and asks, “What does your company do?” I might say:

Service business owners (hero) strengthen our communities and provide important services to all of us. They’re good at what they do, they just sometimes need a little help online, which is where a lot of customers are looking for them (problem). Spark Marketer (guide) builds optimized websites and does ongoing marketing, so they can be found by those who are looking for them, where they’re looking for them (plan). We really only exist to help service businesses reach their ideal customers and achieve the level of success they dream of for themselves.”

In this elevator pitch, we’ve described our hero, their problem, and our plan, and we’ve shown that our plan has and can work. We’ve established both authority and empathy as the guide, and shown what success looks like if the plan is followed (more customers). Now, we could probably do a little finessing to make it a bit more memorable, but we’ve got all the basic elements of a story here, so we’re off to a good start.

Have you ever taken the time to translate who you are and what you do into a compact elevator pitch using the basic components of a good story? Challenge yourself! It’s well worth doing and will give you the clarity you need to tell your story quickly and effectively, and those listening the clarity to repeat it. So take a few minutes this weekend to try this exercise!

What About the Unspoken Elements of Your Story?

A quick additional note on story. Have you thought about all of the unspoken elements of your business’s story? Like:

  • Your Email Address – When you have been in business for more than six months, and are not using an actual company domain email address to communicate with your customers and vendors (, you are telling a story about how you don’t know if you’ll be in business in another six months, so why bother? You are communicating loudly that you think being unprofessional and less-than-polished is an acceptable standard for your organization. Is that really the story you want to tell?
  • Your Logo – Your brand mark is a memorable visual story that tells a lot about your company in a single glance. It should take someone less than three seconds to see, read, and interpret what they are seeing in your logo. Your visual story needs to be simple, concise, and memorable, even when viewed on the side of a truck, at highway speeds, during rush hour. Logos with more than two or three elements going on are usually forgotten. Avoid obscure symbology or cleverness, unless you want to explain to every potential customer what your logo means, when you could be using that time to tell them how you can actually help them.
  • Your Uniforms and Trucks – Cleanliness is its own story, and it’s an important one when it comes to local service businesses. A clean, well-maintained truck gets noticed. So does a dirty one, but only one leads to new business. Similarly, a professional uniform communicates a job well done, even before the quote is accepted. A well-branded, well-maintained fleet and crew speaks volumes about your business.
  • Your Phone Manners – I am amazed at how many local service businesses don’t give a hoot about how their business phone is answered – IF it is answered at all! The way you choose to answer the phone will set the tone for the rest of the relationship with your customer and give them a preview of your story. Get it right and you’ll get a chance to receive a standing ovation. Get it wrong and your customer will never even set foot in the theatre.
  • Customer Testimonials & Reviews – This is the part of your story that you don’t get to tell – your customers tell this part for you. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that theirs is a minor role in your production. No, theirs is the lead part. It’s the most trusted, most authentic, and improvisational storyline you have working for you. From a marketing standpoint, it could be argued that, in the end, your business is nothing more than the story people tell about you when you aren’t in the room. And while you cannot script it or write it, you exert an enormous amount of influence before the final draft gets handed in. How? In the experience you deliver to the customer.

These are just a handful of the ways people take in the entire narrative of what it will be like to do business with you. These critical details tell your audience whether or not your business is going to be a blockbuster hit or a box office flop. They let the audience know if there will be a happy ending or a tragedy. They indicate whether you will be showing up on the scene as the hero or the villain.

If you take the effort to get these little details right and clarify your story, then your well-crafted website and the beautifully written marketing messages begin to work in concert with and amplify all that you are doing right in your business. All together, they will do the job of telling the world that you are one of the rarest things in the world of business – a truly good story.

How To Keep Your Brand Message Clear As A Bell

How To Keep Your Brand Message Clear As A Bell

A brand message breakdown can have far-reaching negative effects on your company’s image, and can ultimately affect your company’s fate. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, Google…there are more soap boxes for dissatisfied customers to shout from than ever before. And because these platforms don’t have borders, messages can go further, faster. All it takes is one negative experience to change the perceptions of many.

Most of us have come to terms with this reality and know that businesses can’t afford to have an “off” day or even an “off” moment. There is no “on” or “off” time for service businesses in the Internet age. But should this level of speed and transparency really change anything? We’d argue no.

If you think about it, there’s never been a time when it was okay for service businesses to be inconsistent in their messages or service experience The only real difference is that now, we, the business owners, can very clearly see the messages our customers are putting out there regarding their experiences with us. And these messages can go much further and be seen by a lot more people.

These messages are heard by other customers and potential customers, and become part of our brand message, whether we like it or not. For many of us, just the thought of this is scarier than running out of TP in a public restroom.

But many business owners are so consumed by their fear of negative online reviews and comments that they shut down – they miss the treasure altogether and forget to ask the questions that really matter. Questions like:

Are certain people or behaviors in my company sending out the wrong messages and hurting my business? Where is my message breaking down and why? Do my employees know what our brand message is and how they’re expected to communicate it?

You see, it’s not that business owners got breaks or “had it good” in the pre-Internet age. It’s not that you should fear (or hate) the platforms that now give your customers a far-reaching voice. And it’s not that you should focus your efforts on trying to weed out the Negative Nancys that might leave your business a bad review.

Instead, you should focus on where, how, and why your brand’s message is breaking down, so you can work on making that message clearer and more consistent. When you do that, you’ll find that some of that fear around online reviews dissipates.

And as you do that, remember: Your brand message isn’t just coming from your marketing department these days, but from every post on your social accounts and every single employee that is a part of the customer experience. So, if you’re cringing at the messages your customers are receiving and the messages your customers are sharing about their experiences with your brand, zoom out and take a hard look at what’s really wrong.

All it Takes is One Inconsistency to Destroy Brand Trust & Skew Brand Message

I recently went to a new coffee shop in town to grab a Green Tea latte and get some work done. I was pretty excited when I walked in to find the place empty, with the exception of one employee. In fact, I texted my coworker several confetti emojis to express my joy.

Post-text, I placed my order, took a look around, and chose the perfect little table with the perfect lighting. As jazz music played softly, I opened up my laptop and prepared for a record-breaking productivity streak. But shortly after I started typing, the barista picked up her cell phone, prematurely ending my epic productivity streak.

She talked with her friend about every car her brother had ever had, when she had last taken the bus to work, how her mom had been nagging her to get her flu shot…yada, yada, yada. It completely ruined the atmosphere and made it impossible to focus. My hopes were dashed.

But, as a relatively easygoing person, I decided to give the barista the benefit of the doubt. I figured she would hang up any minute and restore the focus-friendly atmosphere that we’ve all come to love and expect in a coffee shop. Instead, she committed the cardinal sin: she talked about the customer and the job as an inconvenience…in front of the customer (me).

“There’s nobody here…just one person. It’s so slow…”
“I told you, I’ll do that when I’m able. I have a customer and it’s a very small place.”
“I still have hours to go and I just want to leave…”

Ok, now I just felt awkward. My patience had worn thin, so I packed up my stuff and headed to the door. As I left she said, “Have a nice night.”


Now, I know everyone thinks millennials are the worst and have no idea what professionalism looks like, but I’m here to defend at least some of us. I’ve had several jobs in the service industry and I would never have considered having a personal conversation in front of a customer. In fact, I would have lost my job if I pulled out my phone while working. But this millennial…she didn’t seem to have a problem completely decimating the line between professional and personal.

What was the difference between me (a millennial) and this girl (also a millennial)? I’d argue that one of us knew the brand message we were expected to communicate and how we were expected to communicate it, and the other didn’t (or didn’t respect it enough to follow through).

Well, who cares? I had one bad experience at a coffee shop that I otherwise loved. No harm done, right? Eh. Actually, that one bad experience forever tainted my view of the shop. It altered my perception of the brand and made me question the kind of customer experience I would have on my next visit.

I lost trust and confidence in the brand and the experience the brand provided. In other words: even though I had positive experiences with the brand in the past, the honeymoon was over.

The point is: Making sure some of your employees “get it” isn’t good enough. It’s important that every single one of your employees is crystal clear on expectations and brand message, because just one bad apple can end the honeymoon for your customers and decrease their trust in your company. Just one bad experience can communicate a totally different brand message than the one you had in mind.

Let me give you another quick example…

I was on the road recently and stopped in at a Sheetz to grab a water and use the bathroom. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that my 5-year-old twin nieces had just been left unattended in the women’s room for a solid half hour. The floor was covered in water and paper towels, and it looked like the trashcan was more of a suggestion than a requirement.

Now, as a girl who grew up with Wawa and not Sheetz, this one experience was responsible for shaping my expectations of the brand. And I was thinking, “Holly hell…Sheetz is gross.”

As I tiptoed to the sink avoiding what I could of this travesty, I saw it right at the heart of the disaster: A sign from the owner.

“We want you to be satisfied every time you visit Sheetz, so I personally promise the cleanliness of all Sheetz restrooms. If they’re not to your satisfaction, or if you feel there is room for improvement, please call me toll free at …”

Obviously, Mr. Sheetz had a clear vision for his brand message and standards. That message was even written out in his store’s bathrooms. But not everyone got the message or took it to heart.

Maybe there were checklists in place to ensure that the Sheetz bathroom never reached the disgusting level I witnessed, but if so, those checklists weren’t followed. It’s up to you, as the owner, to figure out what’s causing the breakdown so you can fix it.

3 Tips For Keeping Your Brand Message Crystal Clear & Consistent, Even When You Aren’t Around

Running a business is hard work (That’s an understatement). You may not be able to anticipate and prevent every brand message breakdown and customer service disaster. But there are some things you can do to help ensure that everyone in your company maintains professionalism and upholds your company values, culture, message, and customer service standards, even when you aren’t around.

  1. Hire Right. The first step is to hire right. This is easier said than done, but if you take the time to do things right and really evaluate whether or not a candidate will make a great employee and be a good fit for your company culture and values, you’ll have employees that you can trust to uphold your brand message and maintain your expectations for professionalism and customer service — whether you’re in the room or not. Here’s a great article on how Southwest Airlines approaches hiring to ensure a clear brand message and consistent culture.
  2. Clearly Communicate Your Brand Message Repeatedly. Does your team even know what brand message you’re trying to communicate? Do they know what qualities you value and what kind of company culture you’re trying to create and uphold? If this isn’t communicated clearly to your employees, how can they work with you to keep your brand message consistent and protect your company culture? Team meetings, SOPs, employee manuals, and company mission statements are just a few ways you can communicate this to your employees. Everyone should know what you stand for and why your company exists. With a clear vision and purpose in mind, it’s much easier to hit the mark.
  3. Set Expectations & Lead Well. As a business owner, it’s important that you set expectations for your employees. For example, when I worked in the service industry, my employers made it very clear that I was expected to stay off of my cell phone for the entire length of my shift. When I was at work, our clients were my world. And because I knew what was expected of me and what types of behaviors were and weren’t acceptable, it didn’t matter if my bosses were around. I communicated the brand message they wanted me to communicate: that we were a professional company that was 100% focused on our customers, not on what was happening in our Instagram feeds. But you don’t have to get out the employee manual or make a long list of rules to communicate these expectations – you can lead by example. If you maintain professionalism and handle yourself appropriately at work, your employees should hear the message loud and clear and follow suit. Still, it’s always wise to clearly state expectations, so there’s no room for misunderstandings.

Don’t Wait For a Bad Experience – Crystalize Your Message Now

We all get a pit in our stomach when we see a nasty review online or have to face an outraged or disappointed customer. And hey, you can’t always avoid these things. But if you’re proactive and you take a long look at your company and staff now, you can find ways to make sure your brand message doesn’t break down or get altered by employees that don’t know what message you’re trying to communicate or understand (or care) what’s expected.

Ask yourself what could be done differently to ensure that your customers are receiving your brand message clearly and consistently. If you see areas that could use some improvement, don’t be afraid to make those changes. Your business, your customers (both existing and potential), and your employees will thank you for it!