Facts Tell. Stories Sell. Brand Storytelling in an On Demand World.

In an on demand world, Marketing has to move at the speed of light to keep up with the wants and needs of the customer. Added to “the need for speed” is the constant pressure to increase revenue by driving customers down the path to purchase and loyalty. These two factors lead us to favor messaging and content that includes a strong “call to action”. Which is certainly what we need to do.

But, in many companies and marketing departments there still seems to be an assumption that brand storytelling plays little part in the “call to action” or revenue equation. Well, they are wrong, and worse, they are leaving valuable (and measurable) assets on the table, particularly when it comes to competitive differentiation and social currency — both powerful revenue drivers.

Brand Stories as Call to Action

Some marketers insist all good content is storytelling. It’s not. Sometimes content just has to be direct and informational. Promotional messaging doesn’t require a story, just the information. But, equally true is, “Facts tell. Stories sell”.

The challenge is knowing what story to tell. What story will align with the needs of the customer? What elements of the brand story will compel customers to take the next step down the path to purchase, validate a purchase they made, or remind them why they love the brand and want to purchase again? Only when these questions are answered and the story is looked at in the full context of the customer journey will you be able to overcome the naysayers. Then you will be able to measure the brand’s role in the marketing plan, driving customer purchase and loyalty, and its part in delivering an exceptional customer experience.

An HBR article: Don’t Let Big Data Bury Your Brand illustrates the need for balance. One of the case studies it cites is Caesars Entertainment, which gained a reputation for data-driven decision-making and explores how, under the leadership of CMO, Tariq Shaukat, they were able to use data analytics to build the brand, and balance its messaging with both brand and promotional advertising and content.

Brand Stories as Social Currency

Social currency has risen to be one of the most critical factors in the purchase decision process. The brand’s story plays a large role in social currency. It should be viewed as an ambassador for your products. But, it needs to be visible if it is to act as an influencer and validator of brand choice. People share what they like, what they connect with at an emotional level, what they think is cool, and the brands that offer them the best experience.

But many marketers continue to give lip service to the fact that for more and more customers this experience needs to include knowing what the brand stands for, above and beyond making money.

In Edelman’s 2016 Earned Brand Study, 13,000 consumers were asked to rate their relationships with brands across 18 market categories. Of the seven metrics measured, companies scored lowest on listening openly, telling memorable stories and acting with purpose. “We’re talking about a brand having to do something as opposed to just say something,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “Action, not image, is now the driver.”

Just as we are asking our customer to “do something”, the customer is expecting brands to be “doing something” too. When we think of brands with a purpose, many of us still think of vertical/niche brands like Patagonia, Warby Parker, or Toms Shoes. But consider this, Costco is also using Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to drive positive perceptions of its brand. And, given the nature of Costco’s business, it employs a local approach, encouraging decentralization so that the greatest impact is where Costco’s employees and members live and work. With Costco’s focus on children, education and health and human services their programs connect directly and emotionally with their employees, and members alike, and reinforce Costco’s role in the local community.

Connecting your brand with purposeful action is becoming a must. A study from the research group, Cone Communications, showed that 89 percent of consumers are likely to switch brands to one that is associated with a good cause if price and quality are similar.

Weaving in the Brand Story

Not every brand can be a Patagonia, Warby Parker or Toms, but every brand has a story they can tell, whether they are big, small, new to market, or have a long history. And customers want to know what it is – so tell them. Just make sure the story is authentic and credible.

Storytelling humanizes your brand. As an HBR article, published at the end of 2015, pointed out, “A computer-generated human facsimile may walk like a person and talk like a person, but without the nuance, context, and tone that makes for real engagement, what’s left rings false.”

I’ll leave you with three suggestions as to how to integrate your brand story into your acquisition and retention messaging strategy and plan:

  1. As part of your customer journey mapping and subsequent messaging strategy, consider where the brand story, or elements of the story, can be used to help influence and validate potential purchase decisions. Employ a tried and true PR trick of creating a message track.
  2. Be cogent. Pick the elements of the story that are the most relevant. Experiment with voice and tone. Learn and iterate.
  3. Be prepared to assign a copywriter, designer, and animator to the task of bringing the brand story to life. Like all content marketing, brand storytelling is only as good as the quality of content we produce and distribute.

In our efforts to drive customers to purchase and be loyal to our brand, let’s make sure we are not leaving a critical marketing tool on the table because of legacy notions that brand storytelling cannot measurably contribute to increasing customer purchase and loyalty and meet our revenue goals.

For specific case studies illustrating the need for balance and integrating promotional and brand content,

download the HBR article: Don’t Let Big Data Bury Your Brand here.

About the Author: Connie is passionate about customer relationship strategy and truly understands consumer behavior.  An executive level advisor for some of the world’s most prestigious brands, Connie has a track record of delivering game changing customer strategy alongside significant bottom line results. Through the years, companies such as GE Capital, Intuit Software and Costco Wholesale have sought Connie’s expertise.  Connie is President and Founder of VeraCentra, a Customer Relationship Agency.

VeraCentra’s Closed Loop Solution is an integrated approach that brings together relationship strategy and data scientist teams to overcome technology and data challenges to help yield actionable customer insights.  And our Journey design services coupled with our digital platform integration team work in parallel to advance action, creating and automating customer messages.  Our Closed Loop Solution is fully integrated, allowing you to realize a quick return on your customer relationship marketing investment.