Telling a good story is nothing new for brands. They’ve been telling some of the best stories for decades now, drawing in consumers to identify with and trust their brand. But being a great storyteller isn’t enough anymore. Consumers want outlets to share their own stories, not just wade through a sea of broadcasted messages, left to decide for themselves which are truly genuine. Today’s consumer has this outlet in the form of social media.
When Netflix tried to change their pricing on customers last year, they were met with a loud, shrieking “NO!” What ensued between Netflix and their customers was the equivalent of a public negotiation over profit and customer satisfaction. Beyond public objection, Netflix’s customers also wanted to let it be known how the change affected them. This group of boisterous customers wanted Netflix’s brand story to be told through their voices.
Consumers see themselves as storytellers, and smart brands encourage their customers to share their stories with others. A customer’s personal (or perceived) perspectives are respected far more by other consumers than a brand’s perspectives, because a customer’s stories have a genuine quality, as opposed to a brand’s stories, which are seen as more superficial. According to Facebook's Best Practices, on average, user-generated content (UGC) produces 90% higher engagement than brand-generated content. By engaging this generation of consumers who now have a forum to share and scale their voice, brands will build a following of consumers who see the real meaning behind their brand: the meaning that is defined by the sum of their customers’ voices.
But don’t take my word for it -- experience the power of customer storytelling yourself. Try not to get goosebumps while watching GE Healthcare employees meet the people whose lives their products have saved Witness a grown man cry when his children reconnect him with the ‘65 Chevy Impala SS he sold to pay for his son's education. See firsthand how Imagination Yoga uses Microsoft Office365 to get professional success from a non-traditional workforce. Hear how a Toyota Avalon saved a woman's life and why it’s now the car of choice for her and her extended family. Where there’s a customer, there’s a genuine story waiting to be told. And chances are your customers would rather hear the story from another customer than from you.
The thought of leaving the storytelling up to customers might seem a bit risky -- perhaps like deciding to ride a tractor trailer down a mountain without any brakes. But redirecting customer stories in positive ways gives brands the control they need. For example, Google’s “It Gets Better” campaign took submissions from celebrities and average people alike to help a young, once-victimized LGBT community keep pushing forward. Content was obviously heavily edited, but the result was a profound story that captures the emotion and gravity of a large social issue. Think of how many PSAs don’t achieve similar viral success, but have equally heavy messages.
We've always known that consumers are motivated by stories. Now it’s clear that consumers are motivated to tell their own stories. It’s imperative that brands engage their customers on a level that identifies and features these stories for marketing. Campaigns that directly ask for customer input or a shared voice are quickly replacing those that feature brand-driven content. With the right control, customer stories are deeply powerful for brands.