Connecting with Customers Through Storytelling

Traditional marketers and advertisers might be familiar with the first and second moments of truth when a consumer respectively makes and experiences a purchase. While strategic and tactical marketing plans are critical in these moments of truth, modern marketing is focused on connecting with consumers during what Google deemed the "zero moment of truth"(ZMOT)-a phase in the purchasing process when consumers, usually through digital media channels, are researching products before purchases.

The ZMOT has emerged with increased availability of information about products through the uninhibited internet access, especially on mobile devices. Consider how often you browse deals on your phone through Groupon, Amazon or email blasts on your smartphone. Chances are, you've acquired a lot of information, compared prices and read user reviews before making some of your recent purchases.

While businesses are more constrained when it comes to quickly modifying prices or changing products in response to customer feedback, there's one easy element to implement in marketing to help your audience during the ZMOT: storytelling.

We've outlined three key reasons why storytelling should be a part of your current marketing and advertising efforts across all platforms to give customers the information they're looking for before they make a purchasing decision.

Storytelling makes the product real.

It's difficult for a customer to know how that chenille throw is going to feel in their hands when they're looking at it online. Maybe a consumer is willing to risk it for $30. But what about a trip to a family entertainment center that could cost a few hundred dollars? What about a donation that will yield only an emotional reward for your audience? Help your customers envision a positive future with your product or service through telling a story in your messaging.

Incorporating stories-whether they're short quotes or extended anecdotes-can help communicate the utility of a product or the quality of a service. Consumers need to know that someone has authentically used and evaluated what they're considering buying, and giving them a narrative is a creative and engaging way to help associate positive emotions with that decision. Swap out product descriptions for user reviews that highlight the best aspects. This helps make the imagined experience more real.

Consider marketing messages that highlight the qualities of the product in an experiential way, and put it in terms of something the customer likely already knows. That chenille throw is going to be a lot easier to purchase if they know it feels like that special cashmere sweater instead of their microfiber window towels.

Storytelling gives the consumer a vantage point.

Providing customers with a story that places them in the role of someone who has made the decision you want them to make is essential to being successful in a ZMOT world. They need a character they can latch onto. Is your Instagram showing families at your attraction having a great time? Are your testimonials giving insights about the product, or simply some exciting adjectives?

Consider incorporating some longer form blogs and articles that give a well-rounded customer experience or success story. Use real names and quality images, and consider a "brand journalism" style of writing that gives readers a genuine sense of the experience in a casual style that highlights your unique voice. While you should be using images and minimal verbiage to grab a consumer's attention, those spending time in the ZMOT phase of purchasing might be looking for something more detailed as part of their research.

Storytelling is a vehicle for voice.

Speaking of your unique voice, storytelling is a powerful way to communicate your brand. As more and more companies are moving towards a "brand experience," users need to have an emotional connection to products and services that want their loyalty.

Television commercials for healthcare systems don't tell you about their doctors' degrees or how the advanced MRI machine works; they show bright images with sincere voiceovers of families living healthy lives. Hospitals are able to supplant a typically sterile and scientific subject with a sense of comfort, compassion and confidence-elements more important to their identity than hard facts and qualifications.

Use all your media and marketing platforms as storytelling venues. Invite your audience to experience the product from a consumer's perspective, and do it in a way that makes them feel what your brand is all about.