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How to Find and Tell Your Story Online

I love this story:

One day, probably in like 1962 or something, David Ogilvy is walking down Madison Avenue when he sees a homeless guy begging for change. By this point, Ogilvy is already a colossus in the advertising world. His agency, Ogilvy & Mather, is one of the largest on the planet. And he’s a bit of celebrity in his own right, owing to his plainspoken insight and bold business ideas. But despite his outsized success, Ogilvy is still, on this day in 1962, a copywriter a heart.

Ogilvy notices a few things. It’s a beautiful spring day in NYC. This homeless man is blind. His sign says simply, “Homeless, please help.” And nobody is stopping.

And then, Ogilvy is struck with an idea.

(Side note: One of my all time favorite quotations comes from playwright David Mamet who, when asked where he gets his ideas, replied, “I think of them.”)

Ogilvy borrows the guy’s sign, pulls a pen out of his suit jacket, and begins copyediting. The new message reads:

It is spring. I am blind.

Oof! What a gut-punch from Ogilvy, a masterstroke of word choice.

The story goes that later that day, walking down the same street after work, Ogilvy notices the homeless man’s cup overflowing with dollar bills.

Apocryphal or otherwise, this story rings true. And it’s a great example of how to tell your company’s story. Let’s look at three ways to suss out your business’s story.

Your Story is in Your People

New Yorkers had passed by countless homeless people. This latest one didn’t make an impression … until Ogilvy’s edits to the sign humanized the beggar. The ad man had transformed the sign from bald beg to human plea. Now, anyone who read the sign would be forced to instantly reflect on this man’s plight and their own good fortune. He couldn’t fully enjoy the beauty of the spring afternoon in NYC; they could.

Ogilvy knew that once there’s a personal connection – a very organic human-to-human moment – anything is possible. You can sell, inspire, persuade, and connect with your customers/donors best when they see you not as a faceless “organization” but rather a team of actual human beings.

Guess what the most popular pages on the entire MightyCitizen.com website are.

Other than the homepage, our staff profile pages see the most traffic. Not our sophisticated sales pages, but our goofy photos and quirky personal trivia is what people are most interested in seeing. This holds true for most big websites. The “About Us” page usually floats to the top of page rankings.

In other words, you’ll unearth the most compelling aspects of your company’s story by starting with your people.

Recommendations:

Make sure you have a great “About Us” page. Link to individual profiles of your staffers where they can share (or choose not to share) their personality.

Put some bling into your customer service. For example, at Mighty Citizen, when we kick-off a new Web project, we send our new clients a box of cookies on which the client’s logo is printed in icing. Or if we hear that a client’s Account Coordinator, for example, broke her leg in a bike accident, we’ll send a Get Well card with a personal note. I’m beginning to suspect that in 2015 and beyond, this sort of tangible service (as opposed to digital) will be a major differentiator between moderate and extreme success.

Your Story is in the Unusual

You’ve got business to do. You have sales to make, members to recruit, product to ship, and contracts to sign.

But what about that Mr. Rogers-looking plant in the lobby?

I mean, seriously, there is a huge, old fern sitting next to the reception desk that looks identical to Fred Rogers.

Share that story.

When I asked the Mighty Citizen staff for examples of websites that they thought told a “corporate story” well, I got a ton of great examples — including UPG Video. Seriously, visit UPG Video’s homepage, spend 1-2 minutes on it, and then try to explain exactly what they do and the attitude with which they do it.

Easy, right? Because UPG has taken the time to agree upon their story, format it in an engaging and lively way, and then put it front and center on their site.

Finally, a note to the big B2B companies out there: So far, this advice may strike you as frivolous. After all, you have highly sophisticated, highly specialized audiences visiting your website. Presumably, they’re looking for hard-and-fast technical information; they don’t have time for anything playful or human.

But in 2015, on the Internet, you can have it both ways. That’s why at Mighty Citizen, we design websites that are optimized for sales and also convey a certain corporate personality.

Recommendations:

  • If your organization doesn’t have a blog, start one. Commit to posting to it at least 3-4 times/month. And when you’re stumped for a topic, write about the Mr. Rogers plant or your disastrous first attempt at a logo design or the time your sales team got stuck in Montreal during a massive snowstorm or how you give all of your customers candy cane bouquets during the holidays or etc.
  • Go visual. Words are great, but visuals – especially on social platforms – are better, especially for documenting the workaday details and stories you might otherwise miss. Visuals are approximately 955% more shareable.
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Your Story Grows

Instagram wasn’t always Instagram. It started as a location check-in app called Burbn (like Foursquare, but less user-friendly). But the designers of Burbn paid close attention to how users interacted with their app. Then they began tweeking. Over time, and after multiple iterations, Burbn morphed into a photo-sharing social network – a pretty far cry from its original plan.

Or take Hasbro, for example. These days, they’re know for G.I. Joes and these two darling, anthropomorphized tubers:

But Hasbro was originally a small textile remnant concern owned by the Hassenfeld brothers. That’s right, the toy giant started as carpet scrappers.

This isn’t to suggest that every business should take a sharp right turn into a whole new industry (though it’s helpful when they’re at least poised to do so). Instead, it’s to highlight that businesses large and small are constantly evolving – e.g., growing or shrinking, tightening their internal processes, positioning themselves new ways in the market, creating new content, etc.

Don’t think your organization’s story is changing? Consider content marketing.

The Web has handed businesses a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the Internet and the rise of social marketing has placed businesses at the epicenter of customer engagement. You no longer have to invest in giant advertising campaigns, because you can connect with your constituents directly.

But with all these avenues of connection now open, what do we fill them with? That’s why “content marketing” is a thing. Because now, every business has two jobs: sell their product or service and curate great content for their customers. To be exceptional – and to drive sales, membership, donations, etc. – you simply must invest in a content-rich strategy.

Here at Mighty Citizen, we talk a lot about “partnering” with our clients. It’s not marketingspeak; it’s the way we think about our clients. After building websites for more than 15 years, we’ve seen up close that a company’s constant evolution demands a digital strategy that evolves with it.

That’s why half of our business is repeat business: because we invest in knowing our clients inside and out, which puts us in a great position to solve their short-term challenges and support their long-term success.

Recommendations:

  • Did we mention a blog? Yeah, you still should get one of those. Use content to (1st) attract visitors whom you then (2nd) move toward your call to action. Content is the bait; your great product and customer service is the hook.
  • Social media is a great way to archive your company’s growth and changes. Remember, sharing the small, seemingly insignificant dynamics of your organization will, over time, create a lengthy historical mosaic that you can mine for content, network connections, and customer engagement.
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