Stop Storytelling. Start “Story-listening”.

In the world of brands, storytelling has been one of the most important buzzwords of the 21st century. With ever-changing channel strategies, it means ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re making a TVC or producing a content piece for the internet. It’s all about telling stories.’ many would claim that storytelling is what advertising has been doing since the 60s, and they’d be right. Conveying a story, more than just a promotion, has been proven in the past to be more effective in connecting with the audiences. The only problem is that it’s still just advertising –  just same shit, new wrapping, and it doesn’t really work anymore. Or at the very least, it’s not important to your customers. And if it’s not important to your customers, it shouldn’t be important to you. People aren’t interested in your stories, they are interested in your service, your products, what your company stands for, how you conduct your business, what price they have to pay, what value that price gives them, how it makes their life better, and how it makes them feel. Storytelling can only convey that, or put lipstick on a pig. 

Story listening is much more important. And it will grow increasingly important as the media landscape continues to change. Story listening is about taking the custommer seriously. It’s really a consumer centric approach to providing better products and services to your customer. It comes through listening to THEIR stories, understanding what they need, and what they want. It is an approach to doing business that is much more sustainable and yields a higher ROI, customer satisfaction and brand awareness than storytelling can ever do.

In fact, you may have noticed that ‘successful’ storytelling ihas very little to do with the brand or product, and quite often about something else. So how is that successful? Did it make people buy more? Did it get people talking about the brand? Did it deliver on any of the goals of the brand? Advertising agencies will tell you yes, but I say “look at the hard metrics”. Most likely, a majority of these storytelling campaigns deliver very little in terms of increased sales. And they are mostly reliant on people sharing these stories in social media to be successful. And guess what? Most people share very little branded content on their Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. If you’re lucky, Buzzfeed or some other content provider picks it up. But there’s still a question if it actually delivers results.

Instead, story-listening takes the opposite approach. How can we take real customer experiences to improve our product, our service, our fulfilment and even our marketing? How can we stay relevant to an ever-change customer base, and make each individual experience better, more interesting and more engaging – leading to higher sales and increased repeat purchases? We do it through listening to the customers’ stories and actions. Through both registering every action, and collating big data – as well as anecdotal recording of sales staff input, customer feedback and real-world observations. This can be done in traditional retail, in e-commerce, in B2B interactions, in transportation and in any form of customer interface solution you could possibly think of. It can be automated, analysed, tested and implemented on the go. 

Most importantly, brands need to start opening up channels for consumers to tell their stories. Not just complaints, not just about brand/shopping experiences, but just share their lives In a way that lets brands improve their service levels and their product offering. They’re already sharing these stories, we’re just not harnessing them in a good and practical way. Again, these can be online or offline, it’s just a question of finding a way to really understand what to look for, how to use the information, and how to implement changes over time. Not just once. Because story-listening is a digital transformation process that is continuous and ever-changing. It has to be embedded in the culture of the company. It’s time to stop talking, and to start listening.

Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder & CEO of Acoustic.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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