I've written a lot about storytelling lately, looking for a way to take this buzzword and put substance behind it. My latest conversation helps, but also opens the door for more questions around what storytelling can do for customer experience beyond marketing.
I spoke with Ryan Taft, CEO of the startup, STORYSOFT, a digital storytelling platform. Taft has spent the last fifteen years in marketing, a lot of that on the agency side, but also in the startup world.
Not only does he understand marketing, but he also understands technology, and as the founder of a marketing technology company, it’s critical to be able to speak to both sides of the house.
We discussed everything from how to do storytelling the right way to how stories support Sales and Customer Service as much as they support marketing. And, of course, we talked about his new startup and how his company wants to bring storytelling to every channel (the podcast is embedded below).
On storytelling in marketing
You can’t have a conversation with a marketer without discussing storytelling. As Taft says:
I think as marketers, we've been telling stories since the beginning of marketing. It's just taken a different form over the years. And, so why I think it's coming back is because stories are the most powerful form of content.
In the last ten years, everybody's been riding the content marketing wave. But a lot of that content now has become saturated, right? Reach has been commoditized with tools like mobile and social media, and we're inundating consumers with content, but that content is historically focused on the what - what my product does, what features it offers, what it costs.
Taft said that consumers now want to understand the how and the why - why should I buy from you? How are you different? How does using your product make me feel? This is where storytelling can help. Like everything, though, there is a scale of effectiveness.
A lot of people are talking about telling stories, but they're doing it utilizing traditional media, and they're not going deep on the emotion side of it. I think that's where you get the real value, when you're able to evoke emotion, create empathy with your audience so that they can see themselves within your story.
Taft makes a good point, so I asked if there was a strategy or a series of steps that a brand would take to put themselves in that right mindset.
There is a proven storytelling framework, and it’s very similar to the storytelling framework when you are writing fiction. In marketing, we talk about the hero’s journey all the time. The first thing you have to do, said Taft, is to resonate, create empathy.
You have to identify with your audience and understand what challenges are they going through, what are their core values, and which ones which of those core values align to your brand's core values. You need to manifest that at the beginning of the story so that you get people to say, this brand’s like me, or this character is going through a similar challenge that I'm going through, I'll give them my attention for just a little bit longer.
Taft said to think in terms of conversion rates at each point in the story. You have to think about how your story is moving a customer forward all the time.
There's a great book. It's called Storynomics. And it talks about the open mind moment. It's that "aha" moment when everything within a story kind of comes together. And at that instant, there's actually been studies done on the brain where the mind is open to any messages that are planted at that time for about; I think it's five to eight seconds.
On marketing in the healthcare industry
Much of Taft’s experience is with healthcare and financial services, and I asked him how different it is to do marketing in these industries compared to technology and other similar industries.
Healthcare, financial services, industries like that, they're highly regulated. If you are an innovator and you want to bring new ideas, new technologies to the space, it takes a very different effort, working with different stakeholders from the regulatory side of the house to their marketing team to the agencies that they work with. You have to make sure that everybody's on the same page and understands how we can bring about innovation while reducing our exposure, our risk.
Taft said that healthcare has typically been ten to fifteen years behind, but things are changing. He pointed to Novartis bringing in a Head of Digital from outside healthcare, something that would never have happened a few years ago. There are signs they are leveraging consumer insights and bringing that thinking into the healthcare space, Taft said.
I think one of the big things that we see across all industries, but specifically health and healthcare is how to use data in a compliant way to create these frictionless customer experiences, whether that's for a patient, whether that's for a healthcare provider, a representative. They're trying to find ways to leverage the right tools to do what everybody's trying to do right now, which is to break through the noise, break through the clutter and help their brand stand out.
How STORYSOFT tells your stories
STORYSOFT is a SaaS-based digital storytelling platform, and in some ways, it is similar to Apester, an interactive storytelling platform I wrote about earlier in the year. On the surface, these tools are similar. They enable marketers to create mobile-first, interactive stories that can run on any channel or device.
But where Apester is focused on publishers and has a strong advertising component for brands, STORYSOFT is focused on helping brands share stories ranging from brand stories to product and services stories, registration, training, and even “how-to” stories. There is no advertising component.
Taft explained STORYSOFT as having three key components: storytelling framework, marketing technology integration, and analytics. He described the platform as creating digital linear narratives that consumers can swipe through. Because the story is linear, you can gain insights into how your stories are resonating, find where customers are dropping off, and adapt the content quickly to ensure they are reading through to the final CTA.
You embed these stories on your website, or you share them via a published URL on social media, through text messaging and other means. Integration with systems like CRM and marketing automation mean you can personalize your stories dynamically using data you have on your customers or visitors. Personalization could be as simple as putting the person’s name in the story, creating stories for personas or segments, or more complex personalization using previous shopping behavior.
STORYSOFT is not fully automated at this time, which means you work with the STORYSOFT team to integrate your marketing systems and set up your personalization rules and perform other customizations. Taft did say they are working on a builder that automates much of the work.
Storytelling tools are not just for marketers
We talk a lot about storytelling in marketing. But what about Sales, Customer Service or Support? Are brands missing an opportunity to engage with customers? I asked Taft, and he agreed the opportunity is there.
Absolutely, I think that's where we see the future, the expansion. Right now, a lot of our messaging is focused on marketers. But this tool and storytelling, because stories are very human, in terms of how we consume and tell ourselves stories, they're really the most effective form of content. Which means they bridge really any sort of conversation.
Think of it as a better way of telling the traditional case study or showing how a product works in a certain situation. Or the “how-to” stories that show you how to use a product to solve a problem. Storytelling in e-commerce scenarios can also provide stronger persuasion to purchase when it’s combined with personalization, something Taft talked about with his company’s platform.
Expanding our capabilities for storytelling into tools for account-based marketing, sales enablement, and self-service support portals will come, and in some cases, may already be happening. It’s an area worth thinking about as you build your customer experience strategies for the coming year.