Marketers can win over buyers through their stories – Dr. Muneer Muhamed

In this era of advanced technology and enhanced digital media, many if not most businesses are driven by high tech. However, they still need to address customer issues such as emotion, empathy and responsiveness.

And it is never old-fashioned in that sense as customers are human beings, after all; they’re not heartless and mindless humanoids.

Many organisations talk about creating customer experiences; but to a majority of them, it is still only about wishing clients on their birthdays and anniversaries! Is that adequate ‘customer experience management’?

For any business to generate positive experiences for customers, its marketing team should work across the entire spectrum of the organisation, and align its workers with their company’s collective vision and brand strategies. This is a must when it comes to developing experiences for a customer across his or her life cycle and touch points.

In this digital era, tech jargon is commonplace; and yet, marketers talk of content and narrative, in addition to stickiness, views and Google analytics. Even sports personalities use narratives when analysing a pro match or other game. They use this word to describe how a team has changed its way of playing to reach the finals, for instance.

But what is ‘narrative’ in a digital context for a business?

It is your customer story – and nothing less…

We all know that marketing, creative advertising and consultative sales processes are required to build leads, and drive purchases. Yet, it’s not always as easy as that to make a customer opt to buy your offerings – because there is only so much that marketing and advertising can do. The creative content in ads, brochures and websites may result in customers having an interest in you but not necessarily closing the deal.

Think of it this way: how many times have you personally selected a number of items for your shopping cart on an e-commerce site, only to abandon them at the last minute?

There could be several reasons for this – including poor connectivity, a complicated checkout process or pricing. However, if there had been a reference from a trusted source, you’d probably end up making the purchase.

But how many e-commerce sites have mastered this despite research showing that around 90 percent of online buyers believe in recommendations from friends and family members over advertisements?

Interestingly, it’s no different when it comes to B2B markets.

Another research finding is that in an IT buying situation, some 60 percent of buyers depend on a colleague’s recommendation as the critical decision-making criterion.

Given this background, customer stories create a big difference in buying behaviour. It is about creating positive customer experiences.

Let’s say we have to choose between two brands – X and Y. What will we look for before making a decision? Advertising by the two companies; product comparison sites; or the advice of a colleague or an expert we know personally?

There is no question that we will rely more on the advice of the expert whom we know. This being the case, why are companies in the B2B space not capturing and using customer stories more effectively?

With technology on our side today, it’s easy to capture and share customer stories across the world since there is no limit on outreach. You have your own website, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and many more platforms to carry stories. Video and audio content are easier to deliver now, and print is passé.

Critically, the story is the byproduct of the customer experience; it’s something that you as a marketer must tell in an emotive context.

Today, the West is teaching the East how to tell stories. Stanford University offers a course on storytelling that’s led by social psychologist and Professor of Marketing Jennifer Aaker. Storytelling is all about using words and actions to express the emotional part in an imaginative way so that listeners remain captivated as it unfolds.

Stories can occasionally backfire if not delivered properly.

For instance, when Emirates Airline had the first real accident in its history (its Trivandrum-Dubai flight crash landed in Dubai), it was a PR nightmare to manage the horror story. Relatives in Trivandrum who wanted to know the status of the survivors and other details were met with a closed Emirates office, and unanswered telephone lines.

Clearly, this kind of behaviour doesn’t create a positive experience for customers. Emirates must surely have learnt how to manage a crisis since then…

Marketers need to work across the organisation to drive customer experiences. And in a B2B situation, it is all about responding promptly and being available at critical times, quality delivery at the time the customer needs it and so on.

When all personnel are aligned with the strategy, the stories will pour out in no time… and this will drive future growth.

Stories can occasionally backfire if not delivered properly