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Engage your customers more deeply through storytelling

IMAGE: Cheryl Hunter
By George Hulbert

Do you remember Red Peak? The little flag that could – and nearly did. Red Peak was just one flag design among many, many others competing to become New Zealand's new flag in 2015 - until the story of its origins and elements came to the fore on social media.

Then it took off – and, despite being deeply unpopular within the establishment, almost became the new national flag. (For more on how social storytelling took Red Peak from zero to hero, check out our blog at the time)

Red Peak is just one example of how authentic storytelling engages and activates people. Far more effectively than being told to pick a flag, the storytelling around Red Peak gave people a reason to choose it for themselves. Much more powerful.

Storytelling is a powerful tool to access and connect with people

From cavemen telling their children how to avoid being eaten to the latest social media platforms, stories bring people together. Storytelling has been at the very core of who we are as humans for as long as we've been in existence.

We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, emotional beings and storytelling is a catalyst for evoking emotions. Powerful storytelling is how presidents get elected, how movie trailers get us into cinemas, how advertisers get us to buy their products and why we click on some links over others on social media. We all love a good story.

The best PR isn't PR

For organisations, it's been said that marketing is no longer about what you make or the service you provide, it's about the stories you tell. Instead of pushing information at people you can pull them in with captivating storytelling. If people can connect with the stories you tell they will engage with you more deeply.

Storytelling is the most powerful tool you have at your disposal but it's often underutilised by organisations.

An organisation that uses storytelling incredibly well is Airbnb. Through its 'Airbnb Stories' page, hosts and guests get to tell their stories about how this innovative platform is affecting their lives. But it's done in such a genuine way that it doesn't feel like you're being marketed to. In New Yorker Michael's three-minute video he spends the first half of it talking about how he started running marathons as a tribute to his late father.

He finally goes on to talk about why he chose to rent out the spare room in his apartment: "I was handling my mortgage, and my mother's mortgage, and some other financial commitments that made it really tough to live in New York City the way I wanted to live."

With a gleeful smile and happiness emanating from his eyes, Michael recounts the great times he's shared with his guests and how enriched his life is because of Airbnb.

You're left feeling that Airbnb isn't some faceless organisation, but one made up of real people, like Michael, and by using their service you're supporting people like him and forming real, human connections.

The sharing of information, and the demonstration of the effects of the actions in the story on the characters within it, brings your readers into your world and allows them to see themselves inhabiting your world. Stories allow you to show how and why what you do matters to people.

So, how do you tell stories that engage your customers?

Give life to your messages – prove them with storytelling

Start by checking your key message set. What is it you do that makes your customers' or clients' lives better? Work out what stories you can tell that bring your messages to life – how did you do 'xyz' and what was the result? Better yet, what stories can your clients tell about the value of your offering? How did it make them feel? Your audience wants stories from real people. Give it to them.

Be authentic

We're living in an age of authenticity where people can sniff BS a mile away so the story needs to feel real in order to bring your brand to life and engage with your audiences. This means speaking to your customers, interview them, understand their needs and how your product or service addresses those needs. Then relinquish a little bit of control and let them tell their story in their own words, warts and all.

Create a simple social storytelling template

Each client is going to have their own unique story to tell but there are some universal questions to ask to unearth it. Start with: "Tell me the story behind how you came to use 'company/product/service xyz'". How does 'product/service xyz' make your life easier? The list goes on.

No doubt your organisation is helping people in a myriad of ways so it's about creating a platform to tell those stories and the value your clients get from their interactions with you. As you begin to better understand your client base through these interactions clear themes will emerge that can guide your storytelling approach.

Create a year-long calendar of stories

The information you garner from interviewing your clients can then guide your marketing efforts to ensure your communications are integrated and unified. Build a tapestry of stories that showcase the benefits you bring to your customers and space them out throughout the year. Programming all of your storytelling opportunities into a calendar will ensure you cover the themes you want to on a regular basis.

Widen your social media reach

Make use of the raft of mediums available to you. The stories can be shared across a number of channels (controlled media, earned media and paid media) that include your website, blog posting, social media and media distribution. Create an efficient model that is all about one piece of content used many times – don't just allow your story to sit in one place: use it across as many platforms as are relevant to your customers.

Provide a simple call to action

If you want people to contact you, tell them. Make the pathway clear. A call to action can be a great way to encourage engagement and keep the conversation going.

Get telling!

For more information or for assistance with storytelling, please contact us on 09 950 5304, on LinkedIn or via Twitter @ShapeTheMessage

For more reading:

Forbes - The Science Of Storytelling

Why Storytelling Is Scientifically Proven To Boost Sales

Cut and paste the following into Google: why storytelling is important