What do you do first when you decide to embark on a business venture?

Now, I know you probably know the to-dos by heart, and all the terms that come alongside. But what if I told you the first thing, or one of the first things, would be to create a story around your brand, or your product?

Yes, you need to create a story, then tell it and sell it to the right audience. Your story is your ‘Why’ – the motivation, passion, drive and energy behind what you do.

There are two questions around the founding of a business; they are: what and why.

What is your product, or service?

Then, why did you create it? Why should we invest in it? Why should we buy it?

This is what tells apart an entrepreneur from a business owner. A business owner seeks to make profit, while an entrepreneur seeks to solve a problem first, then make profit. The distinguishing factor is not only the existence of a need to solve – human existence is saturated with needs to meet; it is also answered in why you decide to solve it. Tell us the story. This is what entices us to engage with you.

Nonetheless, stories are not only told in the first days or the pre-founding days of a business. As a matter of fact, they are told all through the lifetime of the business.

Stories do remarkable things for a business when told properly. For emphasis: a delicate story should be told delicately, a serious story should be told seriously; but all stories should be told compellingly in order to send a strong message, draw in customers in droves, and clinch sales.

However, when a story is told carelessly, without much thought to the pillars that make for good storytelling: the audience, the plot, the environment, and purpose – or, as popularized, the 4Ps: People, Place, Plot and Purpose – the consequences are hazardous for many businesses. Indeed, a good number of companies have suffered sharp losses and severe backlashes because their stories lacked taste, were timed poorly, or simply made no sense.

In 2017, Pepsi launched an ad to address a highly political issue: racial tensions, on the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement. They thought to make it relatable by using supermodel Kendall Jenner. Cringing yet? Well, in the ad, Kendall is in a photoshoot wearing a glamorous outfit when she sees the racial protest. In messianic fashion, she takes off her wig, cleans her makeup and joins the protest. Then she does something that brings peace; she hands the police officer a can of Pepsi, and somehow all becomes well, the tension is doused as the crowd cheers and the police is happy.

If you knew the story, you’d recall that the backlash was so severe. The company had to take down the ad from their official YouTube account although it had millions of views. They came out looking bad, and to think they had set it up to look exceptionally good. The story was poorly constructed, poorly targeted, and in poor taste.

You see, as a business you tell stories through your PR materials, advert campaigns, press releases, social media feeds, events, interactions with clients/customers, etc. You could even tell a powerful story in 3 words, like Win with [name of your company]. This tells a story. It forms a perception and sends a message. It also appeals to human sentiment. Going further, it could be more elaborate, like a 60 second advert or even longer.

Let’s say you own a hair product company and your bestseller is a conditioner or lotion. You run an advert which shows a young lady going for several interviews but being repeatedly turned down. Then she uses your product and suddenly she has 100 per cent confidence. She attends another job interview and lands the job. She wins!

In this story, it might not be decipherable on the surface, but your story shares that what you sell isn’t some luxury hair product made from the finest organic materials; rather, what you sell is CONFIDENCE. That’s more appealing and has more pull-effect, because there isn’t any product in the market labelled confidence, but it is a viable and fundamental human need.

But what if you told the story where the girl had no male attention, then she used your product and voila! She meets prince charming. That’s a cute story, but the reception could be poor, even booed. This storyline is stale and frankly unappealing. Why? The narrative for women these days has changed, particularly the forward-thinking ones who are likely your target customers. Women would rather be seen taking on more powerful roles, and a lady’s allure should come from inside, not outside.

See the fail here? Even though you meet a need by providing a source of confidence, it’s not for the right reasons; or better yet, the reasons that appeal to your target market.

Also, pay attention to the environment. Not only the geographical location now, but the times as well. What are the trends, what are the topical issues, and who is your audience? Your hair product is sold for N20,000 per tube (or $40), for example, so your target market is not the lady whose take-home at the end of the month is only double that amount. You want women whose income not only allows them afford your product with ease, but they also have a circle of friends who can afford your product and remain loyal. Your research should focus on what stories you could tell that your audience would find relatable, compelling,worth listening to and engaging with.

So, what are the consequences of poor business storytelling? It’s a business nightmare. It could go from losses on that product to losing customers, even enduring a lawsuit and a bad name.

Therefore, in all your learning, learn to tell the right stories for your business. It’ll prove to be one of your most valuable investments. Or engage experts at it to help you (we can help, email us at hello@sageworks.ng).

To learn how to tell great stories for your business, read our article: How to Tell Captivating Stories That Sell Your Products or Services. Also keep tabs here for other insightful articles from us, on storytelling and other topics on effective communications and book publishing.