Storytelling and the Art of Customer Engagement by Orly Zeewy

Jun 7, 2019 | Knowledgebase

Content Contributor – Orly Zeewy – US – Orly is a brand architect and Facilitator of Lightbulb Moments based in Philadelphia. Before starting her consulting practice in 2001, she ran an award-winning design and marketing communications firm for 14 years and worked with national clients such as Cigna, Kraft Foods and Prince Tennis. In addition to helping startups build their brand DNA and cut through the noise, she is a public speaker and a visiting professor in the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. Her Lean Marketing Guide for Startups will be published in 2019. Become a Content Contributor today!

We humans are wired to connect to, learn from and interact with one another through stories. In a 2014 Techcrunch article, Kobie Fuller, a partner at Upfront Ventures, wrote that stories “connect us to places, products and brands and help us identify which brands we champion by substituting promotion with engagement.” The most sustainable brands will be those that help consumers discover them instead of trying to continually sell them. To do that, founders must first learn what drives early adopters to make purchasing decisions. Fuller notes that thanks to social media, “creative, emotion-driven marketing enables any size company to drive product awareness with millions of consumers in real-time. These digital and social direct-to-consumer channels have replaced traditional advertising that once favored larger companies with big budgets.”
A well-told story helps a startup connect through emotion-driven marketing, which creates more authentic moments of customer engagement. The best marketing uses both art (empathic listening to better understand consumer needs and wants) and science (research and data analysis to identify consumer trends).

Here are three things you can do to build your storytelling muscle:

1. Identify the villain in your story.

All good stories have a villain (the problem) and a hero (the solution) as well as clarity of purpose to make sure that you are tapping into, as Fuller explains, the story button part of the brain. To identify the villain in your customer’s life, you first need to understand them. An empathy map is a great tool for unpacking what truly matters to your ideal customer. It identifies the context of their experience, key pain points and a focus for communicating how you can take their pain away. Too often, startups try to solve as many problems as possible for a diverse range of potential customers. They use a “throw things on the wall, and see what sticks” approach to marketing and fail because they don’t have the bandwidth to engage with everyone and as a result, engage with no one. Instead of thinking broad, think narrow and manageable. Think Tom’s Shoes.


The villain in TOMs story is poverty, but that was too big and complex an issue for the founder to tackle when he launched his startup in 2006. So instead of trying to eradicate all aspects of poverty, TOMS focused on one particular villain, childhood disease and mortality. One reason that children in impoverished countries are more susceptible to disease is because their families can’t afford to buy them shoes.






2. Be the hero in your customer’s story.

Once you’re clear on what matters to your customer, and the problem that you can help them solve, identify what makes your product and/or service a hero in their story. Replace lengthy case studies with concise customer stories that personalize the benefits that your brand provides. A visitor who lands on your website, and fits your customer profile will recognize their struggles with the same issues that you’ve not only identified but already solved for them. Instead of talking about your excellent customer service or listing your core values, focus on what your customers have gained from working with you and let them do the talking.
There are several heroes in the TOMS story. There is the founder, Blake Mycoskie who created a company that provides both the product and the opportunity to pay it forward. There is the TOMS customer who makes it possible for TOMS to send shoes and the organizations that distribute them. Last but not least, are the children who beat the odds to live longer and healthier lives. This is the reason that the TOMS website has a dedicated link to customer stories that puts a human face to the impact that customers have made with their purchases. It’s been a key ingredient in growing a passionate fan base of brand evangelists and the numbers speak for themselves. To date, TOMS has donated 60M+ pairs of shoes in more than 70 countries.

3. Get clear on your why.

As Simon Sinek so eloquently demonstrated in his 2009 TED Talk, customers don’t make buying decisions based on what you do or how you do it. They want to know why your organization exists and why they should care. His iconic Golden Circle diagram identified 3 key components in the sales process and why most companies have it backwards. It turns out that people are much more motivated to buy an idea, which is why getting clear on your company’s “why” is so critical to sales. TOMS “why” (value proposition) is a simple but compelling one. Use the profit from every pair of shoes sold to provide a pair of shoes to a child who needs them.

Maya Angelou famously said that “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is true whether you’re trying to convince investors to fund your startup, sending your sales director to pitch a lucrative client or launching a new product in front of thousands of attendees. In a 2017 interview, Black Sheep founder, Jeff Black said that “leaders need to get back to being messengers instead of just reading off presentation slides” and using the “power of a good story is the best way to influence others.” Black also reminds us that Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple “…was the star of the show — not the PowerPoint slide.”
Jobs understood that complex ideas presented in a simple way, are more likely to be remembered. As a result, he typically used a one-sentence summary of a product to capture the main message he wanted to deliver. Shortly after launching the first iPhone in 2007, Jobs announced, “Apple reinvents the phone.” It was the only sentence on the slide. He repeated the headline several times during his presentation to drive home the point. A Google search for the phrase turns up roughly 25,000 links, most of which come directly from articles and blog posts covering the launch presentation.
Stories help consumers engage not only with products but with the people who created them and are most loyal to the brands that consistently engage with them. Product stories humanize their benefits, turn a startup brand into a hero and make it more relatable and accessible to early adopters so they can help you build a community of brand evangelists. And that makes for a great founder story.

© Copyright 2019 Orly Zeewy, Brand Architect Banner Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

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