Compelling Brand and Personal Storytelling

From an an executive, to a public speaker, to a wine brand, the most effective of us tell stories to reach the heart of our audience. So what does that mean in an increasingly digital world?

No one wants to hear just any old story. We want to hear stories that move and inspire us. So in a world where data and brand storytelling is growing in influence and urgency, how do we ensure the stories we tell are compelling?

There are a lot of articles and white papers these days on digital storytelling; understanding how the sequence of data points creates a cause / effect relationship in the overall customer journey. While that’s a start, and sure it’s a story, it’s not quite yet a compelling story. To move from data sets, to story, to compelling story, the brand storyteller must get to the “okay, give me an example,” phase. This moves us from an interesting sequence of facts about faceless groups of people, to a genuine story about a genuine person; someone we can relate to and empathize with. We’re talking names, dates, and every specific you can think of to add contour and depth to how you understand your customer experience, and potentially additional insight you hadn’t considered. This is beyond your “scenario” customer your marketing department might have come up with (as valuable as that is). This is about real people, real impact, and real emotions.

The most compelling storytellers use this technique all the time. Brené Brown tells beautiful, memorable stories to drive home her message about authenticity, the universality of shame, and bravery. Simon Sinek spends much of his talks on leadership telling stories in vivid detail about real people in crucial moments. What makes their stories memorable? The stories are specific.

“In the particular is contained the universal”

Don’t fear the specific. In 1922, novelist James Joyce told Irish Times journalist Arthur Power, “In the particular is contained the universal.” The best storytellers have been using that advice ever since. We can’t be emotionally moved by “9 out of 10 customers,” but what about the story of Janet from Vancouver, whose parent had recently passed away; and in addition to having to deal with that tremendous loss, Janet had to call seemingly everyone to make arrangements because there was just no one else stepping up to help. And on top of everything her pre-paid phone plan was maxed out and her finances were stretched too thin. So before she could call the funeral home, and her relatives, and the lawyers, and the children, she also had to call Telus to add minutes to her phone that she could barely pay for. She talked to Allen, the super-hero customer service person who told her, “Look, you’ve got too much to deal with to worry about whether you have enough minutes on your phone,” and placed nation-wide calling and texting on her phone for a week, free of charge, because it was the compassionate thing to do. And that seemingly small act of kindness was the kind gesture that Janet needed to somehow deal with everything else she was facing. (Important note here: I’ve changed the names and other details because it’s not my story to tell, but the essentials of the story are true. Take a listen to my customer experience podcast episode featuring Arleen King, SVP Customer Experience, from Telus to hear more).

So while it’s important to compile your data into stories, that’s not quite for enough to get to the compelling or inspiring phase, or move-mountains phase. To become compelling, to make your customers, executives, stakeholders, and literally everyone else, say “wow;” to help your audience get to the emotions behind the data, find the true-life examples of your data story in action. In other words, find one of the living breathing human beings who make up those 9 out of 10 customers, and learn what it really means to be part of that group. Then get as specific as you can; and tell that story.

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