Market Together Promises to help design your marketing strategy using stories to tell your business story.
Brought to you by Chris Sissons, Local Marketing Coach.
What Makes Market Together Different?
Every business has a story to share and a huge range of media to choose from. Many business tell their story without using stories. Stories are about people, eg the founder, the staff, their market. Or they are about products, services or a cause. They connect with prospects at an emotional level and the right story can do your selling, without a hard sell.
Most marketing experts help you promote an offer through a specific medium, chosen to fit the message. Few start with stories and allow them to form the message. This is important because your message is not solely about your offer; it is the human face of your business. Does your message show you can be trusted to deliver?
Unlike other marketing services, Market Together doesn't do stuff for you. For example, if you need a copywriter, the challenge is not only finding the right person for the job but also managing the relationship, to help them provide the best possible service for your business. Market Together helps you understand what's involved in finding stories that work for your business and then how to support your copywriter, so they do the best possible job for you. This works only where you know your stories and understand how they work.
This applies to every aspect of marketing, eg website design, sales funnels, product launches. Whatever approaches to marketing you use, your stories underpin your marketing. Without stories, your marketing is likely to be similar to everyone else's and therefore you lose business to everyone else.
The Market Together Story
I introduce myself as a local marketing coach because I've worked in neghbourhoods for many years. I've supported economic regeneration, community planning, grant awards and participative methods. A few years ago I asked myself, what next? I reviewed my career and careers of close colleagues and noted most projects we initiated no longer exist.
Many were excellent projects with just one fault. They were not sustainable because they were funded through grants. The neighbourhoods in which they were based were in the end, no better off than they were before the grant and sometimes actually stepped backwards.
I asked myself, what actually does work? Successful communities are neighbourhoods where active business life supports a great sense of community. Business creates spaces in which relationships develop. The traditional Agora, the marketplace where businesses combine with political institutions, places of workship, law courts, schools, sports venues ... Businesses are an essential foundation for all the other institutions that make life worth living. And these other activities increase footfall for businesses.
There are many types of business and they contribute in different ways. But businesses are often unaware of the contribution they make. Their focus is on profit and so they easily lose sight of the positive contrbutions they make. I often quote the economist John Kay: "Profit is no more the purpose of business than breathing is the purpose of life".
Stories are by far the best way to convey business purpose and the real contribution businesses make to their neighbourhood, town or city or region. Even if they have a global market, their roots matter!
Develop and Integrate Your Marketing
I approached Chris initially because I was looking for help preparing a website for my new coaching and training business. A key thing I learned early on from Chris is that website preparation is only partly about graphics and design – what really counts is how you develop and integrate the marketing of your services. Much of this was new to me, but the end result is a lot of positive client feedback on how professional and focused my website now looks. I would certainly not have achieved this without Chris’s support. Along the way I’ve also picked-up lots of useful tips about verbal and written presentation, and networking. We’ve also built a marketing plan, which I’m now poised to put into action.
Chris was conscientious and supportive, and good at challenging my sometimes too-comfortable assumptions. He has given very good value and I’m more than happy to recommend his services.
Stories: the mirrors I needed to reflect
Chris, I wanted to say how important the work we're doing together is to me and how much clarity it's bringing.
One of the problems being intuitive is that very few people recognise what you do because they don't recognise that facility in themselves. It's taken me a long time to find the mirrors I needed to reflect back who I am and what I'm doing so I could express what my business is serving better. This journey we're taking is allowing me to do that.
Marketing is about telling a consistent story across several media. Find out how through my Facebook Group: "Storytelling in Marketing".
Most business-owners know they benefit when they support others. Join "Telling Stories: Making Business" meetings for mutual support.
Coaching or non-directive consultancy helps business owners deepen understanding of their business and the marketing it needs.
Act 1: Early Childhood
I attend loads of business meetings and always feel the same way. I don’t mind a one-to-one or addressing a crowd for a few minutes but I dread the time I’m left to my own devices; when I have to approach strangers (or people I know) and engage in “spontaneous” conversation. Why do I still find this so hard?
I remember Mum telling me that as a little boy I was charming. She said we once stayed at a hotel in some seaside town and I had a small blue suitcase filled with toy cars. I insisted on taking them around the dining room and showing them to all the guests. My parents may have been embarrassed but I was not! Mum wondered aloud, “Whatever happened to that delightful little boy?”
As a child, I followed loads of interests. I remember the Saturday in November 1963, marked by the first episode of Dr Who. I always loved stories, especially science fiction. I read the SF greats like Arthur C Clarke or Isaac Asimov and they led me into other fiction such as Huxley, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
I was dead set on my interests in SF and biology, to the exclusion of people around me. I was not good at sport and this led to bullying. It was brutal throughout Junior and into Secondary School. I was mercilessly mocked and all too often forced into hand-to-hand combat. I remember fighting not so much the ringleaders but weaker boys themselves bullied into fighting me. There were several really vicious all-out fights, where I gave as good as I got. We beat each other until exhausted. One of these temporary opponents became a friend and we still exchange Christmas cards.
I never gave into the bullies. I did what I wanted to do and did not let the mockers sway me, other than avoiding them. My secondary school became co-ed in the third or fourth year and for the first time, domestic science became available to boys. I was the only boy to take up the offer despite the inevitable opprobrium.
By sixth form, I worked out that returning thump for thump was an effective way to deal with my enemies and so things died down. My interest in biology led me to concern about the environment. It was the time of the Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth” and I remember many lunchtime “top corridor trundles” with my friend PHV, debating the likelihood of a second ice age.
Returning thump for thump was Dad’s idea. I always admired him. In my earliest years, he’d leave for work out the back door and down the passage. He’d “look through the letter box and wave through the window”, as I followed him through the house.
We had serious conversations on all sorts of topics. We agreed that between us we knew everything worth knowing! Around the dinner table, in the kitchen preparing a meal, whatever he was doing, we would talk.
During one conversation, I must have been 5 or 6 years old, in the kitchen of our old house, my father told me about death. People become ill or have an accident and die. I said I could avoid these and never die. He explained, no everyone dies. Really? It seemed so unfair!
Act 2: What Went Wrong
I studied biology at the University of York. By this time I was painfully shy, retreated into reading, classical music played on a record player and few friends. I was awkward with girls but who is not at that age? As far as any serious relationship went, I was way out of my depth.
One day, I met Robin, who studied biology too and ran a Christian bookstall. My father had told me Christians believed only they would go to heaven. I asked Robin, what about those who never hear of Jesus? He replied they are given the Bible to read in heaven and allowed in if they believe it. It’s easy to see the holes in this explanation but here was a Christian who did not believe all unbelievers were damned. On the strength of that he sold me a book!
Several years later, in Newcastle during post-graduate studies, I decided to argue for Christianity. I was running a bath at the time. I went along to the University Chaplain to discuss the next step. “What do I have to believe?” I asked. He replied, “Nothing.” I hope he’d be pleased if he knew I took this one word to heart and still hold to it today.
I was still a loner but my new faith led to new things. In the late 70s, a few years before Greenham Common, I joined Peace Action Newcastle. PAN was gloriously pagan, led by Bill Chadkirk, a committed Quaker with whom I argued for years. He had the idea of Peace on Wheels, a fortnight in 1979 where 14 of us toured Cumbria performing street theatre and offering non-violence training. I organised the itinerary, local contacts, participants, accommodation.
At the same time, as I wrote my PhD thesis about activated sludge, I became increasingly disillusioned with science. I did not have the patience to conduct experiments and became bored. I decided on a career change to community development, even though development work depends upon ability to relate to people. First I took a year out, back in Sheffield with the Urban Theology Unit. There I met a group of friends with similar interests. We formed the Praxis Group and we’ve met 2-4 times a year, every year since 1984. No matter how much they despaired at me, they’ve kept me going.
Struggles with Myself
My credentials as a radical and intellectual led to employment with various community projects, often church related. The first was in Wallsend. It was for one year on the Battle Hill Estate. Things went wrong and I had a serious disagreement with my employer, the vicar. I was utterly devastated and it took me a couple of years to regain confidence. That was when I met someone who had been employed by the same vicar and the same had happened to them.
My next appointment, in Middlesbrough was more successful. I found out towards the end of my time there that the congregation at the church where I was based had seen my problems from the outset and had agreed to discretely support me. I was not so lucky at the next Methodist Church, where I worked, where the people found me to be too controlling and took three years to tell me. I was devastated again.
Crisis – I Take on Too Much
By the 90s, I worked for Industrial Mission with a community organisation in Attercliffe, Sheffield. We worked for several years on economic regeneration. I had a great working relationship with Rose. She chaired the community organisation where I was based. She would call me to her desk and explain what today’s problem was. I would suggest a few possible approaches and as soon as she heard the right one, her hand was on the phone. She taught me to drive in the fast lane on the motorway. She sat in the back seat with a large glass ashtray on her knee, assuring me that driving in it wouldn’t bite. We got there and back in one piece!
But Rose and I fell out big time. We won a European Grant to purchase new premises and bring in new staff. We had to transfer her community group’s assets to a new Trust to get the money. It was war! As the tension grew I took more and more on by myself. Not sharing or trusting others. I was stressed out and on the day of the crucial meeting, visibly shaking. At the meeting, we thought we’d lost the vote until my hard work paid off and 60 people walked into the room, the most people they’d ever seen at an AGM! The assets were transferred, we split the new Trust and the old group took over one of our projects. It was a professional victory and a personal defeat. I knew something had to change – but what?
Act 3: Breakthrough
A few years earlier, I discovered the Enneagram, a personality classification that identifies 9 distinct personality types. Having identified my type, I went to a weekend workshop at a Catholic retreat centre. At the conference, we sat in 9 type-groups in a huge circle. On the Friday evening, we were given our first task. We would complete it and see how each type approached it. I turned to my fellow type-5s. I’ve never encountered such an intimidating group! The men had beards and glasses. The women were dressed in severe tweeds, with their hair tied back. No-one smiled. No-one spoke. The other groups happily got on with the task. After an eternity of staring at one another I thought, I’m a development worker, if I can’t break the ice, we’ll never get anything done! I suspect we were all terrified, as soon as I spoke, the ice broke, we got on really well and because 5s are brilliant by definition, we completed all our tasks in great detail and to perfection!
After the Rose crisis, I spent a year supporting the new Trust and reflecting on what had happened. I toured the country in June 97, visiting similar projects. I saw many great projects and similar conflicts to the one I’d experienced. I’d over-identified with the local residents and so needed to be clear about my role. I saw the importance of supporting others as they develop their own work. I started to wear a tie to work!
Conflict is always present but I found, with support, know-how and encouragement, people achieve miracles. I discovered participative methods and studied non-directive consultancy. The latter is often called coaching and it remains core to my approach.
My group of type 5s sat there as if with “Keep Off” signs around our necks. I realised that in Attercliffe and many other times, I over-compensated for my inability to relate to others by taking on too much. I never allowed anyone to get too close. When people self-isolate, we put up keep-off signs. They’re hard to remove because we don’t want to.
I needed to affirm that side of myself. I found the opposite of isolation is not company, it’s solitude. We all need community but equally we have a deep spiritual need for solitude. I noticed how people seek it. They might fish on the side of the canal, have an office in a shed at the end of the garden, go for long walks. When we find this positive space, our hearts expand to fill it.
Participative methods and coaching are about creating space for hearts to fill, where human beings flourish. Wherein they find the Promethean flame for the benefit of others.
Act 4: What Happened Afterwards
Way back in the late 80s I met a man who did this. I probably spent 4 hours with him and he changed everything for me. He was one of a small group in County Cleveland who organised a course for long-term unemployed called Dark Holy Ground. Robert’s gift was listening, he heard and reflected back what others said. When the unemployed shared their stories, as they confessed their failure to make something of their lives, they observed that while one person may be at fault, a dozen sharing similar stories suggests the fault lies elsewhere. As they shared, they found renewed purpose, even though nothing changed materially.
Robert, a Church of England Priest, told me how he listened to stories of deep pain. He created a space where people could tell the stories they feared to tell because of pain and guilt. “And do you know what I feel?” he asked “when I hear those stories?” I shook my head. “Joy. Because it is at those moments I find I’m closest to God.”
My Father Again
Dad told me, not long before he died, that he was disappointed I didn’t follow him into sheet metal work. He’d been self-employed for 30 years, bought a house and supported me and my sister through university. I owe so much to him and he never saw the truth. My sister is a fashion designer, cutting and making clothes, as he cut and made balustrades and ducting from sheet metal. I was never good at design but I followed the man who came home from work and sat in front of the tele reading books on politics, philosophy and religion. I don’t think he ever understood how much I owe him.
I follow in his footsteps
And now we find ourselves in enforced isolation or else cooped up with the same people for days on end, with no chance of solitude. Everyone has to adapt, although to some extent this has always been my world. And the uncomfortable truth is there is no return to normality. The challenge for business owners is not solely how to adapt to lockdown but also to the world into which we eventually emerge.
I’ve known the power of stories for many years. Conceived in solitude, they open space to grow as a person and they’re a gift for the inspiration of others. They’re important to marketing because through marketing businesses change their world for good or ill. But more than that they are the only way we make sense of this newly broken world.
Those who choose to change dreams into reality through self-employment, who create opportunities for others, customers and employees, suppliers and by-standers, all need to find space to reflect.
Before the lockdown, I ran “Telling Stories: Making Business”, a lunch and learn twice a month. Now I offer opportunities to write a story as part of a community of business owners or tell it through spoken word online. You receive feedback and so help others hone their storytelling skills. If you would like to know more or need help with more than a single story, ask me for a conversation.