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.

True personalization

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.”

Immersive experience

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.