Humanizing a product or business is one of the biggest challenges for companies, especially the big ones. I've been keeping an eye on many brands I like, some old, some new, some that "get it," some that obviously struggle with the storytelling concept for whatever reason. Some folks view their company as more of a commodity. Others can't seem to figure out how to make their marketing, sales, and PR efforts more "human" in tone and delivery. There are also those companies that have figured out the tonal issue but as a brand, it comes off fake and bloated with "Look at me!" content plugging up everyone's Facebook News Feeds, forcing people who "Liked" their page to now hide their content, which is essentially the same as "unliking" them or opting out.
My observations got me started drafting this post last week, and then low and beyond yesterday morning, Brian Solis (working with Jess3), released a new infographic/wheel emphasizing the current state of how brands can be more effective at getting their message across various social media channels and mediums in a way that makes sense and builds relationships with consumer. I admit to feeling some validation in my philosophy seeing this come from Brian.
Good storytelling is becoming a lost art, with social media partly to blame.
Social media is about the humans. It's about emotional resonance. It's about what people love, hate, analyze, cry about, make fun of and respond to. The one major thing that makes a good brand real for people, is a fantastic story. The good news about social media and storytelling is that it has made it possible for anyone to have a unique voice when telling their own story by giving them easy-to-use platforms and channels for doing so. I credit colleague Violet Blue for bringing up that point in a side conversation.
A story is what defines your place as an individual in this world. It's what makes you unique and sets you apart from everyone else. This is no different when you are talking about business. However, social media can be damaging to a brand if they are mislead to believe that drowning their audience in noise and self-promotion is the way to go. Brands new to social media want so bad to know how to leverage social media for their business and are being shown by consultants (who spend too much time talking about themselves and their own blogs) that they as a brand should also talk about themselves constantly using Twitter, Facebook, Posterous, Google+, Tumblr and others.
This is a very real problem that has been the genesis for a very broken definition of what social media actually is.
Who needs to have a good story?
You might be a B2B company. Regardless, there are still humans involved right? Whether you sell directly to your customers or you sell to a guy who sells to your customers, in the end, your customer needs to feel great about your brand and your product. If you are B2B, you want to make sure everyone in the chain understands your brand's compelling story and how to repeat it to those they sell to directly so that the sales cycle is solid and built on pure satisfaction and transparent understanding. If the middleman in the B2B sales process doesn't do a great job of telling your story to it's customers, then your company is not doing a good enough job communicating and inspiring them to consistently convey the right message.
You might be a B2C company. Some might say B2C and social media are a drop in the bucket. Well, I've tried selling ideas and products to consumers before and it almost always comes down to: "Why should I buy from you and not a competitor?" (an appropriate question for a consumer). The only time I didn't have an answer was when the brand I represented didn't have a story to tell that made them and their business connect and relate to their customers in a unique and personal way. One of my first entrepreneurial adventures just had a product and no story and I felt ridiculous representing my own brand at a trade show years when I realized this was missing.
Smoke and mirrors, polishing a turd, putting lipstick on a pig....whatever you want to call it those methods do NOT have the life span they once did in business because customer loyalty has become more fleeting. You know why? Social media. Just as social media has enabled us get even more personal with the brands that tell a great story, it has also dissolved the already fickle relationships that exist with brands that don't have a good story to tell. Those with no story will always stay status quo in the business world, if they aren't already on a light-speed trajectory to the place where businesses (and investors) go to die.
The process of being sent to an early grave will continue to be WELL on its way if we don't all work together to help brands focus on the most important part of their business: their story. Content is only king when there is a good story behind it. If the priority of storytelling within marketing is new to you, I'd recommend checking out "Brand Narrative: How Story Gives Meaning to Marketing" by a friend of mine @JonnyBint. It very simply explains the importance and the impact of a great story.
Why "commodity" is a state of mind
Obviously there are products and services that touch customers directly and indirectly but more often than not, companies have missed opportunities to humanize their business, ONLY because they made the decision to do so. If you the nature of your business is B2B, and while there's a possibility that the products or services you are pushing could be considered a commodity in the traditional sense (pre-social media), the relationships you maintain to do business are not. Even in the B2B world, a brand has to have a great story to back up and justify all the infrastructure and systems put in place to run it. If there's no creative foundation for the brand, then all minutiae required to run a big B2B business will come back and drain the life out of the brand. They say that crap rolls down hill, but so does a great story and good products so focus on maintaining those. Gravity doesn't discriminate.
The secret to resonating with social media audiences for the long term is letting them know first how you understand their lives, what's important to them, and how valuable their needs and ideas are. In your messaging, approach, PR practices, visual appeal, etc. you need to recognize that at the end of the day, customers are people, not just entries in a spreadsheet contributing to the bottom line. Tailor everything about your business on the front-end to this ideal and tailor the relationships on the backend to it as well. You decide if your business is to be viewed and experienced as a commodity or not.
Yeah, but businesses need to make money
The reason all of this is important is that by approaching it this way philosophically, you will intrinsically contribute to the bottom line anyway. Great products and a personal connection generate sales, regardless if they are B2C or B2B in nature.
Your social audience is the fuel behind what decisions you and your company make when it comes to delivering whatever it is you deliver and you should let them know this in the content you create, share and discuss with them publicly. It has already been said a thousand times before in a thousand different ways that, if in your social media channels your focus is your brand, your products, your services, your media coverage and your news, most social network audiences tune you out faster than deer guts slidin' off a doorknob (insert cartoony southern drawl voice here).
Storytelling is why Apple is where it is today. Their technology is great and all but if you take the soccer mom demographic for example, she doesn't buy the iPad because of how sophisticated its technology is. She bought it because she already believed the iPad was part of her life and the lives of her loved ones.
Where should you start?
If you don't have a story, create one. Successful businesses exist because they fill a need. If a customer's need was filled, you have yourself a great starting point. Collect individual stories from your customers about how your product/service made their lives easier and then build your brand around it.
If you already have a story, it's always good to re-evaluate it to make sure it reflects your current customer's needs and to check all layers of marketing, PR, sales, etc. ensuring that everyone is on the same page and is telling the same story.
So, what's your story?
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