Humans are emotional animals, and unless you can reach your intended audience on an emotional level, you won’t be making as great of an impact. In fact, research conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation concluded that the emotion of ‘likeability’ is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales.
Storytelling takes advantage of this likeability and allows marketers of businesses of all sizes to connect with their customers. It does this by providing a compelling, coherent narrative that listeners can project themselves into. This works to bridge the gap between the buyer and the seller and helps to personalise the message being shared. Simply put, no matter the industry, no matter the audience, the key to establishing a productive, ongoing relationship with your customers is storytelling. As such, storytelling is an integral factor in any customer relationship marketing effort.
What is Customer Relationship Marketing?
Although customer relationship marketing may use the same acronym as customer relationship management (CRM), the two concepts are related, but still quite different. And while customer relationship management is a term that collectively refers to the practices, strategies, and tools that are used by companies to manage and analyse customer interactions and data, customer relationship marketing is more focused on building brand loyalty through the use of targeted marketing strategies.
Customer relationship marketing begins with the customer’s first encounter with the brand and doesn’t stop once a sale is made. Instead, relationship marketers see the sale as the first step towards a mutually-profitable brand relationship that, if properly nurtured, will endure long after the memories of that first sale have faded away. After all, long-term engagement and brand loyalty are more valuable to businesses than single sales. Storytelling furthers the goals of relationship marketers, by eschewing the hard data and facts favoured by many marketing campaigns and relying instead upon the emotional connection generated through a compelling narrative.
Storytelling for Better Relationship Marketing
To better understand this concept, let’s consider two different scenarios:
In the first marketing campaign, an advertisement showcasing the price difference between a product and its competitors, highlighting the amount of money that can be saved by purchasing one product over the others. Additionally, the advertisement might provide statistics or other data to help demonstrate the superiority of the product itself.
In the second marketing campaign, a relatable scenario is presented, in which an individual encounters a problem. As the scenario plays out, the product itself is presented as a desirable solution to the problem.
While both scenarios offer compelling arguments as to why the customer should consider the product, only the second scenario does so in a way that speaks to the emotions of the customer. By creating a situation that is relatable, and by sharing a story with a clear and sympathetic protagonist, potential customers find themselves empathising, and imagining themselves in the position of the individual in the advertisement. And while the data-focused scenario might be just as effective in generating a sale, it is far less likely than the story-focused scenario to establish an emotional connection.
Research shows that fictional scenarios, such as those presented in novels (or even advertisements) affect the human brain in basically the same way as real-life experiences. This helps to ensure that the experience (real or fictional) and its associated emotional connotation remain with the experience. When used in marketing, this attribute allows for impactful, poignant messages which stay with the prospective customer long after the data-heavy numbers of traditional marketing have been forgotten. And this effect isn’t purely subconscious, either; research shows that 92% of customers say they want brands to focus on creating story-driven advertisements.
Additional Benefits of Storytelling
With the ability to connect with customers on an emotional level serving as a foundation, there are several other, more-specific advantages of using storytelling in customer relationship marketing. Here are three that are worth identifying:
Storytelling puts companies and clients on the same ‘team’
No matter how progressive and accepting the world is becoming, there will always be a certain, inherent ‘us vs. them’ mentality. This is because often the only way to define something is by identifying what it is not. Unfortunately, when buyers are trying to get valuable products or services for low prices, while businesses are attempting to make a viable profit off of those products or services, the end result is often that clients and companies come to see themselves as being on opposing teams. The storytelling approach to marketing dissolves this false distinction, and instead provides a separate antagonist in the form of a problem that can only be solved when buyers and sellers work together as co-protagonists. This allows for a closer, more positive relationship between all involved.
Storytelling allows brands to stand out from the competition
Think back on the commercials that really stand out from the past few decades. Almost without fail, the ones that are most memorable and timeless are those that made effective use of storytelling. From the simple and relatable plight of the woman who couldn’t find the beef, to the heavy, dystopian tone of the 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial/mini-movie, these marketing campaigns used storytelling to help set themselves above their competitors and thus proved effective at promoting their brands, long after the advertisements themselves were no longer being aired.
Storytelling makes it possible for brands to show off their personality
With the proliferation of e-commerce, buyers are now able to purchase from an almost-limitless pool of businesses from around the world. This allows for a wider selection of products and services, but it also means more difficulty in deciding which businesses to work with. Effective storytelling not only creates an emotional connection with prospective customers but also establishes a brand personality. Is your business a paragon of perfection? A maverick that breaks all the rules? The underdog that fights for the little guy? However you want your clients to view your business, effective storytelling provides a platform on which to demonstrate your brand’s personality.
When it comes to advertising, numbers are a great way to prove points and share facts, but they’re just not that effective when it comes to building relationships. If you want your clients to think of your company as more than just a company, you need to develop effective customer relationship marketing campaigns, and that means telling a story. After all, every customer sees him or herself as the hero in their own story, and by creating a relatable scenario in which that hero can overcome identifiable obstacles (with a little bit of help from your business), you’ll be making a place for your organisation in the hearts and minds of your clients.