Five Questions to Unlock Your Story

Unlock your story

I want to tell you a story…about storytelling. Over the past 16 years, I can’t recall a client who has walked through our door that did not have an interesting story. How they were founded. How they have conceived unique solutions to confounding problems. How they turned imminent failure into great success. How they have devised a better mousetrap. And the ever popular, how they were the best kept secret around.

What’s curious is that, more often than not, those stories were not always readily apparent. Only by the dint of our questions and exploration, of prodding them here and poking them there do we often get to the gist of it. And only then can we begin the telling.

And so I wondered, what is the process by which we help clients unlock their true stories? If you’re struggling to determine how to best talk about yourself, to distill your story into that elevator speech or to work up a compelling media pitch or blog post, here are five questions to ask yourself.

What is your objective?

In other words, what’s the point of your story? Most often, you want the audience to get a clearer picture of what you do, the product you sell, the service you provide or the problem you are solving. But it has to be more than that. Let’s say you’re a solar company specializing in residential installations. It’s not enough to let folks know that’s what you do. After all, there are plenty of others in the same business. Your objective should be to find elements of who you are that distinguish you from the competition — perhaps you’re the oldest or biggest or fastest, but even better, find ways that demonstrate the depth of your expertise, backed up with statistics, insights, anecdotes and achievements. Above all, your objective should be to capture that essential part of you that makes you stand out.

Who are you talking to?

Who are your most important audiences? If you’re a B2B company, the answer is usually pretty easy as your product or service is designed to help a certain kind of business customer. And if that’s the case, you can tell your story at a more sophisticated level, assuming your audience is conversant with industry terms and inside-baseball references that demonstrate you’re on the same wavelength. For those marketing to more of a consumer audience, drill down to determine what that ideal consumer looks like. For both situations, we like to create 3-4 personas who represent the target market. We give them names (e.g. Housewife Harriet, Millennial Mark, CMO Carol) and assign them various attributes to bring them to life. Personas help keep us focused on our most important audience segments. And when we know who we are talking to, it’s easier to frame our stories accordingly.

Where are you telling it?

The platform for your story makes a difference. If you believe that a story in the newspaper is the best avenue for reaching your intended audience, then you will need to have a newsworthy element to it. Perhaps you are launching a new product or are on the forward edge of new trends in your industry. A change in leadership or expansion plans could pique media interest as could the release of statistics or survey results, even an industry honor you have achieved. Then again, if you are more inclined to tell your story as part of a content marketing strategy – creating original content that you push out on digital platforms — then you have the latitude to be a bit less newsy. These platforms lend themselves to your insights and expertise, often conveyed through case studies or anecdotal experiences. They are the perfect forums to offer advice and tips and where you can showcase your acumen in your space.

Who should be telling it?

Point of view is an often-overlooked consideration. Of course, it often makes sense to have the president tell your story, especially when he can add a personal narrative to how the company was founded or opine on your current market position or strategy. But don’t automatically default to company leadership. Consider leveraging your internal subject-matter experts — product managers, engineers even sales people — who can often provide deeper or more granular insight and have a more nuanced understanding of your customers’ needs and challenges.

Why should we care?

If you have a good handle on your target audiences and personas, you ought to have a clear idea of the things they care about. Your story should be less about you, and more about how you can help them — be more productive, save money, enhance efficiencies, grow their business. We’ve had an occasional client who were more interested in raising their profile mostly to stroke their own egos, and we typically shy away from such relationships. Instead, we’re interested in helping our clients tell their stories to audiences that should logically care about hearing about solutions to their problems.


Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

Read more by Josh

Leave a Reply

Sign up to receive our blog posts by email