At this year’s AHR Expo in Chicago, every company brought their A-game. From large companies advertising sophisticated brochures and marketing slogans to smaller companies exulting the benefits of niche products, the show was impressive. For me, a newcomer to the HVAC industry, one other thing stood out — a relative lack of compelling storylines.

Not that the HVAC industry is without great stories. On the contrary, as technology advances, innovative products and services are everywhere. Yet brand and company communications centered mainly on the products and services, or in some cases, the benefits they bring. While most have a great story, this wasn’t immediately clear from their communications.

Walking around at AHR, I generally got a standard response when I told people I did strategic communications: “We have people that do this for us, and we only communicate with other businesses,” they’d say. When I changed tack and asked companies about their story, their eyes universally lit up. I struck a chord — not only did it spark further conversation, but you could see their passion.

Statistics show that people are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it is presented in the form of a story. So, the natural question is why don’t more companies focus their communications on telling their story, especially seeing the passion it naturally generates. By story, I don’t necessarily mean their history, how they got started, or how well the employees get treated. It’s more about what problem they are solving and how well it’s working.

In communications, there is a deceptively simple formula to help you tell this story. It’s a simple four-stage process, which, when done right, can be boiled down to a 40-second elevator pitch or incorporated into a marketing campaign. The trick is, it usually takes a few hours and a brainstorm session to effectively create this story.

Here are the steps.

First, set the context. Most people skip this step and jump right to the product or service they are selling, but this is all about the larger world and the trends you are a part of. Any data/insight is very useful here and can immediately grab your audiences’ attention.

This first step is not about your company but a snapshot/perspective of the wider world. It simply answers the question of why you exist in the first place.

The second step describes what you do. It’s your strategy to address the context in step one. This is about your company; what you do and sell. More than just the product or service you offer, it focuses on what you do best and what you want to be known for.

In the third step, we talk about how well your strategy is working. Proof points — data, testimonials, awards, sales figures, contracts you made, or anything that shows how good you are. This is your time to brag; it’s your sales pitch. Most people, when not starting with step two, will jump immediately to this stage, but be careful; without context, this is unlikely to make much of an impact.

The fourth and last step in telling a great story is tying it all together. This is your vision: a summary of the previous three points. This is an aspirational, forward-looking statement that will hopefully resonate with your audience on an emotional level.

Consider these two accounts of the fictional company, ABC:

1. Established in 2003, ABC Heating and Cooling provides the best service in southern Michigan. We install and service commercial heating and cooling equipment. Call us today to see how our energy-efficient solutions can solve your HVAC needs.

2. The HEAT Act, which was recently signed into law as part of the Tax Reform bill, allows commercial building owners to immediately expense HVAC equipment upgrades. Replacement has never been more affordable. At ABC, Southern Michigan’s leading commercial heating and cooling company, we specialize in bringing you the latest technology at an affordable price. With an A+ rating from the BBB, ABC is your HVAC business partner in the Great Lake State.

Science tells us that we’ll likely remember the second account of this fictional company, simply because stories resonate and help us connect with people. Of course, depending on whom you speak to or which medium/platform you use, your story will differ slightly, but your core message should stay the same. Repetition, like good storytelling, is a great tool to cut through the clutter of information we see all around us.

The HVAC industry, which is already huge, is expected to keep growing as more people enter the middle class around the world and our appetite for data (and hence cooling) increases. To capture your company’s share, think beyond your product, and try to tell your story more effectively. Ultimately, it will help sell your product and create trust in your company.

Publication date: 5/14/2018

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