Marketing might help you make a sale, but authenticity is how you earn loyalty… and that doesn’t come from data or slogans. It comes from personal stories, and a whole lot of soul.
Just the other day, a friend complained that the tote bag she’d had her eye on for weeks was completely sold out. When I asked if she could find something similar from another manufacturer, she conceded that she probably could, but, in her words “I really like this particular company. I like their story.”
It reinforced a message that I deliver time and again to my business coaching clients: Whether we are service providers, entrepreneurs, or job seekers, our personal stories matter. They connect us to the people we are selling to, the people who are hiring us, the people who are choosing our products and services instead of the competition’s.
The significance of incorporating personal stories in your marketing and your elevator pitch is huge, but unfortunately many of my clients don’t want to take the time to develop theirs. Instead, they give excuses:
“My product speaks for itself.”
“My client testimonials prove I’m a great service provider.”
“Everything you need to know about me is in my resume.”
To which I say… When you leave it up to someone else to decide what makes you special, they probably won’t – and the opportunity will go to someone else. You need a story that differentiates you from the pack, and to create a powerful one, you need to know your “why.”
1. Your story should explain your “why.” This is the element of your story that people will relate to even though they have nothing else in common with you. Think about the rags-to-riches story of a pro-athlete who overcame childhood tragedy and went on to become a star. That he or she has athletic talent most of us will never possess is not what we care about; we care about the story, because it is about determination to succeed despite the odds. We all know what it feels like to have the deck stacked against us, so we feel a connection with people who were dealt a crappy hand and won the game anyway.
2. Your “why” doesn’t have to be complicated or Earth-shattering. Your “why” might be as remarkable as overcoming a life-threatening illness… or it could be as straightforward as identifying an everyday problem and creating a solution. Think about Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, whose “aha” moment came when she was struggling with pantyhose before a work dinner and realized that there was a need and a market for functional shapewear. Anyone who has ever donned a pair of tights can relate to her story! But just because you didn’t invent Spanx or win a NBA championship doesn’t mean you don’t have a “why.” It doesn’t have to be exciting or flashy to be impactful — it just needs to be authentic.
3. Everyone has a “why.” I often work with clients who are pursuing careers based on their college major, which they claim they picked because they thought it would give them job security. They don’t think that’s a worthy “why,” but there is always a deeper connection between what you’re doing and why you’re doing it if you’re willing to investigate your decisions. For example, there are countless majors you could choose that would have provided you with job security. Why did you choose finance instead of pre-med? Or government instead of communications? The answers may be more revealing than you think.
4. Your story doesn’t have to resonate with all people – it just needs to resonate with the right people. Accept that you are not for everyone, just as everyone is not for you. Getting back to my friend and the tote bag: The “why” of the manufacturer of the tote in question is that joy doesn’t come from consumerism, it comes from having fewer objects of higher quality. Personally, when it comes to handbags, I tend to be a “more is more” kind of gal, but their story serves its purpose beautifully. When you are authentic in sharing your “why,” the people whom it appeals to will seek you out time and again, ensuring your success in the future. That’s the kind of payoff you will get from developing a thoughtful story.
It takes courage to open up and be honest about who you are and who you seek to serve, but owning and sharing your story with prospective clients and employers becomes the backbone of your professional persona. It is also a powerful reminder of what you are about if you ever feel pulled in conflicting directions. Taking the time to thoughtfully and authentically find your “why” and tell your story is therefore one of the most empowering ways you will show up for yourself in your career.
Remember, all people, clients and employers alike,make choices from the heart… Only by speaking from yours can you truly connect to theirs.
This first appeared in Forbes.