Before Arthur Germain launched his marketing business, Communication Strategy Group of Smithtown, he noticed that salespeople often had trouble telling potential customers how they might benefit from their companies' services.

Germain, 51, had spent years as a technology journalist for CMP Media, honing his skills by writing about complicated companies in ways readers would find useful. Ten years ago, he decided to apply his skills to public relations and marketing, founding his company with a goal to help businesses get to the heart of their "buyer's journey." It all begins with "brand storytelling," Germain said.

He applied his strategy to the HIA-LI, which changed its name from Hauppauge Industrial Association after Germain's research found that more than 50 percent of its companies weren't in heavy industry, and more than 50 percent were outside the Hauppauge Industrial Park. The name change resulted in a membership boost of both service-based and industrial companies from across Long Island, he said.

Germain's agency was recently honored for brand storytelling by Corporate Vision magazine. The agency has a free "Brandtelling for Business" e-book on its website.

What is brand storytelling?

We help our clients tell a better story and look for a more relevant way to connect with their audience, perhaps through a vignette: Here's how a certain company like yours was able to solve a problem, using our services or our products.

How do you measure return on investment for your clients?

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You have to ask the question right up front, for any kind of marketing campaign, "What kind of return might I expect?" And returns aren't always monetary, at least, not to begin with. Your investment might be spent on public relations and on trade shows and some things where you can begin to build some brand awareness.

What do you say to the person who is just starting out in business without a marketing budget?

It's always a great idea to start with developing even a little bit of content on their own. It could be a blog, a white paper that can be downloaded, shared on LinkedIn. They need to talk about what makes them different or what makes them unique. Or perhaps they need to put out something as simple as a checklist -- "Five things your law firm needs to know before buying a new computer system" -- and write that. That becomes valuable because it allows the customer to see, why you and why now?

What has the most impact for the least amount of money?

We look to develop content that can be used in multiple ways; that way, we help the clients amortize the cost of the content. So that might mean we develop a white paper and take some information from it that we can create into a news release, or a series of email marketing messages, or social media sharing for posts and updates, or a series of blog posts. The easiest and most cost-effective right off the bat tends to be thought leadership, public relations.

What did it take to stay in business for 10 years?

I learned to get over my nervousness of calling people on the phone. That one was a tough one for me. I got some sales training for myself. My strength was in marketing and in branding but not so much in sales. And a lot of perseverance. A lot of our business comes through referrals and partner companies.

So how did you get over your cold-calling nerves?

It was getting comfortable with the fact that I had something of great value that could help them. I get phone calls from people who were referred and ask for free advice for their new business. I say, "Sure. I'll give you half an hour, let's talk." And I find those people take the tips and run with them.

CORPORATE SNAPSHOT

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Name: Arthur Germain, principal and "chief brandteller," Communication Strategy Group in Smithtown

What it does: "Brand storytelling" combined with a range of marketing services

Employees: 2 full time; 12 part time

Revenue: $500,000