Storytelling has been a popular business buzzword in recent years and with companies clambering to find new and exciting ways to stick in their customer’s subconscious, are they at risk of forgetting what people really want to hear and how they want to listen to it?
Humans have been storytelling for as long as they can speak.
We love to listen to stories, to be able to relate to a clear, relevant and linear narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end - that hasn’t changed and likely never will. But the way we consume and process information has, so how we share and deliver our stories should too.
You know yourself, you sit down after a long day, comatose in front of the TV, half paying attention, half flicking through the notifications on your phone, WhatsApping here, Facebook surfing there, checking for nearby Pokemon?! Your mind is weary, but you can’t stop jumping from one half-assed task to the next. Frankly, it’s exhausting.
You feel guilty for the sheer inability you have to focus on just one thing, and then guilty when you do manage some semblance of tunnel vision focus!
As a business you are privileged for every iota of time that someone chooses to spend with you amongst the maelstrom of everything else. With the average human’s attention span currently sitting at just 8.25 seconds, you’ve got about 3 seconds to entice them to stop and spend the remaining 5.25 seconds! People care about their time and don't take kindly to spending it in any way other than how they want to spend it. Your customer’s attention is your most valuable resource.
You don’t have a captive audience, you just don’t, there’s no such thing - short of kidnapping people and forcing them to sit in a room with you – and even then there’s no guarantee they’ll listen! You’ve got to know what they want to hear and how they want to hear it and do it well.
1. Know who you’re talking to and what they care about
Storytelling is a long-term strategy, a commitment to provide valuable content consistently which is highly relevant to your audience. Taking time to delve deep into who your audiences are, what keeps them up at night and what you can offer that will make their lives easier is time extremely well spent. Telling your brand story isn’t about explaining who you are, where you came from and why everyone should love you. It's pulling out the pieces of your story that your audience can relate to, and that will help them see where you fit into their lives and the value you can offer them now and in the future.
Think about how you feel when you’re stuck in a conversation with someone who is talking at you on a subject that has absolutely no relevance to you. You feel a bit useless, bored, trapped and plotting your quickest exit route. A successful conversation is a two-way transaction with each person working to find a common interest. And let’s face it, when that conversation is online there’s no airs and graces involved – if you don’t prove that common ground fast, you’re last!
2. Create stories that are relevant to their journey
Know that your audience won't be willing to spend a lot of time with you until they trust that you’ll have something they want to hear. You need to earn that trust by giving them value and starting bitesize. Don’t dangle a 40-page whitepaper in front of someone who doesn’t know or care about you and expect them to be grateful. That’s like approaching a stranger and asking them to come on a date with you.
Think about where they are when they first hear about you, is it through a paid social ad, at an event, word of mouth? What are they looking for in that environment, and what’s going to make them listen while they’re there? Here’s a clue, probably not something about how fabulous your products are! They’ll want to understand the connection between you and them, what do you offer that can help improve their situation? Why should they come to you to solve their problem? Maybe you can demonstrate a bit of that upfront and give them some value for free, quickly.
A quick video that talks directly to something they’re looking for, something that takes minimal commitment on their part. Don’t ask them to give up lots of time or money when they don’t even know who you are. Showing that you understand your customers don’t owe you anything in the beginning, counts for a lot.
Let’s break it down using a basic, linear customer journey for a personal training company whose audience is busy mums of under 5s as an example:
Journeys are rarely as clear-cut as that but my point is to respect the stage your customers are at with you and don’t expect their loyalty at the start, you have to earn it. Just like any human interaction, because they’re human and so are you!
3. Respect how people consume content today
One company that has really taken the psychology of storytelling and modern content consumption to heart is Snapchat. The micro-messaging app has about 150 million daily active users worldwide and still rising. Users can’t get enough of their 24-hour story feature that lets you share a series of moments throughout your day with imagery, video, text, emoticons – you name it. It’s so popular that Instagram has just launched its own, almost identical version, in recent weeks.
It lets you be creative and have fun, while giving people the chance to see what you’re all about – quickly! They get to exercise their natural voyeur, with very little time and effort on their part and with your complete consent. It’s instant gratification.
And people expect no less from the businesses they choose to engage with. Your future customers feel they have the right to know everything about you. They want to know the faces behind the computer screens, the values of the companies they’re considering spending their hard earned cash on. They Google you, they expect an answer within minutes on Twitter and it’s the companies that embrace this that will win. They are transparent, giving their customers full access passes behind the scenes, publishing content and moments that will entertain, inform or educate them.
I’m not saying you need to start publishing everything your company does on Snapchat, but just to consider the psychology behind why its popularity has exploded. Even if your audience don’t use Snapchat (yet) it’s a great way to force yourself to condense your stories into micro-moments that may just spark enough interest to make them want to spend more than 8.25 seconds of their precious time with you in the future.
(Blog first published 01/09/2016)