By Stephen Dupont, APR
This article originally appeared in Forbes.com.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for those videos that come up in our Facebook feeds about a U.S. soldier surprising their child at school after being away on a deployment. Or stories about a high school student or group of students who help a classmate with a physical or mental disability score a point in a basketball game. Or, the video of the NHL hockey player who tosses a puck to an adoring young kid at a hockey game.
As I scroll through my Facebook page, stories like these capture my attention. They only have seconds to do so — just like when I’m driving along the freeway and see a compelling headline on a billboard.
With an abundance of stories, videos and images to sort through today, it’s no wonder that brands struggle to engage new customers. Yet, some of the most effective tools for marketers and communicators to attract customers are familiar and well-tested. They’re the stories — powerful, authentic and relevant — that are all around us, just waiting to be shared.
On any given day, there may be dozens or, depending upon the size of your company, even hundreds of interesting stories that could reinforce and strengthen your organization’s brand. But, when considering the constraints of time and budget, it’s important to focus on the most compelling stories — the ones that will not only earn a brand valuable seconds of a consumer’s attention but keep their attention for even longer.
So, how can you find those specific stories?
Revisit the brand.
The place to start is to go back to the brand itself. What is the essence of the brand experience that you, the brand owner, wants to share with employees, customers, investors, etc.? What makes your brand unique? What are your brand’s values? What is its “why”?
As we move from one work activity to the next, often times we forget to step back and meditate on the “why” of the brand. Ask yourself these questions: Why does our brand matter, and to whom does it matter? What compelling value does your brand consistently provide? Why is your brand trusted?
Reconnecting with the brand can help you start to sort merely interesting stories from truly compelling stories.
Listen deeply to your customer.
Sometimes, as marketers or communicators, we may find ourselves at a loss for stories. That’s when it is vital to take the time to talk with your customers and really listen to them. This is important for two reasons: First, to identify potential stories that will elevate your brand, and second, to find out what types of stories or issues really matter to your customers (and potential customers).
The key to listening deeply is to make the time to do so (make it a regular practice), develop out-of-the-ordinary questions to obtain unique insights and then shut off your phone and just let your customer talk and share their experiences.
Tap into your values.
Why do we get choked up when a soldier surprises their kids after a long deployment, or when a college football team grants a young child their wish to become a USC Trojan for a day? It’s often because we see something bigger in ourselves. We see ourselves being kind, supporting our country or fighting for the underdog.
What is your organization doing to live up to its own values? To make a difference in this world? To think beyond the next sale to doing the right thing? To push the envelope in support of a better way?
Go there, and you will find some compelling stories.
Invite your customers in.
In our deep need to control the message, we often lock out the very enthusiasts whose testimonials and positive experiences with the brand would do the most good for our efforts to build our brand.
When one of our client’s customers shot some amazing video of our client’s product in use, we contacted the customer and asked if we could buy their video and use it in our branding efforts. Why go out and try to recreate something when the real thing is staring you in the face?
For that matter, instead of dropping thousands of dollars into the laps of “influencers,” what if you took that same investment and interviewed real, paying customers and asked for their consent to share their stories on your website, your social media and through your public relations efforts.
The best story wins.
While search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click (PPC) experts may say that keywords are all that matter, a compelling story has the power to attract a prospective customer who may wind up on your website or on your social media page. And with another story, and another one after that, you can succeed in engaging the customer.
What separates your brand from its competitors is who has the best, most compelling story that keeps a customer emotionally engaged with your brand. And it’s those stories that will allow your brand to evolve to the desired perception that every marketer and communicator dreams of reaching.
Stephen Dupont, APR, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a creative brand powerhouse based in Minneapolis-St. Paul. He blogs at www.stephendupont.co. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.