By Paul Cole, President – inQuba N. America. Published by Marketing News Magazine, USA.
Certain words pop in and out of our vocabulary. One word that seems to be very much in vogue these days is “narrative.” I find it a bit odd. We even hear sportscasters referencing how the narrative has changed when describing the journey of a team making its way to the playoffs. But your customers’ story is your new narrative.
At a time when our marketing lexicon has turned into techno-speak with terms—content, search optimization, click-through, impressions, etc.—it seems to have simultaneously given rebirth to a vocabulary of less hardened and more ethereal words, including emotion, authenticity and story.
We have known all along that creative marketing campaigns and a rigorous sales approach are key to generating and closing a sale. We also know that sometimes you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, or so the saying goes. While our creative content and messaging may successfully stimulate prospects to fill their (online) shopping cart, they will often abandon the sale at the key moment of truth (checkout). While there are myriad reasons for purchase trepidation seeping into the buyer’s consciousness, we do know that if a trusted source has recommended the given product or service, the final purchase probability increases dramatically. In fact, a Nielsen study found that 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of advertising. This phenomenon is the same in the B-to-B market: Ad Age cited that 61% of IT buyers report that a colleague recommendation was the most important factor when reaching a purchase decision.
That’s where the customer story comes in. It creates a reverse path to purchase. Experiential marketing is all about identifying and utilizing the key emotive drivers that will translate into a gratifying customer experience—one that will be retold and positively reinforce your brand promise.
Think about it. In choosing between brand A or brand B, would you rather trust advertising claims, those dubious product review sites, or the word of a respected friend or colleague? We all know that a trusted referral is the most effective buying influence, yet are we doing all that we can to capture, package and amplify our customer stories? In the pre-Internet world, our customer stories, for better or worse, were limited in their reach and, consequentially, in their overall business impact. But today, a crafty marketer has an arsenal of experiential marketing tools at her disposal, including the company’s website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and a host of other mediums to transmit not just your story in more compelling terms, but the customer’s story as well.
The story is the by-product of the customer experience, retold within a specific emotional context. Storytelling is the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listeners’ imagination. Of course, stories can cut both ways. They can represent a marketer’s dream or worst nightmare. Take, for example, a recent story I heard about a senior executive’s frustrating airline experience. According to her, a certain low-cost airline charged her to select a seat, print a boarding pass at the gate and check in an extra bag. The executive was so angry that she cancelled her return trip and booked a flight on another airline. In addition, she’s told dozens of people about her experience and never plans to use the airline’s services again. How would you like to be the head of marketing or customer experience and have to deal with that PR nightmare?
As marketers and stewards of the company’s brand, we must work with our counterparts across the organization to lay out a journey that will produce positive emotions across the entire customer lifecycle and all interactions. Make the customer the protagonist, and encourage or incent them to engage and manage their experience in a gratifying way. Then let their story unfold and be told, and watch your business prosper.