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Business Storytelling: How Get Consumers to Tell Their Stories

As business marketer Dominic Payling says in “Social Storytelling: How Brands Are Streaming Stories,” “. . . being able to listen and engage with audiences about their own personal stories is the first step to being a competitive, 21st century company.

“The most forward thinking organisations go a step further and are building marketing and communications strategies that actively encourage, amplify, and reward customers’ stories, rather than assuming that the company is the only entity capable of telling stories about a product. They know how to translate the process of storytelling into a valuable outcome and ensure their own stories are being listened to.”

How to pull stories from your community

When done right, storytelling creates more than engagement and the opportunity for interactional excellence — it fosters ongoing, back-and-forth exchanges with stakeholders and others interested in your enterprise. How do you make this happen? Here are a few ideas:

  • Request customer stories. Be strategic in collecting them. Asking for stories on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or on a blog or web page by saying “Submit your stories” rarely works unless you offer an extremely provocative story prompt.

    Instead, provide a story and ask for one in return. Give people something to react to — a situation or a problem that others regularly face — and follow that with a story prompt. Link to a short video and ask folks to respond with stories that come to mind.

    Penzey’s spices has a monthly catalogue that includes recipes and consumer stories. How does it get these stories? One way is through a Calling all Cooks! link at www.surveymonkey.com/s/R95TGXY. A second way is through unsolicited e-mails and letters. A third route is triggered when consumers call in to order spices or ask a question. If a representative hears an interesting story, it gets passed on to the catalogue department.

  • Reach out to folks who comment about your organization on social media. Ask for the story behind what they’ve shared. Use this when an issue has been mentioned and you don’t know what precipitated it. You’ll have to decide whether to reach out privately or publicly.

  • Create online communities for people to exchange stories. Facebook fan pages are one place to do this. So are online portals hosted through your organization’s website. Membership organizations such as professional associations often do this, but it’s becoming more prevalent in other organizations. For example, Marriott offers a site for its reward members to share all sorts of information and stories.

  • Find existing online communities and seed them with story prompts. Quora — “your best source for knowledge” — is a terrific place to ask for a story and receive lots of insights. Even though the site asks specifically for questions, place a story prompt here and see what you learn.

  • Seed a conversation and allow consumers to actively join in and co-create the rest of the story. It’s easy to imagine how this could be done online. Especially with a tangible product. Assign a person in your company to start a story and allow others to chime in and shape it.

    Can you do co-created storytelling with something invisible? Intel and Toshiba partnered on a six-week episodic story called The Beauty Within to promote a new central processing unit (CPU). Alex, the main character, wakes up each day in a new body. To keep track, he keeps a computerized log. One day he falls in love, which makes everything change.

    Seriously . . . how can a person have a relationship if his outward appearance changes daily? Audience members were invited to play Alex. Anyone could do so since his appearance differed each day. Isn’t it interesting that the story isn’t about the CPU? It’s about how a computer chip allows interactions, connections, and events to happen.

Inspire: A new way of engaging others

Another aspect to this conversation has to do with aspiration versus inspiration. Marketing has traditionally focused on appeals to people’s larger aspirations: buying a big house, fancy car, the latest branded clothing, and so on. This approach assumes you can buy your way into a better life.

The following three companies have taken a different approach: They focus less on what they can give (aspiration) and more on what people can achieve (inspiration):

  • Levi’s: Go Forth key message campaign as told through a young boy’s eyes.

  • Red Bull: Its Stratos Project depicts a symbiotic relationship between the brand and its Mission to the Edge of Space extreme sports story.

  • Google Chrome: Dear Sophie story.

The call to action those three examples put out isn’t about your buying a product or service — it’s to help you create or achieve a goal or dream. What these companies offer is the motivation for achieving a solution, not the solution itself.

Market data shows that connecting through inspiration helps these organizations forge stronger bonds with their market segments and prospects, successfully weather tough times, and foster growth in good times.

Here’s the inside scoop on the approach that Honda uses with story to spark inspiration. Matt Kapko shares how this happens in this blog posting “How Honda’s Agency Taps Authentic Stories for Social”:

  1. Uncover authentic Honda customer stories through all sorts of media.

  2. Connect with those customers and make them feel comfortable sharing their story.

  3. Build the customer’s confidence that Honda is truly listening to them.

  4. Emotionally connect a fan milestone to a Honda brand milestone.

  5. Find ways to share these customer stories but not as a campaign.

How does this work? Someone at RPA, Honda’s agency of record, discovered that a band called Monsters Calling Home had shot a music video inside their Honda vehicle. It eventually found its way to J Barbush, VP and director of creative social media for RPA.

Instead of “Liking” or reposting it, he and the agency saw it as an opportunity to take the story a step further based on the “Honda Loves You Back” theme. See what they did here in this Honda-branded video. This effort is part of ongoing online and offline story sharing with customers. Honda’s Facebook fan page is tagged with “Your Story is Our Story.”

Your organization’s consumers, customers, partners, and prospects have Unique Customer Aspirations, or UCAs, which you can discover by evoking stories from them about what they find meaningful in their lives. Think of these not as pain points but dreams, hopes, ambitions, and desires. Be prepared to be changed by the interaction.

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