Everyone loves stories. Stories are memorable and inspirational. Think about your favorite story, whether it be a book, movie, poem, or a story someone told you. Chances are you feel the way you do a story because it makes you feel something and makes a connection.
For marketers, storytelling is an effective way to inform, engage, and move an audience. A powerful way to rise above the “digital noise” consumers face from so many brand messages, emails, and ads. The value in storytelling is customer engagement, as well as lifelong loyalty and brand advocacy.
63% of people recalled a story from a presentation, but only 5% recalled a statistic. — Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick
Stories work because they are appealing and connect better than stats or figures, and are driven by emotion, not necessarily product attributes, features, and facts, or sales pitches. Practically speaking, good storytelling can build trust with customers, which moves the customer to action, fosters loyalty, and can make them brand advocates and storytellers for your brand.
Compelling storytelling is backed by science because many different areas of the brain light up when someone is listening to a story, whereas statistics or facts activate only two. The best way to put it is that we are wired to embrace and remember stories, and our brains are more engaged by storytelling than the cold, hard facts.
"Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but the stories you tell." – Seth Godin
However, this can be a challenge for marketers. How can a marketer capture the attention of a consumer exposed to hundreds of emails a day, countless mobile messages and alerts, and advertisements across virtually every medium? To add to that, we know that in today’s world, consumers are distracted, preoccupied, and disengaged. You probably then ask where do you tell our brand story? How do you ensure the right context when telling your story? Is it even the correct version, or chapter? How do you capture attention?
For challenges related to marketing storytelling, there are three building blocks to consider for how you tell your story: customer profile, personalization, and omnichannel.
A marketer needs to go beyond having a single, accessible view of the customer and have a deep and dynamic understanding of customers. They need to anticipate what they are likely to do next or predict the best way to engage with a customer, which incorporates analytics and machine learning.
The reality for marketers is that the data from six months ago that fuels analytics and machine learning is not as useful and needs to be updated. Since customer engagement, habits, and preferences have changed and are continually evolving, gathering and making sense of zero- and first-party data has never been more critical. With consumers spending more time online, first-party data should be accessible in a single view. This can help identify new trends and keywords that can enhance the way you tell your story on digital channels that connect with customers.
Brands need to go beyond first-party data and incorporate zero party data into the customer profile. As defined by Forrester, zero-party data is data that a customer proactively and deliberately shares. From a marketing perspective, this includes accruing opt-ins, preferences, and ways to engage customers through polls, quizzes, games, and interactive experiences, which helps build lasting relationships and a more robust customer profile. An up-to-date and more robust profile can drive understanding and analytics to determine who to tell your story to, and where that captures attention.
The building block is how you can tell your story. Having a robust profile helps capture attention, get the right message to the right person, and make a connection; but don’t stop there. As Harrison Monarth, New York Times bestselling author of The Confident Speaker, states, “Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.”
While a customer profile can help determine how to personalize and tailor stories for an audience, your strategy should go beyond using attributes, dynamic content, or testing layouts. A storytelling strategy should include content and imagery that is authentic and inspiring and take your customers on a journey they anticipate.
Personalized content also helps stir emotions in your customers, make that connection, and speak to your audience in a way that genuinely empathizes with their situation. People can better relate when they can see themselves in the stories that you tell. That is how you can build strong emotional connections to your brand, and ultimately move your audience to action.
The last building block is knowing when and where to tell your story that captures attention. Think of all the different mediums for your story, which should include online/offline touchpoints, and then bring together data, content, and the delivery of content cohesively at the right time, no matter where the customer is in their journey with your brand. Examples of how you can your story within a journey include:
- Triggered transactional messages, where timing is of the essence. These are event-based, transactional messages that can help build anticipation in receiving a product or maybe for an upcoming track that was recently booked.
- Contextual messages, which take into account things like date, time, location, which adds meaning to a story.
- Promotional messages or communications, which are scheduled and can help raise awareness to a product or cause.
- Inspirational content, which drives interest, not always salesy or pitch-driven.
The key is to tell your story when customers reach out to you. Customers engage with your brand at different moments, which are all opportunities for you to tell your story. The first step is to understand where a customer is in the journey, then map out what part of your story you want to tell. For example, early on in the customer journey, you want to make that initial connection by raising awareness of the brand's value and encouraging a subsequent interaction. Further along, building trust through authenticity or emotion, which could be in the form of incorporating your mission, peer reviews, or access to useful information. Later in the journey, engaging with a customer and encouraging feedback and providing updates on offerings can foster loyalty and brand advocacy.
Although the promise of omnichannel personalization facilitates better storytelling and so many brands have such a great story, the reality is they can currently only effectively tell it across a handful of channels, not all the channels in which a customer engages. To tell their story across all channels, marketers need access to an engagement data platform that houses all of the data marketers need to understand how to tell their story, who to tell it to. Then combine that with the ability to tell stories across all the channels where customers engage.
Doing so will lead to better storytelling that helps customers understand why they should care about the brand and authentically humanizes your offering, creating lifelong loyal customers who will be eager to tell your brand story to others.
Seth Godin. Jay Baer. Cynt Marshall.
Just a few names that will be at Signals 20.
Bruce is Senior Director of Product Marketing at Cheetah Digital. He focuses on the go-to-market strategies for solutions within the Cheetah Digital Customer Engagement Suite, as well as creating and delivering thought leadership at industry events. Before joining Cheetah Digital, Bruce worked at Adobe for over five years as a Group Product Marketing Manager supporting the Adobe Experience Cloud. Bruce lives in Bozeman, MT, with his wife and three children.