Does your story connect with your audience?
How do you sell your products and services? Do you talk about them – what they can do, or how much they cost? Or do you talk about the needs they fulfill or how affordable they are. Either way, you’re telling a story. But is it a story worth listening to? Start by learning about what your audience is interested in, and your story is guaranteed to be better received by your audience.
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin
What if you were able to tell a unique story to each customer as they walk through your store or visit your website? At best, most marketers use “personas” and tell several good stories to several groups of customers. Those stories and the basis of those groups of customers is typically based on averages. And sadly, few if any of the individuals represented by the persona actually reflect the attributes or buying habits of the persona.
Shinola is a US-based company that manufactures watches, bicycles, and fine leather goods in Detroit. DMA board member Cory Treffiletti of Oracle Data Cloud recently wrote in MediaPost about how well Shinola understands storytelling: “The consistency is in the story of the products themselves. It has a very high-end product set, with a story rooted in the American dream.” Their website doesn’t have an “about us,” it has “our story.” Its headlines begin the story: “We make them. You make them your own.” And their copy drives it home: “Inspired by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the homesteaders who weathered the storm, The Black Blizzard titanium wristwatch is an emblem of the American spirit, a willingness and determination to overcome adversity.”
“What creates success on HSN is great product, a great story and a great storyteller.” – Mindy Grossman, CEO HSN
In a Huffington Post article by Ernan Roman, Treffiletti highlights Shinola CMO Bridget Russo’s point of view on personas: “They cannot help understand why customers bought, what motivated them to buy, etc. Cookie-cutter persona-based marketing will not work for today’s savvy buyers.” Dennis Kopitz, Shinola’s director of ecommerce, goes on to say, “To achieve and scale true personalization, we need to obtain deep human insights regarding who buys which category of our products, why they buy, what their needs and expectations are, and what they want next from us. This will take us to a far deeper level of understanding than traditional personas.”
That’s exactly what’s happening at HSN where CEO, Mindy Grossman, stated at IBM’s recent Amplify event in Las Vegas that “[they] transformed from a selling business to a storytelling business.” In fact, in a separate session Ramin Eivaz, SVP Strategy, Insight and Analytics at HSN, spoke about how HSN uses omnichannel journey analytics to improve customer loyalty. “Right Product + Right Channel + Right Content + Right Storytelling = Increases in Customer LTV”
Highly personalized interactions
IBM futurist and marketing influencer Peter Lavers suggests there are three basic mind-sets that customers may be in when shopping for a product or service:
I know exactly what I want
I don’t know what I want and need advice
I think I know what I want, but soon find out that I need assistance
To connect your story with these mind-sets, you need to get personal. In fact, according to a recent IBM study, “Gen Zers demand highly personalized interactions, value quality over price and want to be engaged with the brand across all channels.” However, in a separate Global Customer Experience Index Study by IBM, it was discovered that “only 19 percent of retailers can provide a highly personalized digital shopping experience.” This challenge of personalization is highlighted in the Zebra Technologies 2017 Retail Vision Study where, by 2021, “nearly 80 percent of retailers will be able to customize the store visit for customers as a majority of them will know when a specific customer is in the store. This will be enabled through technology such as micro-locationing, allowing retailers to capture more data, accuracy and customer insights.”
The brands that are succeeding are allowing customers to become part of the story. As told by Billee Howard, CEO of brandthropolgie, the success stories will come from those who “executive produce their brand and move from the singular ME to the collective WE.” Howard continues, “Storytelling is a vital business competency. Machine learning and storytelling create compelling content key to meaningful engagement.” The successful brands are blurring the lines between their storytelling and the customers’ storytelling.
Tom’s Shoes – Together with WithMe, Tom’s Shoes is testing smart fixtures that learn a customer’s behavior and create relevant offerings via interactive shelving. Jason Chen, WithMe’s retail evangelist, says, “We are combining the benefits of online shopping in a new type of connected physical retail environment.”
HSN – Launched an Augmented Reality Design App. “We remain committed to delivering excellent customer experiences – including offering great product presented in a compelling way,” said Judy Schmeling, president of Cornerstone Brands. “By leveraging the power of technology, we are able to offer a differentiated and immersive shopping experience allowing consumers to engage virtually with our brands.”
Marriott – Introduces virtual reality (VR) to allow customers to experience and feel a stay at a property on a South Pacific beach or European city center. “We believe that the VR component will assist us in demonstrating to our customers what the hotel stay will ‘feel’ like, rather than just talking at them,” says Dianne Pepe, director of marketing at Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel.
The North Face – Deploys IBM’s Watson as it begins “exploring artificial intelligence technology to help you find the perfect jacket for your next adventure.” “By tapping into the power of IBM’s Watson…this not only improves their online shopping experience, it ultimately maximizes their outdoor experience,” says Todd Spaletto, president, The North Face.
Know your customer
Key to the success of each of the brands above is the ability to know their customer across all channels and therefore all devices. For effective storytelling to be relevant and dynamic based on recent behavior, marketers must understand whether they’re talking to the same consumer on multiple devices and how to adjust the frequency and content of their messages to drive conversion and higher engagement rates. In the Data and Marketing Association’s 2017 Statistical Fact Book, it is reported that 70% of marketers believe personalizing the customer experience is one their most important goals of a data-driven strategy. However, in another study, “A Roadmap to ‘Omnichannel’ Activation”, DMA found that only 9% of marketers are able to identify customers across devices on a regular basis.
With the availability of cognitive technologies, machine learning, and natural language that have roared into prominence over the past two years, the core element “knowing your customer” remains the key requirement in delivering an increasingly mandatory relevant and personalized customer experience.