Story matters. And as a social justice startup, you have an important tale to tell. In the age of content marketing, when every brand is trying hard to create a story, story is the very reason you started your company. Social justice is your story. You sell products, but you need a way to sell your products while also binding them to your story and underlying mission. Learning to tell a meaningful story will help you transition more seamlessly between the sales you need to be financially viable and the cause you want at the forefront of your messaging. It will also help to find and ignite a customer base.

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“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” -Philip Pullman

Our brains are wired for two things - reason and story. Okay, maybe also for breathing, thinking, feeling, and all that general functioning that keeps us alive; but when it comes to understanding the world around us we consume what we learn in one of these two ways. The first is reason.  If you've ever spent any time with a three-year-old you know that humans are born to question. Three-year-olds want to know the reason for everything. "Why," they ask, followed by "but why?" when the first answer doesn't satisfy their need for understanding.  In a social justice business our impact tracking lends itself to that part of our brains that need reasons, the part that wants to know the facts. But what really drives things home for us is story.

We are built for story. We love being told stories from the time we are small. I was recently in New York with my best friend from college, Ann, where I found myself entranced by her stories. As the publisher of Shape Magazine she has an interesting life. She's also very funny. She quickly filled in the gaps of our time apart. You do the same for your customers. You know the story. Your story. You know the stories of your artisan partners, or your products, or the behind the scenes of your business. The customer doesn't. So you want to make sure when you are telling stories about your brand, your product, your artisans, or your mission, that you are including the 6 M’s of a Meaningful Story.  Here's what they are:     

1. MOMENT: Time and place where your story happens

First, there needs to be a moment - a time and a place where your story happens. Be specific. Describing the time and/or the place transports your readers (or listener, or viewers) to the scene. 

2. MAIN CHARACTER: A person the story is centered around

Next there needs to be a main character - a person that the story is centered around. This doesn’t always need to be you. You can tell stories about the multiple characters in community with your business. Can you tell a story about your artisan partners, or about founders of those businesses? Can you tell one about a customer or team member? If you decide to share someone else's story as part of your brand, be sure they approve and that it's clear how their story intersects with you and your brand. Whether the story is about you or someone else tied to your business, there always needs to be a person, a main character, that the story is centered around.

3. MOTIVATION: What is the main character’s goal?

There needs to be a motivation - a goal for your main character. Remember you business MVP: Mission, Vision, Purpose? Well your main character has one too.  Their MVP drives them.  In the story they likely have a very specific goal or task they need to accomplish.  Maybe it's major, like escaping the sex trade.  Maybe it's minor, like how to wear an all fair trade wardrobe for a week without breaking the bank. Motivation connects us to your main character and it reminds us of our own personal goals.

4. MOUNTAIN: An obstacle, villain, or challenge the main character faces

There is always a mountain – an obstacle, a villain, a challenge or something the main character faces that they need to overcome. Here's where you build in the anticipation.  How will your main character achieve their goal with this huge mountain to traverse? We feel deeply for your character as she struggles with the challenge at hand, because we've all had to overcome challenges.

5. MOVEMENT: The story must have action and events

Time for some movement. Your story needs to have action and events that move the main character forward or it’s not really a story, right? The story has to take us from one place to another.

6. MAGIC: Leave your listener/reader transformed, inspired, and motivated

Finally, bring on the magic! You need to leave your listener or your reader transformed, inspired, or motivated. We want that magic that a story can bring.   

When you tell your stories imagine that you are sitting down over coffee (or wine) with your best friend who is hanging on your every word.  Feed into her enthusiasm for you and your tale. Whether you use your stories in a blog post, speaking to an audience, on your written brand materials, on your website, or on social media, tell your story using the 6 M's and tell it like you are sharing it only with her. 

Now it's time to practice. Chose a particular event, a person, a photo, a memory, or a product as a starting point.  Use it to build a story around. Outline the story using the 6 M's. Define a moment, introduce your main character, share her motivation, show us the mountain she must conquer, make something happen in the story with movement, and leave us with magic. These are the 6 M's of a meaningful story. Be sure, when you are telling a story for your business that you are always truthful. No need to make things up. You and your mission are so interesting to your community all you need to do is fill out your story with the honest details that make it come to life. 

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” —Barbara Kingsolver

If you put something in the 6 M's outline and it's not quite a story (missing one of the M's), it may be better suited for brand copy. Copy is different than story. Copy is the short, succinct messaging you use to convey a point or create a call to action. You will use copywriting for your business to get quick nuggets across like product descriptions, your MVP, sales, or upcoming events. You need copy but don't forget that the depth of your relationship with customers will come from story. Use both well. When you are storytelling for your brand use the 6 M's of a Meaningful Story Outline to make sure you've included these vital elements to make your story engaging, insightful, entertaining, and full of meaning!