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Customers Love Themselves. Use This to Your Advantage

Want engaged, loyal customers? Make them the heroes of their own stories. Here's how.
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Want engaged, dedicated customers who'll be ambassadors for your brand? Put them at the center of their own stories. That advice comes from Gaston Legorburu, and Darren (Daz) McColl, executives at the digital advertising agency SapientNitro. They've coined the term "Storyscaping" to describe this process, and recently published a book explaining how to do it.

Legorburu, SapientNitro's global chief creative officer, says they decided to write the book the moment the agency's "very stuffy lawyers" called to suggest cease-and-desist letters in order to control how the term was being used in the marketplace. "We looked at each other and said that's the opposite of what we should be doing," he recalls.

The power of story is something every company can use to make an impact, he says. "Stories are how we humans make sense of the world. You connect a series of events to your relationship to a place, a person, or even an object. Everything has a story, and that's we sort things out." As our world becomes more complex, with most of us moving back and forth between the physical and virtual worlds, and stimulus of all kinds coming at us in unprecedented ways, that need to organize our lives into stories becomes that much stronger, he adds.

What's the most effective way to harness that power? Here are the insights he and McColl want to share--legal advice be damned!

Find your purpose.

This will likely be related to your mission statement. (You do have one, right?) "It should be powerful and meaningful," says McColl, who is SapientNitro's global chief strategy officer. "Every kind of company has such a purpose, especially if it connects with consumers. Your core purpose is your belief about doing something better. How does your product or service make the world a better place and customers' lives better?"

Once you figure that out, he adds, "Be incredibly authentic in how you deliver the message about your product and how you engage with customers."

Learn your customer.

Take a look at your target, ideal customer and learn everything you can about them. "We look at them in a couple of dimensions," Legorburu says. "What do they desire? What do they need? How do they feel about things? We recognize that needs and emotional desires are not separate. We really look into their behavior patterns, how they do things. We start finding opportunities to have brands connect emotionally."

Create a world.

Ideally, when your customer interacts with your company, he or she is entering a world to explore where everything is interconnected. Technology makes this possible in ways it never used to be.

For instance, McColl recounts how ESPN upped customer engagement for the X Games by creating the Hype Meter, a smartphone and tablet app that allows the live audience at the events and those watching on the couch at home to all signal their appreciation at once by shaking a phone, tapping on a tablet, or sending a tweet, to make all of them feel like part of one big audience. The more people signal their appreciation, the higher the Hype Meter goes and everyone can see it all at once. Fans can also review video directly from within the Hype Meter app, so they can relive the moments that caused the most cheering.

"Think about how they can create their own stories," he says. "And make sure there's never an end--finish with a comma, not a full stop."

Create customer experiences that inspire stories.

Imagine you have an independent movie theater, Legorburu says. You only have one screen. How do you compete with the multiplexes at the mall? "Let's say you have couches," he says. "And you allow people to pre-order both their tickets and their snacks. And you keep the theater really clean. People will say, 'I just went to this movie theater and you wouldn't believe it! I didn't have to stand on line, I didn't have to wait for Beavis and Butthead to make me popcorn, and when I went inside there were these comfortable couches and everything was spotless. I'm never going back to a traditional theater again!'"

Build-A-Bear is a good example of a company that built its products around a story-worthy experience for customers, he adds. "Think of the selfishness of the selfie," he says. "Customers do things in their own interest. Brands should not think of themselves as the hero in their story, they should play some supporting role such as coach. That is a pretty simple premise. But it's difficult for most leaders in companies to shift their perspective to say, 'I'm creating an environment for my customers to live in along with us,' as opposed to 'If we build it, they will come.'"

Encourage customers to share their experiences.

Thanks to social media, if you make a single customer really happy--or really unhappy--large numbers of people are likely to hear about it. Don't neglect to capitalize on that trend. An event, even for a relatively small number of customers, can be a very worthwhile investment if those customers share images and comments about the experience to their social networks.

"Think about creating not a splash, but ripples," Legorburu says. "Look for ways to create social capital. Maybe you put a free photo booth at your event, but the photos are all uploaded to Facebook."

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IMAGE: thewhitestdogalive/Flickr
Last updated: Jun 11, 2014

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, 'The Geek Gap'

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Like this post? Sign up here for a once-a-week email and you'll never miss her columns.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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