Using the power of storytelling to keep customers engaged

Is it me or is there an outbreak of storytelling in the media at the moment. It seems that every other ad break currently features a short film reminding us to value our friends and family and thank the people that have helped us along the way. All good of course but the cynic in me thinks that it must be nearly Christmas.

Why do we do that? Not just as individuals, but also as businesses, we wait until the last minute – or worse still, until we want something – to pay proper attention to the people around us. Surely we should be doing this all year round?

Business is particularly bad at that. When it goes quiet we suddenly remember that customer that bought from us a year ago and wonder why they haven’t been back. Similarly, that client that we did some consultancy for that we haven’t contacted since sending the final report and the invoice. It’s important that we take the time to keep our business relationships going and, if we do it on a regular basis, it shouldn’t take too much effort.

The chances are that our customers are not going to be in constant need of our services but we would all like to think that ours will be the first place they come to when they do need something we have. The alternative is that they go to some other company that just happened to contact them at the right time. The competition will always be out there and your customers will be constantly bombarded with messages from them. If you’ve taken the time to build and maintain a relationship with them, they’re more likely to come back to you (if they’re happy) – than they are to try something new – even when the competition is cheaper.

Particularly for small businesses, people buy people, and those relationships are all the more important. Even ‘big business’ recognises their value and tends to have key accounts that get the more personal touch for that very reason.

The best way to engage is to tell a story

As the advertising industry is showing, we all love a good story – especially one that we can personally relate to. Tell your customers stories about how others like them, whether it’s other businesses or other people, have benefited from working with or buying from you. It will help them to feel good about the choice they made in coming to you in the first place and reinforce the message that they can come back in the future. For those who have yet to make the leap it might help them decide if you really are the best choice for them.

Start by setting the scene – what was the problem? It could be something unusual like sourcing a wedding ‘cake’ made of cheese, or a local architect or builder helping a client gain that extra living space without moving away from friends and family.

Take your audience on the journey, using the most appropriate media, and tell them how you delivered a happy ending. Use lots of visuals and if possible let happy customers speak for themselves as it will help to make sure it’s all about them and not about you.

Tell stories with short videos on your website and YouTube, and spread the word by linking them to e-newsletters, Facebook and tweets. Depending on the industry you’re in, and the expectations of your customers, videos don’t always have to be all-singing-all-dancing with high-production values.

Use regular electronic or printed newsletters to keep customers up-to-date with stories, relevant offers and interesting news. Keep the focus on them not on you and remember that they probably aren’t that interested in hearing about that great piece of kit you’ve just invested in, or the fact that your sales team hit their targets this year. However, if the fact that you’ve bought a new fleet of vans means that you’ll be able to deliver to them more often, and help them keep their customers happy, then that is worth knowing about. Make it easy for them to picture what’s in it for them.

Round off stories with a subtle pointer to more information and the added benefit of a special offer, or trial, will help to make it all the more memorable.

Everyone loves a story so make the most of the power of storytelling to keep customers engaged in your business whatever the time of year.

Deborah Rowe
Deborah Rowe

Deborah is a chartered marketer, member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and fellow of both the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing and the RSA. She has more than 20 years of solid marketing and communications experience which she puts to good use as principal consultant of Sheba Marketing. Sheba Marketing provides no-nonsense business-to-business marketing support to small and medium-sized organisations that want to achieve great things.

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