The Customer Is Always the Main Character

A sword sticks out of a mountaintop overlooking a valley and more mountains, waiting for a hero to draw it.

The Valerian team has some philosophies about websites that we just won’t budge on, and we have blog posts on a couple of these already: we build our websites on WordPress and content has to come before design. The one that I feel most passionately about is this: when it comes to the story you’re telling about your business, the customer is always the main character

Folks occasionally get tripped up by this, because a lot of business owners think that they need to tell “their” story to attract customers. But what this often ends up looking like is a business that seems to really like to toot their own horn. 🤭 This kind of positioning is what gives birth to those terrible About pages where the text seems to go on and on, and there really isn’t anything of interest, just some old photos and some version of “there once was a person with a dream…” 

What difference does it make?

Because it’s kind of typical to tell a brand story that has the business in the spotlight, it can be hard to picture the alternative or figure out how it makes any difference. But I think that when a business is positioning itself as the main character, it’s obvious, and once you see it, you’ll never be able to unsee it.

Uninspiring vs. aspirational

When a business is at the center of the story, the result is uninspiring and sometimes even boring. 🥱 The reason for this isn’t because the story is wrong, it’s just not being framed properly for its audience.

Have you ever been stuck in a conversation with a group of people where you don’t know everyone, but they all know each other? This kind of conversation often trends toward inside jokes and references to shared experiences. Because you’re missing so much of the context, it’s not long before your eyes glaze over. Everyone else is having a great time, and the conversation feels very lively and entertaining to them. But it doesn’t have anything to do with you, and you can’t figure out where you might fit. So you tune out or leave the conversation.

It’s the same for the story about a business. When it’s all about who founded the company and what they’ve done and why, the customer isn’t really sure where they fit. Are they just the faceless people behind the money that keeps the business running? But when the business starts telling a story that puts the customer front and center, their attention is grabbed. Maybe the customer realizes that the story isn’t necessarily about them in particular, but it could be, and that gets them fired up.

If you tell the right kind of story, you can give the customer a new aspirational identity to pursue or put on. This can look like making them feel good about themselves, or it might be that you are empowering them to achieve something that was out of reach before. 🤩 

The business has all the answers vs. the business offers guidance that empowers

Businesses are encouraged to frame their services or products as the solution to their customers’ problems. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but there’s a way to do it that is disempowering and frustrating and there’s a way that is empowering and motivating. We always want to help our clients achieve the second.

No one likes being told what to do, at least not obviously, and consumers are no different. 😤 So instead of touting your solution in a know-it-all way, you want to offer it as the missing link. 🔗 The customer is capable of overcoming their current situation, they’re just missing something. And you happen to have it! It’s not a shortcoming or failure on their part; it’s just something they haven’t come across yet. 

Most of us don’t want to be damsels in distress, waiting for someone to swoop in and save us. Most of us want to feel empowered to do the saving ourselves. 💪 When you show that you understand the struggle, your solution feels a lot more empowering

Dismissive vs. empathetic

Accepting help or advice can be tough, but it’s immensely easier when we feel like the person offering help understands our struggle. For customers who are looking for a solution to their problem, it’s just as important to feel understood as it is to find a solution. 

If you center your business in the story you’re telling, people might not feel like you really get what they’re dealing with (or how hard it is), but if you show them that you get it—or better yet, that you’ve been there too—they’ll trust you in a way that saying “I know the answer!” will never accomplish.

Think about the last time you told someone about a struggle you were having. Did they jump right to trying to solve your problem for you? If so, you probably felt frustrated because we need people to understand our feelings before they try to help us change. If you jump right to solving your customers’ problems, you might end up coming across as dismissive. 

How to recast the main character in your brand story

If you want to start making your customers the main characters in your story, you’ll need to do a little work to make it happen. And it isn’t as easy as just talking about yourself less.

Think through the whole story

To tell a good story about your new main character, you have to really know who they are. Ask yourself: Who are they? What do they want? How do they feel? What are their values? How did they get to where they are? 

If you have access to demographics about your current customers, leverage those data points to get a clearer image of your main character. The more you can zero in on the details of who your customers are, the better the story will become! (It’s okay to have outliers—most businesses will—but you want to talk to folks who are generally like most of your customer base.)

Then you need to figure out your new role. You’re no longer the main character, so who are you? Are you offering sage advice? Gifting a secret weapon? Clearing the path before the hero? All these roles have an important place in the story. Think about your favorite books or movies, and try to find the knowledgeable guide that helps the protagonist on their journey: Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, Haymitch in The Hunger Games, Yoda in Star Wars, Dumbledore in Harry Potter. That’s the role that your business is playing in your new brand story! 🧙

Talk to your customers

You’ll know how to talk to your ideal customers when you talk to the ones you have! 🗣️ I absolutely love when I have access to testimonials and reviews when I’m working on a website project because I can see the language that real customers are using, and it’s usually a little different from the business owners’. Sometimes they’ll say something in a way that I know will play with the intended audience, or they’ll mention something that the owner hasn’t even said once. 

This can also help with SEO because you have to know what customers are searching for to be able to rank for those terms. But at an even more basic level, you have to speak their language to prove that you’re a trustworthy guide to listen to in the first place.

Change your wording

There’s a subtle shift I make when writing copy for a client, especially when I’m working with something they’ve already written. As I’ve said, a lot of folks are used to talking in a business-centered way, so they default to writing about their business the same way. But I often change things slightly so that they become a little easier for the customer to “try on.”

Here’s an example: instead of saying “We always look out for you!” I’d want to say “Your best interests are at the heart of what we do.” Look at where the second-person pronoun (i.e. you/your) shows up in those two statements. 🤔 The customer will be stepping into anything with a “you” because that’s where they fit into the statements a business is making on its website. In the first statement, they have to wait until the end to see themselves; in the second, they show up at the beginning and they can immediately start picturing their interests as they read on and see how the business handles them. 

These kinds of shifts can be powerful in all your marketing materials, not just your website. If you can train yourself to try to keep the spotlight on the customer with your wording, it’ll make a big impact. 

🌿

Making a big shift in the way you talk about your business can be a bit of a struggle. That’s why I do what I do with clients! Sure, I’m writing and optimizing the words that appear on your website, but I’m also figuring out the best story to tell. That’s something you run with, even after the website project is over!

If you’re struggling with this concept, leave me a comment below and I’ll do my best to help you recast your main character in a way that will be compelling to prospective customers. And if you’re looking to create a website that tells your brand story in a way that gets people excited and encourages them to engage with you, check out our website packages, and I’ll look forward to working with you soon! 🥳

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