Constructing a narrative to communicate a message to an audience is one of the backbones of marketing. A gripping story can be used in all sorts of ways, by customer marketers, product marketers, sales, and everyone in between.
In this article we’ll cover:
- Why you should use storytelling,
- The storytelling questions matrix,
- The importance of empowering advocate storyteller, and
- Some examples of storytelling in action
Why use storytelling?
Generally speaking though, there are a few common reasons why storytelling techniques are so significant. These are to:
- Promote a product
- Entertain their audience
- Educate the market or existing customers about a new product, feature or service
- Showcase an achievement or landmark
Storytelling can bring clarity and deepen our understanding of concepts from a knowledge point of view. But they can also be a powerful tool to bring people together - on an emotional level, they highlight our commonality as humans, and transcend borders and cultures. They build community and familiarity.
A study by the Stanford innovation lab found that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts and figures - they truly embed themselves in our brains, increasing neural activity and the senses. Seth Godin once remarked that ‘marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.’
With this in mind - let’s take a look at how storytelling techniques can benefit customer marketing.
Storytelling questions matrix
As one of the key aims of customer marketing is to amplify the voice of the customer, let’s look at just that - telling the customer’s story. It’s important to set out the parameters, tone and overall objective for the story. Some thought-provoking questions to mull over might be:
- Who is this story for? Which personas or user types will be most receptive to it? Why?
- What is the purpose? Is it to educate? Do we need users/customers to have more knowledge? About what? (product, release, feature)
- Is it for the community - do we want to inspire feelings of togetherness and unity? What other emotions could we evoke?
- What is the key message of the story - can it be distilled in one concise sentence?
- What action do we want the audience to take? Upgrade membership? Share a post? Book a demo?
- Which medium will be the best to showcase the story?
Emotions and actions that you want to inspire are often overlooked when it comes to crafting stories - working through these points can really get under the skin of how customers can be involved in and also respond to your storytelling.
Empowering advocate storytellers
Harnessing the power of customer advocates as storytellers is a strategy that is authentic and builds trust amongst existing customers as well as prospects.
It might be time to rethink the traditional testimonial format, however - seeing ‘great customer service and good prices’ is all well and good, but to really make an impression there needs to be something else - chances are, your closest competitor will have identical-sounding comments that don’t differentiate you from similar brands.
While your content team might be skilled at crafting stories, your customers may not be, and here is where having some kind of framework can be helpful to ease them into the process.
The key message here is about giving people options that sit with their comfort level. Most people would be happier leaving a review online, less would be happier volunteering a photo of themselves, and the smallest fragment of customers will be those positive about being in front of a camera. Providing different ways to contribute casts your net wider.
Next, it’s important to give options when it comes to the type of content they might be involved with. Will your customers and advocates prefer:
- To give advice and opinions
- Written testimonials / reviews, video testimonials
- A video on a subject of their expertise/choice
- An industry expert piece, or contribution to a report
There might be a mismatch between the story you have in mind, and the story your customer wants to tell, and while you may be able to charm a customer into telling it, it probably won’t come across well - it might look too staged, forced, or simply not authentic.
Instead, mine for themes or topics they’re already talking about. Take the pulse in your existing advocates or community if you have one - what are people talking about? Have they done any surveys recently? Topics or questions can also be tested on message boards, Slack or socials - see which ideas get the most traction and run with those.
Another layer of scaffolding to add to your advocate storyteller framework could be a how-to guide. Make sure there are plenty of examples across the various content types - written and video - to inspire confidence. A tutorial video could cover all of these points really well.
Empowering customers and injecting their voice into the storytelling process in new ways will do great things for the value of the customer marketing function - and, to go back to the real purpose of it - reinforce active, successful, delighted users. It will do wonders for social proof, boost engagement and retention. The great thing about stories is that if they are told well, they spread like wildfire - and your advocates take center stage.
Storytelling in action
Let's take a look at a company that’s killing it when it comes to storytelling.
You might have made the switch yourself, or heard the person in front of you order it at your cafe of choice - oat milk. Oatly, arguably the world’s biggest brand, initially struggled to get cartons off the shelves - dairy milk was the norm. But, cue the rise of plant-based milks in the 2010’s - the stage was set for dairy-free brands to make significant gains.
The real strength that helped to propel the brand was their storytelling.
They had instantly recognizable branding, told environmentally conscious, informative, but down-to-earth stories that resonated with their audience. They’ve also launched the ‘je ne sais quoi’ award - each month, they give a $1000 grant to a person or team that is doing something positive for the planet and showcase their story - to give something back to their advocate community.
They also have a dedicated community for baristas, highlighting their stories and experiences from locations all over the world. Oatly tell stories unapologetically and authentically, and while their style might not strike a chord with some, their understanding of their customers, engagement campaigns and advocacy activities are enviable.
Another standout example is Salesforce’s success stories - it acts as a searchable database in which users can filter stories by industry, product or business size so that customers are seeing exactly what relates best to them. The video stories are down-to-earth, personal and give a real insight into how exactly salesforce has been integrated into their organization.
It’s also worth mentioning the outdoors company Patagonia, who also deftly incorporate their users’ stories across all comms channels - from climbers advocating for a body-positive community on socials, to written versions on their website, and campaigns for users to get involved with their activist stories.
So to briefly summarize the key points covered:
- Firstly, establish the why - and define the scope of what you’re trying to achieve with a particular story
- Second - set your customers up to succeed by establishing a storytelling framework that allows preference and choice
- Thirdly - try an omnichannel approach in which storytelling underlines content
- Lastly - good stories spread and can boost engagement and retention if told authentically
For some more inspiration check out the conversations happening between customer marketers in our slack channel. Here you can:
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