Use the art of storytelling to separate you from the competition

We all know a good story when we hear one, don't we?

It draws us in. Connects with us personally. If it's really good, we remember and even share it with others.

The good news is that every company has a story like that. This story, if you bring it to life, can appeal to both customers and recruits, generating interest with people - and companies - who share your vision.

But for many manufacturers, the stories they're telling aren't compelling. For example, when asked what's behind their success, most are quick to respond, "It's the people." Yet their websites don't have any people in them. Instead, we see pictures of drab buildings in front of empty parking lots.

Some companies are figuring this part out. Their websites are more professionally designed, the imagery more vibrant and the language more upbeat. But, when push comes to shove, their value propositions - stories that sum it all up - too often disappoint rather than deliver.

They focus on products and services - just the facts, ma'am. Or they highlight the ante and not the trump card, with vague language about "meeting customer requirements," "providing solutions," or "delivering high quality." In today's competitive landscape, this story failure is a significant missed opportunity to get ahead. 

At Trefoil Group, I'm often asked, "What should I do first? Should I tackle my website, invest in social media, exhibit at a trade show, or launch an advertising campaign?" My answer is always the same: "First, have a good story to tell." Say something important about how you help customers overcome challenges. Showcase what's better about your approach. Own a leadership position in your niche. In short, give people a reason to remember you and to want to engage in a conversation.

A story that captures a niche leadership position

Take Donnelly Custom Manufacturing, for example. When we first began working with Ron Kirscht and his team, Donnelly was positioned as an injection molder specializing in short run. Working with us, they made the bold decision to really own the short-run story. Under the brand, How Short Run Is Done, Donnelly highlights its commitment to setting the standard in this niche. Customers know exactly what to expect, and employees know exactly what they need to deliver. More than that, Donnelly's team takes pride in their ability to manage a level of complexity and commitment that others, quite simply, can't. And there's a swagger that's both memorable and earned.

A story that delivers a unique customer experience

Let's look at Park Bank, a Milwaukee area bank that specializes in business banking. You can't differentiate a bank based on its products and services, but focus groups offered two very important insights: One, that Park Bank's clients really do like them. And two, this is rather unusual. So, instead of saying something cliché like "exceeding customer expectations," or "committed to each customer's success," The First in Lasting Relationships brand takes a bolder approach. It quickly gets to the heart of the issue - that relationships matter - and that most banks are simply not delivering on this promise.

Good stories like these are critical in differentiating your company in a meaningful and memorable way. By telling them, we show people that we're up to something special that the people you're after - whether they're customers or recruits - will want to be part of.

Once you've got that story, use it across all of your communications and make it a focal point online. Create a website that speaks to your differentiation and value proposition, highlighting the great people on your team who are doing great things. And above all else, don't let the parking lot sit empty.

Mary Scheibel is principal of Trefoil Group, a Milwaukee-based firm that helps manufacturers address complex issues through digital, PR and other strategic communications programs. She can be reached at [email protected] or 414-270-3513.  

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