Show-don't-tell marketing: how to share your business story with integrity

In coming months, we're going to be doing more Offbeat Empire posts catered to small business owners — especially our fellow "non-icky WIC" offbeat wedding industry types.

Ring eaters
Don't just TELL potential clients that you cater to theropods — SHOW THEM! Thanks to John and Melaney for submitting this to the Offbeat Bride Flickr pool. Photo by Lesley Brown Photography

I spent over a decade in the corporate marketing trenches before I founded the Offbeat Empire. If I learned anything from my time with Microsoft, Amazon, and The Seattle Times, it's this: the best marketing is just about telling a story. Really, all you're trying to do is share stories that potential clients might be interested in and might see themselves in… all with the hopes that those potential clients will themselves become a part of the story.

As a writer, however, I know that it's all about SHOWING (not telling) your stories. Don't just TELL people about your business's new products or values — SHOW them.

Why this especially matters for offbeat businesses

This "show-don't-tell" marketing is especially important for businesses that cater to non-traditional or niche markets. Potential clients don't want to just hear you tell them, "I love clients like you" — they want to SEE real examples. Don't just tell them that your product will make their lives easier with a list of features — you need to SHOW all the specific benefits.

Things get extra sticky when you mix a niche or marginalized market with business communications. There's a risk that your marketing can start sliding into pandering territory awfully fast. I've seen this frequently with wedding vendors who are eager to cater to couples who identify as LGBT. "I SUPPORT MARRIAGE EQUALITY!!!" vendors will say. "I LOVE ALL KINDS OF LOVE!!" But talk is cheap, and why should a potential client trust your intentions? If you want to aim for show-don't-tell marketing with potential LGBT clients, you need to stop telling everyone how gay-friendly you are and start SHOWING them with examples of your LGBT weddings, testimonials from your LGBT clients, and promotions catered to LGBT couples.

But what if you don't have anything to show?

Ok, ok. But what about if you don't have any work you've done yet to show? Let's use the example of a wedding photographer who wants to shoot a, say, steampunk wedding. They've tried telling by posting on their Facebook page: "Contact me about your 2014 steampunk wedding!" but that didn't work. How can the photographer SHOW? Well, they could go to a cosplay convention and take pictures, to show how great they are at making elaborate costumes look great. Then, once they've got the images in hand, they can share them with the subjects, and also do post about how much fun they had, how much they'd love to do more of this kind of work, etc.

Or what about a vendor trying to get more LGBT clients? Don't just tell people you're gay-friendly, SHOW them by volunteering with LGBT youth organizations and making donations to marriage equality organizations.

How I do this with my business

In marketing my own business, I think about these issues a lot from an editorial perspective with our tag archives. An important part of marketing my publications is making it clear that diversity is a key priority. But I don't want to tell people, "We're committed to diversity on Offbeat Bride," I like to SHOW them our "couples of color" archive with its hundreds of posts. Broadening the concept of diversity, I don't like to tell people, "We support the full spectrum of weddings," I like to SHOW them our Offbeat Lite archive and our pagan, transgender, polyamorous, disability, etc etc archives.

Because see, that's another advantage of show-don't-tell marketing: it forces you to be truly honest about the story you're sharing. I can TELL whatever I want about my business… but showing means I have to actually market my business with integrity. I have to stand behind the story I'm sharing. If I say I'm committed to LGBT weddings, but you look at my LGBT archives and only see a handfull of posts, then how committed am I, really? When you practice show-don't-tell marketing, it's less about marketing, and more about truth. (And I'm a firm believer that all marketing must be truthful.)

How do you show instead of tell YOUR business story? What challenges do you have with showing instead of telling? How have you overcome them?

  1. Thanks for this post. I've been doing my best to fill up my internet spaces with info on me as an officiant (even did a Social Media Blast today), but since I've just started out its hard to advertise me as such just yet. Basically anything that would advertise me as a LGBTQ+ friendly interfaith minister goes on my page.

  2. This lines up so much with the social media marketing training I've received in the past, but explains it in a much more succinct and useful way! These are things I'm mulling over currently, as I'm considering the pros and cons of potentially opening my own law practice after I graduate in a few years.
    I love these types of Offbeat Empire posts – I always feel like my brain has gotten a little more market savvy after I read them. ­čÖé

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