Some clever businesspeople lately have been overusing a word – “storytelling” – and confusing its true meaning. When someone advises you to “tell your story,” you should recognize that message needs some perspective adjustment, because marketing magic doesn’t happen with the telling of just any story. The magic is generated by telling the right story – a story that lets potential customers see themselves as potential heroes.
Remember this phrase: “We were given two ears and one mouth, which means we are made to listen more than we talk”? That advice applies to your marketing efforts. Listen to your customers more than you talk.
The more you talk about your business, product, or service, the fewer opportunities you will have to showcase your understanding of customers’ needs. Give your customers and their success (which your product or solution supported) a chance to shine. Be their biggest cheerleader. Allow their success to spotlight how you help businesses like theirs – and give potential customers just like them a chance to self-select into your sales funnel.
The less you listen to what customers need, the more your messaging becomes disconnected from your audience. Your story could transform into the background noise of banal communication, or the blather of that guy at the cocktail party. You know the one. Droning on and on about something of interest only to him, and not engaging in the real back-and-forth of a conversation.
The marketing effort of making a sale is a conversation. You have opportunities to listen: surveys, customer service interactions, industry meetings, site visits, social media analysis, trade shows, etc. You have opportunities to speak – ads, emails, podcasts, social media, website – on topics covering everything from ad copy to knowledge-leadership content, to case studies and testimonials. But when you use your speaking opportunities only to drone on about your company, product, or service, you create a one-dimensional, hard-sell communication instead of the back-and-forth dance of engaging conversation. Simply telling a story doesn’t mean you have created a story worth hearing.
For those of a more sporting persuasion, let me throw in an example to frame the concept of “a story worth hearing.” Think of Baltimore Colts beating the New York Giants 23-17 with a game-ending touchdown run in the 1958 NFL Championship (“The Greatest Game Ever Played”), versus Georgia Tech defeating the Cumberland Bulldogs 222–0 in 1916. Which game (story) do you want to watch?
You want to see the buildup to the win. You want to see the hard-fought victory. You want to hear the story of the underdog, not the boring bragging of the shut-out winner. In that, your audience is like you. You have to tell a story that matters, a story that is relatable, which should mean you are not the hero of the story. What you may be is the cheerleader, celebrating the wins on behalf of your customers – setting them up to be your ally for customer acquisition.
Another overlooked aspect of storytelling for marketing is addressing the right audience – meaning an audience receptive to the perspective and elements of the story. Listening will also help you discover where your potential audience might be. Like a stand-up comedian honing a performance, listening for the silence of a joke landing flat as much as the riotous laughter, you are listening for clues on what will resonate with your audience, what will create a story they’ll think is worth hearing.
Creating customer-centric marketing content does not mean that you need to invest in a fresh rebrand and new collateral. There is a way to get from where you are now to telling a story that engages with the right audience. Take a look at your current materials. Put on a different lens to review them. Try to answer one simple question: What if your company was not the hero? How would the answer change the materials you have now? Rework old copy, old ads, old social posts, old blogs. Adjust the text on your website. Reframe some of your sales language.
Keep answering: How can you tell the story with the customer as the hero?
Alexandria Trusov is the Global Marketing Director at Alpha Resources and a B2B marketing consultant to manufacturers and other B2B companies. Contact her at [email protected] or visit www.truinsightsconsulting.com.