Does the story of your small business turn customers on?

English: Fire stoking as at intermission of st...
Storytelling. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The local South African film industry is struggling to tell good stories but often they run aground. Mass audiences are more interested in escaping from the harsh reality of modern day life in the country and rather lap up the Hollywood blockbusters. A local film “Of Good Report” was supposed to open at a film festival last year but was not screened on opening night because the censorship board decided it was unfit for public consumption. “Hard to Get” is a hard-edged story which, as one film critic said could help to attract cyber kids away from their tablets and smartphones into the cinema. Going back many years even to 1973 films have had short-run lives. “Joe Bullet” was a groundbreaking movie for the mass market but was banned only after two showings because of its actors.

While film producers and screenwriters in South Africa battle to come up with “product” that appeals to a big enough market, it’s worthwhile to think about the “stories” that small business owners are telling their customers. You don’t need a big budget to tell your small business story or communicate your value proposition to the local filmmakers but you need to know how to grab and hold your potential customers’ attention. Yet whatever story you tell it has to be realistic and truthful because you can’t get away with a fictionalised story.

The power of storytelling in small business was brought home to me recently when I visited a small coastal town in the Western Cape. A restaurant that I had visited before had now turned over the its theme to lighthouses. Stunning photographs of lighthouses and ornamental lighthouses were displayed in the dining area. The problem is that the restaurant fell short of telling a coherent story. For one thing just down the road is a famous lighthouse but it got no mention or visual display in the restaurant. Extending the theme further, the restaurant which has a nondescript name anyway could have changed its name to, for example, the Lighthouse Restaurant.

Just how important this visual storytelling is became clear when we popped into the restaurant across the road which had no such story to tell and on a Friday evening was patronised by a motley crew of a tiny sprinkling of customers who were essentially seat warmers in this dimly-lit place. The restaurant across the road with the lighthouse theme on the other hand attracted a more upmarket, fun and lively crowd who appeared to be enjoying themselves.

A small business needs to choose its theme carefully. Some themes like “artisinal” have already gone mass market and may well repel customers unless done authentically.

Yet when you choose the right theme for your business story you may well differentiate yourself from your competitors and attract the profile of customers you want.

“Lowest price” and “widest range” are themes used by giant chains and institutions but for the small business owner or start-up they are deadly.

Small businesses need to compete on value, not price and their narrative must be based on providing something different and exclusive that is hard or impossible for the Goliaths to offer. A little work on your business story could give your sales are left in these hard trading conditions.

If you are serious about telling your story, “Breakthrough Ideas” sports a chapter on promotion with marketing ideas you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Go here for a copy.

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