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Dear Entrepreneur, You're Telling the Wrong Story

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

How many times have you been told by a marketer that your company's marketing strategy must include storytelling? One of the recent trends in marketing is for companies to "tell their story."

While there is nothing wrong with telling your company's story, it may not be enough to truly connect with your customers. A more powerful strategy is to give customers their own story to tell.

I have heard it said that if you don't have a shared story with someone, you don't have a real relationship with them. This principle also applies to business relationships.

Below are a few ways to help your company engage in "story giving" instead of storytelling:

Related: To Nurture Business Customer Loyalty, Foster Community

1. Give customers a backstage pass.

If you attend a concert Friday night and sit among the crowd and then attend a concert on Saturday and are unexpectedly given a backstage pass, which concert will you talk about on Monday morning at the office?

As a business owner, figure out how you can give your customers a "backstage pass."

Is there an "employee-only" section that you can invite select customers to enter? For instance, my husband and I stopped in a denim shop called Self Edge in New York. We were invited to see the sewing machines in action in the back of the shop where most customers are not allowed to enter. We felt like we had been granted privileged access.

2. Share a secret.

People always feel important and valued if they are given information that few people have. So if you want people to share a story, tell them a secret. Few people can resist the temptation to share a secret, which means they will likely end up talking about your company to other potential customers.

Don't be afraid to share information that you do not regularly broadcast to the entire world. You may be surprised how quickly the information is passed along. One possible way to "share a secret" is to ask a few select clients to beta test a product that has not been widely released yet.

Related: 5 Ways to Woo Customers With Special Attention

3. Make routine interactions unconventional.

Find a way to make routine interactions unconventional. For instance, Flax Dental in Atlanta hands patients a to-go bag filled with egg drop soup on their way out after they have had major dental work. This is followed up by a personal check-in phone call from Dr. Flax himself later that evening. Patients are always surprised and pleased by this unexpected, story-worthy gesture.

4. Make the story tangible.

Give customers a tangible object to remember an interaction by. Instead of including charts and graphs in a sales presentation, use unexpected physical objects to visually demonstrate percentages and then allow a customer to keep an object as a visual reminder of your point. Make the object unusual enough that people will want to talk about it.

For instance, I forgo traditional promotional giveaways, such as books and pens, and give away a full-size garden shovel to reinforce the brand message of "sowing" the right seeds through public relations.

5. Separate your customers from the crowd.

People are more likely to share a story if the story revolves around them as opposed to a group. Do you know of a customer who was able to make great strides because he or she uses your product or service?

Consider approaching this customer and asking him or her about partnering with you to jointly submit an entry for an industry award. You can bet your customer will talk about winning an industry award, mentioning your product and service along the way.

My challenge to you is to find a way to invite your customers into your company's story so they can make it their own. So don't just tell your company's story, give your customers their own story to tell! Remember, story giving equals story sharing.

Related: Market Research Has Lost Its Mojo. But Here's How It Can Get It Back.

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