The Story Economy Blog

Somewhere Between Credibility and Incredibility

white oak cabinWe don’t have an ocean in Ohio. We don’t have centuries-old ruins or tourist magnet cities. We’ve got good things, though, if you know where to look.

So, a few weeks ago, when my husband and I decided we desperately needed a weekend to ourselves in some kind of secluded inn, completely away from kids and grown-up responsibility, we did what you do: we went online to search for a nearby-ish getaway.

Even though I’m a writer, I will concede that visuals are the number one thing you assess when you’re looking for a place to stay. Good photography will win me over every time—and I know from my time as a writer and field scout for Midwest Living, the independent inn/B&B industry has absolutely figured this out. And they’re good about communicating the basics. They all tell you rates and policies, show you availability, and link you to reviews.

It’s easy to compare. Inn A has a working fireplace. Inn B has high thread-count sheets. Inn C has a deck overlooking a pretty view. Will any of these facts be the deciding factor? Maybe. But what I’m really thinking about is the kind of experience I’m likely to have.

And to talk to that, you need to tell me a story. You’re going to have to connect with me on a level deeper than muffins and pictures of whirlpool tubs.

When we found the White Oak Inn, tucked quietly at the corner of Ohio Amish country, the baseline stuff was all there (that’s a picture of our lovely little cabin). So, we were fairly certain the details were in place for the trip not to suck. But the experience—that’s another matter. And the story of the innkeepers, Ian and Yvonne, is what sold me on that. Busy executives who wanted to slow down the pace of live. A move from Canada to Ohio. A love of cooking.

And then when we shared a glass of wine with them over dinner in their restaurant, the story wasn’t just a story on a web site. It was their life.

This is a pretty easy formula: Live your story, tell it, and then keep living it.

The living part? I don’t know. Just do it. What else can I say on that one?

But I have a lot to say on the telling your story part. A lot.

Credible Isn’t Nearly Enough

In the hospitality industry, it’s rates, availability calendars, amenities, and reviews. In other industries, it’s company history, quantitative and comparative stuff (we’re the biggest, oldest, only), leadership team bios, service and product offerings. I call it the Credibility Stuff. You need it.

But in my view, it’s the “B” stuff. It’s in no way dispensable. So don’t skip it. But don’t rely on it for everything, because it doesn’t usually forge emotional connection.

For that, you need the “A” stuff. The Incredibility Stuff. Your company isn’t incredible because it’s been around since 1899 or because it’s the largest supplier of blahbeddy-blah-blah in the Northeast. It’s incredible because some people did some things, took some risks, channeled a vision, made some hard decisions, and various other assorted things that really need to be explained in a cohesive and engaging way, with the right voice behind it.

The thing is, incredibility is created by context. You might say: well, if I have to explain why my company is so cool, then maybe it’s not really that cool.

Um, no. Just like my husband will never, ever, ever be able to read my mind (no matter how many lovely cabins we retreat to), the world will never be able to read the mind of your organization. So just tell them.

Not to mix my metaphors too badly (since we already have “A” and “B” working), I like to think of the Credibility Stuff on an “X” axis, and the Incredibility Stuff on a “y” axis. And the point right where they intersect in the middle: that’s the story you tell.

So, a real life example of what I’m talking about: right now, I’m working on a site for a non-profit. It’s a long-term care facility. It turns out that long-term care places actually have something in common with the hospitality industry: they focus on amenities and the comparable stuff. The baseline of it has to be there. But similar to the B&B choice, your decision of which nursing home for your loved one is based on the experience you think your loved one and your family is likely to have. (I was a family member in this situation, so I know this to be true.) Why is the organization even in this tough and heartbreaking industry? What motivates them? Yes, I want to know how long they’ve been around—so give me a date, and a few other key numbers. But as I look at the site, I’m trying to get a picture of what it would feel like to walk through the doors: what is the attitude? What do the staffers care about?

So, these are the things we are talking about on their About Us page. Their old site was just a timeline, noting key building renovations. That actually only needs to be about half a sentence. The bulk of the page needs to be painting the picture of why this nursing home is here, what motivates the people running it, and what it’s all about.

(Writing Tip: try the “we’re about 4 things” construct. Start by saying what you’re not just about, then list three things you are about, followed by a powerful fourth one that ties it all together: “XYZ isn’t just about nursing care. We’re about personal connection. We’re about respecting what happens in the autumn of life. We’re about compassion. And we’re about finding joy in the process.”)

Listen, I know you’re credible. I know you’ve got the X axis down to a science. But you are also incredible— so tell people about it. And by incredible, I don’t mean a purest definition of “not believable.” I mean that it wouldn’t be believable unless you actually saw it. But people will see it, won’t they? Because you are living your story. You just need to make sure that you are telling it.


  • Rachel

    Posted by Rachel on 02/05/14 11:06pm

    This article wAs just sent to me by a mentor. How spot on. I've built a company of my bigger dreams because I LOVE what I do, and that works!! Thanks for your reminder!!

  • Rob Bunting

    Posted by Rob Bunting on 02/08/14 6:54pm

    Another great article Judi. Businesses have to be able to tell an incredible story and I would also add "with enthusiasm". Not fake, over-the-top puffery or sales pushes, but a genuine passion for what they do and serving their customers.

    Last month I had a meeting at a company with the President of the firm and his assistant about their online marketing and since their complete lack of enthusiasm when talking about their company was a clear indication to me of why they are struggling. If you don't care deeply about your business, no one else will either.

  • Shel Horowitz - Green/Ethical Marketing Expert

    Posted by Shel Horowitz - Green/Ethical Marketing Expert on 02/12/14 3:50am

    I just said no this week to a guy who wanted me to co-author his book, but it wasn't on a topic I want to write a book about. Meanwhile, I'm finding ways to say *yes* to channeling my business in the direction of making a real difference around hunger/poverty, war, and global climate change. Pretty exciting stuff. The catchphrase will be Business For a Better World.

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