In storytelling, there is one central question that underpins everything the storyteller does. It drives the plot, it motivates the characters, and most importantly, it keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. For businesses, it shows the customer why, without any doubt, they should buy your product. It’s what makes your product essential. So, when creating your marketing content, you must constantly ask:
What’s at stake?
I used to have this written on a Post-It note on my computer at work. When I left that job, I gave it to a colleague, who, not understanding the context, commented that that was a pretty heavy question to be constantly asking oneself (this blog post is dedicated to her.) It is indeed, but it really should underpin all your content because, honestly, if nothing is at stake, why should anyone pay attention to your product or brand?
For many social enterprises, there’s often an obvious answer to what’s at stake – farmers’ or artisans’ livelihoods, people’s ability to access clean drinking water, the continued existence of an endangered animal. For businesses that rely on the story of their impact on people and the environment, it’s easy to see what’s at stake. Communicating that to customers doesn’t need to be all doom and gloom, though; in fact, I would strongly encourage you not to use doom and gloom at all. Instead, focus on the positive of what’s at stake. Companies that focus on how farmers are profiting from selling to them are putting a positive spin on what’s at stake. The implication is that without this company buying the farmers’ products, the farmers wouldn’t have a way to make a living. But instead of the dire message “these farmers will starve without us!” which is a fairly off-putting message to customers, the message is, “because of us, these farmers have a way to earn money.” These farmers’ livelihoods, their ability to feed their children and send them to school, are at stake in either the negative or positive example, but one is a much better seller.
Even businesses that don’t have such an obvious, global link to what’s at stake still have something at stake. Take a tourism company in Washington, DC, for example. What’s at stake for its potential customers? Well, if they don’t take this tour of the nation’s capital, they’ll miss out on an incredible experience and will regret it forever. Again, this is obviously not how you would actually say it, but what’s at stake is what makes it important for people to buy the company’s tour. A locally-owned boutique might communicate that what’s at stake is the coming threat of big box stores to ruin the neighborhood. They won’t say that directly, but when they say “shop small, shop local” part of what they’re saying is that the alternative is big, impersonal, powerful, and a bad corporate citizen.
It does all sound a bit dire, doesn’t it? My point is simply this: remember that there is something at stake for your customer when they’re deciding whether or not to purchase your product. Decide how subtly or directly you should communicate this in your marketing content, and make sure your customer knows why it’s important that they choose to buy your product.
Bonus: Click here to receive your free “What’s at stake?” Post-It note.