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How to Tell Your Company's Story: Eight Questions to Get You Started [Slide Show]

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Slide 1 of
120809-0 Intro

Sometimes, the hardest topics to talk about are the ones closest to your heart. So when businesses have to share their stories, they stumble in deciding what to say.

Ann Handley, MarketingProfs chief content officer and co-author of Content Rules, offers eight prompts to help companies begin telling their brands' stories.

Inspired by Handley's recent seminar for Radian6, this colorful infodoodle slide show can help draw out your inner brand storyteller.

120809-1 What is unique about your business?

1. What is unique about your business?

If you can't immediately rattle off your company's outstanding traits, take time to look inward and consider what separates you from the competition. Why should people engage with your company—and not with similar companies in your industry?

120809-2 What is interesting about how your company was founded?

2. What is interesting about how your company was founded? And about your founder?

Beloved brands often have almost mythological stories about their humble beginnings. And folks remember those stories, like the one about two geeky dreamers building a computer in a garage or about buddies who wrote their business plans on bar napkins. A company's origin story—when told well—can captivate customers.

120809-3 What problem is your company trying to solve?

3. What problem is your company trying to solve?

Sometimes, a story isn't so much about who you are but what you can do for folks. For example, not everyone knows how Kleenex became synonymous with "facial tissue" (no one ever says "facial tissue," except Kleenex's competitors), but we all reach for a Kleenex when we need one. Consider telling your story in such a way that customers rely on you to help with their problem.

120809-4 What inspired your business?

4. What inspired your business?

Dig into your brand's past, and unearth the reasons for its existence. Was your company founded by someone longed to bring more awareness for a cause? Someone who went on a trip and saw how business is done elsewhere? Look to the past to find your story for today.

120809-5 What 'Aha!' moments has your company had?

5. What 'Aha!' moments has your company had?

Every person's life is filled with "Aha!" moments—flashes of insight for making life better for your or for others (or both). A company's story is filled with similar moments. When did your company make big, positive changes in how you do business?

120809-6 How has your business evolved?

6. How has your business evolved?

Not all the changes in a company's life are from flashes of insight. Sometimes, technology or world events slowly (or not) alter a company. The Internet, for example, completely revolutionized how myriad companies approached their business, including marketing, customer service, and much more. How has your company changed with the times?

120809-7 What's an unobvious way to tell your story?

7. What's an unobvious way to tell your story?

Think about how you can share your story in a unique way. Have you always relied on articles? Then consider using visual content, such as Instagram photos or Pinterest boards, to tell your story. Are you comfortable with using only videos? Experiment with podcasts and webinars. Learn to love the other colors on your brand's content-sharing palette.

120809-8 What do you consider normal and boring that other folks would think is cool?

8. What do you consider normal and boring that other folks would think is cool?

Because of your familiarity with your business, you might be overlooking its treasures. Approach your brand from an outsider's point of view. What would strike you as interesting and engaging if you weren't viewing the company as an insider? Your employee's hobbies? Your meeting protocols? "Furry hat Fridays"?

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Veronica Jarski is the Opinions editor and a senior writer at MarketingProfs. She can be reached at

Twitter: @Veronica_Jarski

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  • by Chris Bailey Thu Aug 9, 2012 via web

    These are fine questions. But unfortunately, there's something crucial missing here: Where's the opportunity for creating a shared experience? These questions focus solely on the storyteller, the business owner. Any storyteller knows they are just one part of the experience. If the audience isn't keyed in, if they don't feel like they're a part of the story, it all falls flat.

    Other questions that should be asked here are:
    Who is my audience?
    What are their dreams, their fears?
    How does my story inspire my audience's own stories?

    We have to be careful in not confusing storytelling for just the same old me-me-me marketing pitches of the past 100 years.

    Chris Bailey

  • by Patricia Daeley Thu Aug 9, 2012 via web

    I think you miss the point Chris. The title is "How to Tell Your Company's Story", not "How to Engage Clients in a Dialogue" (also a valuable topic). The saying is so old that its whiskers have whiskers, but it's still true: People do business with people they know. The more they know about your company, the more comfortable they are with it. Will telling your company's story pop numbers this month? Probably not. Will it keep numbers high once you get them up there? Probably will.

  • by Leslie Silverman Thu Aug 9, 2012 via web

    I still think asking "why should customers care aboit our story?" Is important. And that is missing here. Even if the point is to tell your story, not atyract business necessarily, I would counsel SmartSite Consulting's clients to focus on their unique value proposition. Otherwise why would customers really engage? Maybe I'm just always thinking "customer connection must reign" but I suppose it's an occupational trait of a veteran marketer. My favorite question for clients: "Why should I care if I am a target customer?". Until they can answer that convincingly, my work isn't done.

  • by PM Daeley Thu Aug 9, 2012 via web

    While I agree that we can't return to the old style of push marketing, I think you're missing the point, Chris. The title is "How to Tell Your Company's Story", not "How to Establish a Dialogue with Your Clients" (also a valuable topic, by the way.)

    There's a saying in business that is so old, but it's still true: People do business with people they know. That's why social media works so well as a business generator.

    Will telling your company's story pop the numbers this month? Probably not. Will it keep the numbers high once you get them up there? Probably will.

    And you better make sure you have a company story as part of your bidding package or presentation to large corporations or government entities. They want backstory. It shows depth, thought, and intention, even in young companies.

    PM Daeley

  • by Chris Bailey Thu Aug 9, 2012 via web

    Patricia, thank you and I respectfully disagree. I believe any story must be an exercise in engaging the audience. As humans, we tend to pay attention to someone else's story when it reflects at least a small portion of our own story. Without that connection, it comes off as overly self-focused and narcissistic. And business today has more than its share of that.

    Yes, we want to know about the companies and people with whom we choose to work. But we want to know those same people care about us as their customers and clients. That can't truly happen without making that connection happen in our stories.

  • by Patricia Daeley Thu Aug 9, 2012 via web

    Point taken, Chris. I guess I'm assuming that any story writer will keep in his/her mind that sharing the universality of the experience is an important part of telling a story. That two-guys-in-a-garage story resonated with people and created a lot of customers for them. There wasn't a whiff of narcissism to that story, but it also didn't say anything *directly* about the customer. It invoked a very human dream of small guy makes it big and let the customer decide whether to buy into it.
    I think we're both right! And if we're smart, we'll both use all the tools we've discussed and more for our clients! Thanks for the insights Chris. I've learned a little more today.

  • by Veronica Maria Jarski Thu Aug 9, 2012 via web

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    Yes, we definitely need to keep the audience in mind. The slide show here is only just one small part of a larger, more comprehensive talk that Ann Handley gave on content marketing.

    When I listened to Ann’s talk, I focused on the very first part of the relationship. This section (the one highlighted in the slide) reminded me of what relationship experts say about dating. Before getting out there, you need to feel confident and secure about yourself and know what you want before you start embarking on relationships. If you don’t have some self-awareness or know who you are and what you’d like, you’ll just get in unhealthy or uninspiring relationships.

    So, I imagine this part---the “know your story” part---as a company finding out their voice, who they are, what they want to share, etc. But then, just as in dating, the company will need to get out the door and really engage with others.

    If you’d like to hear more about the other steps on the way, definitely check out Ann’s presentation. (You can see it at

  • by Chris Bailey Thu Aug 9, 2012 via web

    Patricia, both you and Veronica make very good points. What the garage story addresses is that ideal of the underdog, the small guy rising up from nothing to become a champion. It's a universal story that resonates with so many of us.

    And businesses do need to be ready and able to effectively tell their story. The questions from Ann are good. I've just seen far too many companies broadcast their own story with little regard for the audience, then wonder why the audience feels indifferent or conned by the self-centered focus.

  • by Ann Handley Fri Aug 10, 2012 via web

    Hi all - I was out of town and just now getting to commenting back here... sorry for the delay.

    Thanks for chiming in here and clarifying, Veronica. And thanks, everyone for your comments and points of clarification and addendums. I found myself nodding along as I was reading these comments... so, thanks for the discussion here. To say I love the MarketingProfs audience would be an understatement!

    Thanks again, everyone.

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