Lee Odden

The Importance of Story Before Marketing

Tootsie Lou Lou Dolls

Recently my sister in-law, Melanie, shared with me the success of her initial ventures into a new business selling a collection of handmade dolls, stuffed animals and blankets. A successful medical career working at a hospital keeps her more than busy, but the side venture is enabling her to make her creative hobby into something more.

Our recent discussion about turning this venture into a business surfaced many questions that a lot of new business owners face: What might be involved with hiring, manufacturing, logistics, taxes, incorporation and of course marketing.

Melanie has a knack for writing about her creations on Facebook and Pinterest in an enthusiastic, helpful way rather than promotional.  But there is something that Melanie, who is a self-proclaimed neophyte to business and marketing, did that the majority of companies do not do that gives her an advantage. This is something many mid-market companies and large enterprises forget.

In the rush to operationalize, scale and push up and to the right, many marketing organizations laser focus their efforts on the mechanics of marketing without ever making one very important connection. This thing, that so many professional, well-funded marketers often don’t do, is pretty much the first thing Melanie did.

She figured out and documented the story behind the product. She humanized the meaning of her product in relation to herself and for her future customers.

Of course she’s been able to tell that story verbally, but she took further steps to incorporate photos and the personal story behind why she started making the dolls and even how she makes them into a hard cover book.  She brought the book to a recent expo where she displayed her products for sale and pretty much sold out of the dolls. Now she’ll be using that story in her online promotions as well.

Facts Tell, Stories Sell

Having helped many companies go from zero to hero with online marketing over the past 15+ years, I can’t express enough how valuable having a story behind a new business or product is for creating a marketing plan.

While it didn’t take long to register a domain name, order hosting and install basic WordPress with a simple template, the time to create a meaningful story is far more valuable.

Rather than filling that WordPress template full of promotional marketing hype, Melanie can use it as a platform to tell her origination and product story as well as the stories of her satisfied customers. Along with photos and descriptions of product, she can also use her dolls as characters to create other ongoing stories. Telling those stories through images, short videos and text will create a meaningful experience for the people she directs to the website and provide the kind of content that can convert because it both informs and entertains.

We can add SEO, offers, ads and other online marketing tactics of course. But I think the most important thing before scalable marketing is to figure out what the story is for a product, for a company or new venture. Every content object created should have some element of story to it and a connection to the larger narrative of the brand in a way that’s meaningful for a target audience.

I think growing a community and momentum of awareness and attention will be a lot easier with great stories and marketing than with marketing alone. For that reason, I think Melanie is a lot further ahead than many thousands of other soloprenuers in her position.

What role does story have in your business or marketing plan? Do you identify story angles with your content? Do you align content with a larger brand narrative that communicates who your company is and what it stands for?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. My brand Lee is built on the story of a guy who went from overworked security guard to world traveling internet lifestyle guy. Tell stories. Draw in like-minded people. We all have such interesting stories to tell, if we’ll just tell them on a persistent basis. Awesome message.

  2. I buy pens from Skilcraft on Amazon. The pens are manufactured by blind people. They are a non-profit and all the proceeds go to helping blind people. The government buys their pens. To get the contract with the government each pen had to be able to write (not run out of ink or break down) for one continuous mile. One of their pens was used to sign the peace agreement with Japan in WWII. They are better and cost less than anything on the market that I could find .
    They are the SKILCRAFT U.S. GOVERNMENT pens you know and love.

    How could I ever buy any other pen for general office use. It would be shameful for me some other piece of crap pen because I know the story.

    I am not blind and I don’t work for skilcraft.

  3. Storytelling has been the buzzword off and on since advertising became a thing. It’s always coming out of the buzzword pile because, at the end of the day, it’s a timeless skill. Stories have been an essential driver of change throughout human history.

    • Indeed, Barbara – it is a timeless skill. Also a skill that is grossly underdeveloped. But that spells opportunity for those who recognize and develop it 🙂

  4. Avatar Gab Goldenberg says

    Fascinating case study here Lee. I think it’s a great point and underscores that truth of marketing – people buy from those they like. Who do you sell to after you’ve sold to your brother and uncle? Make more relationships like your brother and uncle!

  5. People buy from who they trust.

    Storytelling entertains people. It gain the trust as well

    The fact is that your story has to have a moral idea related to your products.

    I usually use my story to start an article. It is easy to grab attention.

  6. Avatar Jonathan Gogola says

    Telling stories is a unique and undervalued marketing tool. It does not just help to develop close professional relationships, but it also humanizes your product. People by nature need to feel a connection to something, so when you add a story behind your product it makes a thing into a connectable entity that links to the consumers feelings. At what point is the story to much, at what point is the connection lost?

  7. Telling stories will let your customer feel the’emotional essence’ of your product and you as the owner. You build connection with others. Just like your putting emotions to what you offer, not just a service or product, but more than this is a ‘brotherly/ sisterly’ sale thus people buy because they trust you. This article is an important reminder that marketing never ends at selling, it is in connecting.