Want to Go Viral? Sell Your Story, Not Your Product
How do you get the word out about your products or services? Do you talk about cool new features or create ads that talk about your next big sale? If so, you might be wondering why your posts aren’t gaining more traction.
The problem is that those sales techniques rarely make a dent with your regular customers, let alone gain the sort of traction that sends first-time customers your way. Ads like those frame your product’s unique selling proposition in terms of the price (as in the case of a sale) or the relative value (i.e., the features you get for the price). That strategy may work for companies large enough to sell their products at significant discounts, but smaller businesses simply cannot offer the same discounts.
Instead, rather than focusing on the products you sell, tell your company’s unique story.
Storytelling in Marketing
Your company is more than a bricks-and-mortar location or the products you sell. Shouldn’t your marketing reflect that? “Revenue is something that happens as a byproduct of a sound business model and a positive customer experience,” write Quicksprout’s Neil Patel and Ritka Puri. “At the end of the day, you’re dealing with people — your company is solving problems, alleviating pain points and providing delightful customer experiences.” Use that fact to start a conversation with your customers.
The concept is called “brand storytelling,” and it provides a way for your company to convey its personality and portray who your customer is relative to your competition. One popular example is Apple’s “Get a Mac” campaign in which a hip, popular actor was positioned as the polar opposite of a bumbling, old-fashioned man in a suit. The two men compare Apple computers to PCs to often laughable results. Adweek called the 66-spot campaign the best advertising campaign of the new century. It told a story about Apple computers without needing to actually show one.
Share a Cause
Telling your product’s story doesn’t always have to be about the product itself, or even about your company. You can create viral awareness of your brand by sharing a cause, whether that be a laugh, a heartbreaking story, or an empowering concept. Beauty product company Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign is a great example of this. The company hired an FBI-trained forensic artist to draw women as they describe themselves. They also asked strangers to describe these women. Then, Dove used the drawings in a video to illustrate the disconnect some women experience between what they look like and what they think they look like. According to Entrepreneur, the “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign earned 114 million views and 3.8 million shares in the first month alone.
The best part about using storytelling to sell your product is that it doesn’t have to be your story; reactive storytelling is equally effective. “The key to finding success in deepening your relationship and maximizing your chances for going viral is often times related to your ability to react to opportunities,” explains Ross Simmonds, the man behind Foundation and Hustle&Grind. “Some of these opportunities exist and can be specifically attributed to your brand while others can be more attributed to the interests of your target audience.”
The example Simmonds used was Oreo. The brand asked its Twitter followers whether they ever brought their own cookies to the movies. AMC Theatres responded, saying simply “Not cool, Cookie,” kicking off a series of shares and retweets that caused one of the largest Twitter spikes in the brand’s history.
When you focus your marketing on the product, you risk competing on price — and that’s a battle most small businesses can’t win. Instead, make a connection by telling a story about your company or product.
Originally published 07/20/17, updated 07/24/17.