Companies need to move away from the art of storytelling (a term that is all the rage these days) and into the art of storymaking.

This means gathering tales from customers about how your brand has become a part of their true-life experiences, according to David Berkowitz, CMO with Manhattan branding consultancy MRY. He shared these ideas at HubSpot's INBOUND conference in Boston last week, elaborating on a column he penned in AdAge called "The Beginning of the End of Storytelling." 

Here's the big idea: Storytelling, as most brands use it, is a one-way street, in which the brand monologues its tale to potential customers. By contrast, storymaking is inclusive and collaborative. The storymaking example Berkowitz likes to use comes from Coca-Cola. Here's how he describes it in the AdAge article:

Think of a brand you love: Apple, Tide, Gucci, Hyundai, or any brand that you identify with. Do you know what its story is? I just paid way too much money to get the new iPhone, but I can't tell you Apple's story.

I asked my wife about this, too. Cara loves Diet Coke, so I asked her, "What's Coke's story?" The next thing I knew, I was living in a real-world version of the "carousel" moment from "Mad Men." She started telling me about when Coke came out with cans with red tabs, and all her friends used to collect them. And then she told me about the games she played with her friends in sleepaway camp, where they'd break off tabs from Coke cans as a way to reveal which boys they liked. Thanks to this brand, I was learning more about the person in my life I have been the closest to for nearly a decade.

You can see how this insight would be helpful to any brand working on its marketing strategy. One problem: Not every brand is Coca-Cola. It's one thing to practice storymaking if you're a consumer product with global distribution, a massive marketing budget, and more than a century's worth of history. How can you practice storymaking if you're a small, young company with a limited budget and a complex product? What if your customers aren't teenage consumers, but high-tech businesses? 

I emailed Berkowitz to ask him about this after his talk at the INBOUND conference. "Small businesses have the disadvantage of more limited budgets and resources, but they often have far greater knowledge of how people relate to their products and services," he replied. 

What he means is this: As a startup or a small business, you probably already know your customer's fondest memories about using your product or service. Off the top of your head, you can probably name a few things that are your customers' equivalent of the breaking-off-the-tabs stories. The key to storymaking is to find the stories that "tap into some deeper emotional meaning," notes Berkowitz. 

For Berkowitz, storymaking relies on the classic how-to-please-your-customers analogy: People don't want a quarter-inch drill but want a quarter-inch hole. In storymaking, the goal is to find the deepest emotional reason for those figurative holes. "The hole they want may be to hang a piece of artwork. And they might want that artwork displayed because it reminds them of that happy time and place when they bought it," he explains. "In that case, the drill is the gateway to a constant stream of happy memories. That gives the owner of the local hardware store or the person running the drill plant a far more powerful way to connect with someone."

For Coca-Cola, stories like those of breaking-off-the-tabs are the gateway to those happy memories. Your customers have fond memories too. To revamp your marketing strategy, you should find the way your brand has abetted those memories. Then you should share those stories, as a way of sharing your own.

Published on: Sep 22, 2014