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Mark Evans

Create a Story by Listening to Your Customers

Mark Evans
Create a Story by Listening to Your Customers

Storytelling has been attracting a growing amount of attention recently.

As brands look for new and different ways to engage, educate and entertain target audiences, storytelling makes a lot of sense because it can drive personal and authentic connections.

Storytelling can be an effective way for brands to deliver an immersive experience, rather than simply pushing product or publishing updates on social media. When brands tell good stories, they are appealing to consumers’ interests, needs, aspirations and problems.

This is a powerful proposition at a time when many consumers are multi-tasking and overwhelmed by information and data.

What Makes for Good Storytelling?

There are many variables, depending on a brand’s product, customers, marketplace and competitors.

But I would argue that one of the most important ingredients for storytelling success is having an in-depth understanding of your audience.

Stories work when the audiences can connect with them. People lose themselves in stories (which is a good thing!) when they can see themselves or others in the narrative. Think about how children, for example, easily become part of a story being told to them. They allow their imaginations to flow because the story is so good.

For brands, it means good stories happen when they have intimate understanding of their audiences. They have in-depth knowledge of their customers: age, job titles, roles, responsibilities, education, buying habits, etc. As important, brands know their customers’ needs, motivations, goals and fears.

And brands recognize there can be a variety of buyer personas with slightly different needs and objectives. This lets them create narratives that can be very personal and relevant. It is almost as if a story was developed for a specific customer.

This is what consumers want from brands. They want to know that a brand understands them and values their business and loyalty. Good stories take the brand-customer relationship to a higher level.

How Do Brands Learn About Customers?

There are a couple of fundamental “rules”

One, brands have to listen to potential and existing customers. It is an exercise that can be challenging because many brands are accustomed to talking to or at customers, not listening to them. But listening is invaluable because brands can get a better idea about what matters to customers. They can learn about their customers’ needs and the questions being asked.

I worked with a client last year that offered affiliated marketing services. Although the company was extremely successful, it didn’t have a clear idea about its customers, or their needs and interests. To learn more, the CEO sent emails to 25 customers in which he asked for 15 minutes of their time so the company could improve its marketing efforts.

One of the most important parts of each interview was asking customers about how their business was performing and how they could be better served. This provided the client with valuable insight into what the customers were doing and thinking so better and more relevant stories could be created and delivered.

Second, brands need to proactively engage with customers. It means directly reaching out to customers to gain insight and information. This involves surveys, telephone calls (yes, it’s old school but still effective!), hosting events such as webinars, user groups and meetups.

Whatever the approach, a brand is looking for ways to better understand their customers’ current and future needs and goals.

One of things that surprises brands that reach out to customers is how their efforts are met with a lot of enthusiasm. By engaging customers, a brand is telling their business and insight is valued. In and of itself, this makes reaching out to customers an invaluable exercise.

Armed with in-depth knowledge of their customers, a brand has lots of ammunition for storytelling. It knows the type of stories that have appeal, and how these stories can drive stronger relationships. In many respects, it eliminates a lot of the guesswork for a brand’s storytelling and marketing efforts.

Good storytelling happens when the right story is told to the right people in the right place. This formula for success is easier to achieve by knowing your audiences inside out. The more you understand what makes them tick, the easier it is for your stories to resonate and inspire actions.

Mark Evans is a marketing consultant who helps start-ups and fast-growing companies tell better stories. To learn more about startup marketing and the power of storytelling, check out his new book, Storytelling for Startups.

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