Marketing, passion, origin stories and authenticity
January 20, 2018 2:22 AM   Subscribe

I run a small business and have received advice about our website being too sterile and anonymous. Marketing person emphasised that getting business is about having a corporate story, a hook, personality, but that these must also be authentic. Frankly my real business origin story is about wanting to spend more time with my cat, and I'm uncomfortable about putting too much about my personality online where it can be linked to my name. Are there any solutions to this?

Our work is around data consultancy, analysis, performance management. We do emphasise selling points like independence, accuracy, experience, integrity, and both my LinkedIn page and my business partner's also link to non-business interests, which we've assumed would help in showing we do have personalities. We try to create free content as much as we can - newsletter etc, though we are poor at prioritising this.

We can develop a brief and dull origin story, which is something about having a lot of expertise in the public sector but seeing that we could have more impact working independently. We do emphasise the effect of managing data well on outcomes for service users etc. But anything more flashy or attention-grabbing is difficult. We both tend to be cynical when we see phrases such as "having a passion for data", so it's difficult to start describing ourselves in these terms.

We're at the point of deciding whether to have one last marketing push or fold the business. The marketing person we saw gave us some other advice which we didn't think fitted our circumstances - creating TED talks and some suggestions about daily emails to contacts that we thought would be counter-productive with our targets - so she may just not have been a good fit for us, but we haven't been successful in getting other advice. After the meeting we honestly both feel despairing about not being the right sort of people to work freelance.

Any advice about business stories and conveying a positive version of one's personality online when you are basically a dour and twitchy person would be really helpful - thank you.
posted by paduasoy to Work & Money (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Who is your audience?
posted by trig at 3:20 AM on January 20

Local government, Health-related organisations, charities, schools.
posted by paduasoy at 3:23 AM on January 20

'But that these must also be authentic.'

Said marketing person has probably read a lot of Byron Sharp, and I'm interpreting 'authentic' as a codeword for 'emotional.'

I'm an advertising copywriter by trade, which means I end up doing a lot of de facto brand strategy, and I work with a couple of B2B startup clients on the side. 'Authenticity' and 'passion' are real easy to sell to businesses - they sound good and feel nice - but your audience does not care. Emphasising authentic, passionate stories leads to the kind of website copy that fails to articulate exactly what your goddamned company does.

So start by sitting down and really thinking about what your audience cares about and why. Maybe even reach out to a couple of existing clients and have an informal chat. I'd wager they care about (1) what your product offering is, (2) how it differs from the competition, (3) how much it costs, and (4) why should they trust you, in that order. Use this to develop your messaging hierarchy: what is the most important message you want your audience to digest about your business, and in what order.

Once you've got the skeleton of your messaging in place, you can start to think about tone of voice. This is where it's useful to hire an experienced copywriter. An experienced copywriter can devise ToV guidelines for your business, and produce copy for all your touchpoints in that 'voice.'

Take a look at Sandwich Video for great examples of how you can communicate your product offering clearly, but with personality. You'll notice that in Adam Lisagor's videos you're never left wondering what the hell this company does - but there's always enough fun, snap and verve in the dialogue, visuals and editing to keep you engaged and paying attention.
posted by nerdfish at 4:35 AM on January 20 [30 favorites]

Based on your audience, are there before and after stories that could be chosen as feature case studies? Perhaps instead of making it about the origin story, pick client stories using a situation, action and result format with a nice photo of the client involved. It's been my experience that people love before and after stories. It's also easier to write about others than it is about yourself.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:20 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]

I think your marketing person is crazy if they think a govt. is gonna pick a data consultancy and performance consultant based on a drippy origin story.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:30 AM on January 20 [22 favorites]

oh good god who cares, or what SaltySalticid said.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:06 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]

Does your marketing consultant have experience with the government and non-profit sectors? If not (and frankly, it doesn't sound like it) please find one who does.

Speaking as a retired state government employee, when it comes to serious purchasing, plain is good. Keep your website design as simple and functional as possible. Don't forget to code for maximum accessibility for blind, deaf, etc. Please do not use overlay blocks, floating elements, animations, autoplay music or videos, or any other damned excrescences. All of these are irritations, distractions, and timewasters.

Have a page where you list your principals, preferably with photos, and their experience and credentials. Make sure everything is verifiable.

List a few major projects or case histories. List current services and ballpark rates.

Make your contact information easy to find.
posted by Weftage at 7:34 AM on January 20 [7 favorites]

If you actually need an "orgin story", head the paragraph with "orgin story" and say something like "We are both data geeks who don't like writing about "orgin stories""

But I don't think you need one for government.

Also, if you are trying to market to charities I'm thinking you might be trying to reach nonprofits. Pay attention to what terms your target audience uses for themselves on the business side.
posted by yohko at 8:04 AM on January 20

I agree that the audience you're targeting, especially government at any level, probably doesn't look at this much.

If you do feel that you have to have something on there, I'd put something along the lines of "business originated from my desire to do good for XX population/work on XX issue in an entrepreneurial setting/have control over the direction of the business/direct engagement with clients etc.."
posted by rpfields at 8:25 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]

Think high end annual reports... Have a look at award winning reports for good ideas on how to express your brand clearly and concisely with a bit of personality.

What I think might help you come across as really authentic and 'fresh' - investing in your own photography rather than relying on stock. Most stock is bad. Good stock is expensive so you may as well get something unique for your dollars. Don't you dare use Unsplash, as great as it is.
posted by teststrip at 8:39 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]

Ok, let’s take a step back. You’re at the point where you are either doing a marketing push or folding? That tells me you don’t have enough clients. And the fact that you’re talking about changing your website with a marketer means you are hoping to get more clients through people seeing your website. If that is in fact the case:

You need to hire someone to set up your website as a sales funnel — it needs to be optimized for creating (and tracking) conversions, and your SEO and AdWords need to be really on point using keywords that your target market will use. Nerdfish’s explanation is spot on for creating content. Your website should be a tool to turn vistors into customers, and you have to use it as one. If you don’t, no amount of ‘authenticity’ is going to help you.

Also, authenticity isn’t about revealing personal information about yourself. It’s more about creating trust, which you can do with case studies, testimonials, and things like that. I agree that your marketer sounds like she hasn’t worked in government / nonprofit markets, so make sure you hire someone who has. Writing good copy and developing marketing strategies are a different skill set than effective web design, which is separate from SEO, so you may need to find two or three people to take care of these different elements. But your marketing strategies, web design, and SEO must all be coordinated for any of this to work.
posted by ananci at 9:41 AM on January 20 [6 favorites]

Thanks for all the answers - much to think about.

Couple of points of clarification - we are an extremely small company, and have had almost no work for five months. We don't have the resource to pay anyone much over say £300. Our marketing consultant has worked in local government, though she doesn't now. We're in the UK, which may explain the difference in naming between charity and non-profit.
posted by paduasoy at 10:10 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]

It's extremely trendy to use marketing to express one's "passion" and "authenticity". At this point, that trope mostly just projects one's slavish trendiness and abject cynicism. At best.

So if you attempt this shtick and don't even believe it yourself, you'll be throwing some mightily skewed vibes into the ethos. Especially if you're a b2b sort of operation, as it sounds like you are. That's really more the domain of to-consumer operations. Brownie mix companies, massage therapists, etc..

There's are plenty of perfectly good and true reasons for people to do biz with you aside from what a gosh-darn fully-committed true believer you are. For example: the quality of your product/service, or its price. I'd suggest you find the parameter that's both true and persuasive (ask longtime customers why they come to you, to get a bigger picture), and go with that.
posted by Quisp Lover at 2:37 PM on January 20

I am a long time web developer, marketer, and business owner. The need for a business/product origin story varies depending on who's looking. There are two types of people out there: (1) relationship-oriented (sometimes called people-oriented) and (2) result-oriented (sometimes called goal-oriented or task-oriented). These two groups have different needs and different reactions to origin stories (or personalized bios à la "Paul lives in Townsville with his wife Lisa and their two golden retrievers"). Relationship-based people like stories and will make purchasing decisions according to how much they can relate while task-based people don't like them and can even perceive them as unprofessional or disingenuous. It's a wash between the two types so I wouldn't bother putting too much effort into this if it doesn't come naturally.

This is not to be confused with social proof - if your product is based on an affinity of some sort e.g. you've invented a hearing aid because you yourself have hearing issues, or you've won an industry award, or you've helped a client triple their sales, now that's something that's been proven to work across the board. That's what I would focus on.
posted by rada at 11:09 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]

To address your follow up response. . . 300 L is not enough to get any of this done well. You need a budget for the work, and a budget for the advertising to follow it up with.

So. This leaves you with three choices:
1) take out a loan. Use it to hire good people to do a good job on your website and SEO, with enough left over to pay for a decent ad budget and someone to help you with that. This involves some amount of financial risk, obviously. The goal is to get a decent ROI so you can continue the business (and the marketing of it).

2) figure out how to do this yourself. There are lots of tutorials, informative blogs, and books to teach you the skills you need. This may take some time, possibly more than you’d like it to.

3) walk away from the business. If taking on potential debt seems too uncomfortable (and that’s a perfectly valid way to feel) and you don’t have the time or desire to DIY it, find something else to do :) Sometimes it’s best to stop while you’re ahead. Listen to your gut.

I say this as an entrepreneur who has walked away more businesses than most people have started. That’s just how it goes. You try until you find something that sticks, or you hang up your entrepreneur hat and go work for someone until you want to try again.
posted by ananci at 6:13 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]

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