What’s Your Business Story?

Dec 3, 2009

I entered the aftermarket industry not many years ago, and quickly realized that just like any other business I have been involved with, having the right “business story” can provide you with a sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Here’s an example. The way we at RealWheels began marketing our wild project vehicles -” presenting our brand at trade events and even the daily interaction with our clients -” contributed toward others wanting to associate and work with us. We learned how to tell our story in a way that gave the impression that we were even bigger than reality, yet accurately described our quality, capabilities and expertise (see sidebar, “Story Line” on page 45).

So, what’s your story? Whenever I’ve presented those four simple words in front of most business owners and/or managers, I’ve found they all agree the words are easy to say, but extremely difficult to answer-” and also difficult to answer quickly and correctly.

The 30-second elevator speech

In today’s business world we become accustomed to receiving information quickly -” even casual communication moves at a much faster pace than werealize. Often, you have less than a minute to make that important first impression and tell your business story. And, the story has got to leave people asking for more. This abbreviated description of what your business does is often called your “elevator speech” -” a compelling definition of what you do, told in a way that gets them to ask you additional questions in less than 30 seconds (like a brief ride in an elevator). This is so important when attending networking opportunities like community events, car shows, trade shows or even while running quick errands to the bank or Post Office. So, give it a shot.

If you start by saying, “We sell a large variety of vehicle accessories,” I’ll start yawning before you even finish. It doesn’t intrigue me as an enthusiast or someone who might have an interest in our industry. It doesn’t initiate any emotion. Instead, begin with something like, “Our team enhances your driving experience with performance, entertainment and safety products.” This will probably initiate another question from someone if they, at least, have a pulse.

Put this exercise to work during your next staff meeting: Ask everyone to write down a one- or two-sentence answer to the question, “What does your business do?” Ask each person to read his or her answer to the group. Then, read the beginning of this article to your staff, and ask them to write another answer based on the new information.

The idea is to get your entire team thinking in a way that tells the real story about your business. The passion that got the business started, the daily enthusiasm of certain employees, the unique vehicles and customers that make regular visits to your shop, and the products or services that you specialize and take pride in.

Your story starts here

When creating your story, it should emphasize what is truly unique or different about your business compared to the competition. This is known as a “unique selling proposition (USP).” Everyone says things like, “We have the best price” or -¦ best service” or -¦best selection,” so those are not unique and should never be considered your USP. Figure out what really makes you different, better and uniquely qualified to do the best job for your customers. Most of you have areas of your business that are really better than others, but haven’t yet realized the potential of creating your story around them.

If your story is to work for you, it has got to be evident in your business attitude, marketing message and even in the way each customer is approached.

The story starts with taking a critical look at your physical business location. For many of your potential customers, the lot, building and staff will make that crucial first impression. Paying close attention to details as simple as making sure the sign lights up at night is so important. Does the location appeal to your core customers? The days when an automotive business could get away with greasy sales counters, a disgusting restroom, and a soft-porn calendar hanging in the showroom are OVER. Determine your most important customer demographic and appeal to them. It should dictate the music you play at work, the products that are prominently displayed, and the way your employees dress.

Follow through

Make a decision to train and set examples for your staff on a regular basis. A team that is committed to a common goal wins. Make sure that everyone in your organization is aware of your “business story” and their role in keeping it alive. Pay close attention to the articles you find, addressing employee training and staffing issues, and use the examples during regular employee meetings.

One method is to identify an area in need of improvement and focus an entire week on techniques to help the staff improve. List basic business necessities like customer follow-up, shop cleanliness, properly handling phone calls and prospecting for new business. Each week, challenge your employees to research a couple of ideas or techniques that can be used to enhance the current topic. It won’t happen overnight, but a focused effort of ongoing and continuous training will be one of your best investments in time.

Finally, make sure that your story carries through in your advertising and marketing efforts. Re-think everything. Many businesses get caught in that old definition of insanity by doing nothing different, yet expecting new results. Do your marketing materials, business cards, phone message and signs follow your story and appeal to your core customers? You might not consider each of these small details very important, but together they become a crucial element of your business’ direction and how each valuable customer perceives your company.

In an economy that continues to challenge us from every angle, many have forgotten about the opportunity. Challenging times also create great opportunities to take more market share. Many companies fall into survival mode and abandon many of the important attitudes that once made them successful. They stop training employees, pull back on their marketing efforts and will never make time to evaluate new ideas and techniques.

Yes, be cautious.

Yes, be lean.

But it might also be time to change your story.

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Story Line

At Real Wheels Corp. we cross into many markets. We manufacture a host of accessories for vehicles from sports cars to big rigs, and we’re actively involved in many other markets (luxury RV, emergency vehicles, the tow industry, SUVs, etc.).

We struggled a few years ago to pinpoint our focus -” and our “story.” Businesspeople often get so caught up in the day-to-day activities, it feels as though we are just “getting through” each week and month -”often, we don’t actively promote or share the elements that makes our organizations great and uniquely qualified to assist existing customers and attract new ones.

Our story has always been “innovative vehicle enhancements.” We’ve gotten some great recognition for having new ideas, products and designs, but we took that recognition for granted and failed to adequately promote it.

Once we realized that, however, we put that message -” that story -” behind every aspect of our marketing. Even the promotional vehicles we create are designed to be unique, different and, sometimes, unusual. The Mindfreak H2, created with illusionist Criss Angel is a perfect example. Combining our abilities and products with the unusual theme of “Magic” became the exact reason why we have enjoyed so much success with the project. Described by AutoWeek magazine as a “new era in cross-promotion” the media attention and duration of extended exposure far exceeded any previous project. Unveiled at SEMA ’06, the Mindfreak project continues to get television coverage and is currently seen by thousands every day at the Luxor resort in Las Vegas.