Is Storytelling Still Relevant?

Tips for Telling Your Story in Fresh Ways

It’s funny how industry buzzwords come and go. Do a quick internet search and you’ll find “Marketing Buzzwords for 2018” and even “Buzzwords to Stop Using.” 

STORYTELLING. You may be tempted to say, “Been there. Done that.” If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know the importance of crafting a story that captures your mission and helps customers connect emotionally with your brand.

But storytelling isn’t a one-time thing. Just like kids often want to hear stories again and again, we need to find engaging, fresh ways to tell our story.

At a recent AMA event, Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s CMO Bill Potts told the tale of how the rescue of a young dolphin (“Winter”) saved them from financial ruin. In truth, though, it is consistent, intentional storytelling that has made Clearwater Marine Aquarium one of the area’s most popular attractions (and revenue sources) for tourists and locals alike. (BTW, it’s right down the street from me, so let me know when you’re visiting!)

As captivating as Winter’s story is, the aquarium’s success isn’t from telling the same old story ad infinitum. Even the initial rescue was told in the media as multiple stories, all supporting the organization’s mission, Rescue. Rehab. Release:

  • Story 1: Dolphin is rescued and named Winter
  • Story 2: Winter survives, but loses tail
  • Story 3: Winter learns to swim without tail
  • Story 4: Winter gets prosthetic tail
  • Story 5: Real life sequel when second young dolphin is rescued

And those are just the stories from the first year!  Since then, the Aquarium has turned storytelling to an art form – one that generates incredible revenue for their non-profit organization and other area businesses in the tourism and hospitality. Every day, they tell the stories of rescued animals and of the lives they impact when visitors connect with animals that have physical or emotional challenges like theirs.

Sounds easy, right?

You may say, “Easy for them, stories come to their doorstep! How can my business create engaging stories when we don’t have ‘Abe the Baby Otter’ to post on our webcam?”

True. Some businesses have a product or service that’s made for storytelling. But that doesn’t get us off the proverbial hook. Here are some tips for telling your story in fresh ways:

  • Be Intentional: Don’t use “I just sell Widgets” as an excuse to give up on storytelling. Dig deep. Look for stories, and provide ways for employees and customers to share them with you. Do you personally follow up with customers to hear their story? Do your employees know how to look for, solicit and share customer stories with management? Are there milestones or events you can leverage for storytelling?
    • The Clearwater Marine Aquarium has an “Inspire Team” tasked with spotting stories as they happen each day as visitors interact with the rescued animals. Likewise, they create special events that generate their own media buzz. While they once returned rehabilitated animals to the wild without fanfare, they’ve learned that a “Welcome Home” release party is another story.
  •  Be Bold: You and I live and work in an ever-changing world. Keeping our story relevant is not for the faint of heart. We have to be willing to ask the tough questions, and be vulnerable, even if it means doing market research about our perceived product failures, or asking focus groups “what don’t you like about doing business with our company?” The information we learn will help us craft a better story, one that resonates as TRUE with your customers.
    • In “Six Tips for Telling a Better Business Story,” Forbes shares “Our best ideas are often accompanied by the disclaimer, ‘this may be a bad idea, but…’ There are definitely bad ideas, but they are often a starting point to great ideas.” Invite them from your team, explore them and find the balance between what’s too far in a bad way and what’s bold in good way.
  • Be Prepared. In a world fearful of “bad press” and fastidious protection of company image, I was surprised to learn that the Aquarium trains dozens of its front line employees how to interact with the media. Consider how much harder it would be to tell their story if all inquiries had to be directed to “the PR department.” Think, too, about the authenticity of their message when it comes from a wetsuit-clad medical assistant rather than some tie-wearing spokesperson. Good stories come from real people (like in a skillfully-moderated focus group!)
    • I don’t know how the Aquarium media-trains its staff, but I bet it includes some variation of the 5 C’s described by com author Margot de Cunha: Circumstance, Curiosity, Characters, Conversations and Conflict.
      • Set the scene and provide context for your reader.
      • Use curiosity to leave the reader wanting more.
      • Characters and conversation go hand-in-hand. Use dialogue; create characters.
      • Last but not least, conflict. If there isn’t any conflict, then there’s not much of a story.

Ready to go? I’m newly inspired to tell Insights360’s market research stories in fresh ways, and I hope you do the same! After all, as a Moderator, I’m a Story Collector. Let me know if I can help you uncover your customers’ stories – so they can become your stories too!






Show the Love: Secrets to Winning the Hearts of Your Customers

Ahh, February… il mese dell’amore, the month of love. (Everything sounds better in Italian, si?)

This is the perfect time to share a few thoughts on Relationship Marketing.

I love this definition from Forbes magazineRelationship marketing is a strategy designed to foster customer loyalty, interaction and long-term engagement. It is designed to develop strong connections with customers by providing them with information directly suited to their needs and interests and by promoting open communication.”

Developing strong connections. YES! I’m all about that.

It is often said that 80% of your company’s profits will likely come from the top 20% of your customer base. And at the very top of that 20% are those wonderful people called “loyalists” or “advocates.” Loyalists talk up your brand, actively engage in promotions or brand activities and rarely switch to another company, even if discounts or incentives are offered. They are, in modern terms, your BFF’s! (tus mejores amigos!)

So it’s obvious that the more loyal advocates you have, the better off you are. Which leads us to this question: How do you create loyalists?

The Marketing Teacher explains that the idea that consumers can be moved along a continuum of loyalty using a number of integrated marketing communications techniques is often referred to as a loyalty ladder (or branding ladder).

From Prospect to Customer

Perhaps the hardest rung to climb is the first:  motivating a prospect to make the first purchase and become a customer. In my business as a Moderator and research professional, I attend a fair share of conferences to stay up to speed on the latest techniques and to build partnerships. As a result, I meet a lot of people! Some are colleagues, but some are prospects – people I’d love to join me on the loyalty ladder!

Like everyone else, I leave each seminar with a briefcase full of business cards. But here’s where relationship marketing comes in. Here’s something I do:

  • Before heading home, I purchase a bunch of postcards from the conference venue, and mail them to the people I met with a short note reminding them how we connected. Last month, I attended the Qualitative Research Consultants Association’s Annual Conference, and by the time my flight home landed, I had “Greetings from Arizona” postcards written to the prospects I met! (Note: No address on a card? Scan the postcard or do a little research! Simple fix).

Once you have a customer with one foot on the ladder, showing the love gets even easier!

  • Your first business interaction is key, and we all know how to do this well.
  • With your first transaction under your belt, don’t wait for an invitation for a second! Follow up promptly and personally to express your appreciation. One of my personal thank you gestures is sending a bottle of a Chilean wine called Santa Alicia (of course!) at the conclusion of a project.

Creating Advocates

We’re reaching the top of the ladder now, which is where it gets challenging again. How do we move customers along the continuum so they become our loyal advocates, telling others about us like they are part of our sales team? Tip: Show regular and consistent appreciation.

  • Keep an eye on your customer’s social media posts. Look for reasons to send them a note congratulating them on quarterly sales or the launch of a new product. Don’t be shy about reminding them how you can help them in their success. Use LinkedIn or other venues to recommend them and send them leads that may be helpful.
  • Rather than sending Christmas cards that may get lost in the busy-ness of the season, I send clients Thanksgiving cards to express appreciation. Can’t wait until next Fall? A colleague sends a Spring message thanking them for helping her business grow and blossom.

Final Thoughts

Understanding why your customers are loyal to your brand gives your organization incredible leverage and knowledge you can really use. Proctor & Gamble understood this when they hired Insights360 to research how to transfer the loyalty their Hispanic customers had for a toothpaste brand in their home country to the U.S. market. And likewise, we learned how to leverage this brand loyalty to motivate purchases of other items in P&G’s suite of products.

So don’t let the Month of Love (il mese dell’amore) go by without showing some love to your customers! You’ll be glad you did!