Are You Putting Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes?

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Dan Grech, president of BizHack Academy in Miami, now devotes his professional life to how to best reach audiences. "We're all in business to give customers what they need when they need it," he said in a BIMS session in November about the customer journey.

"Put yourself in your customer's shoes," he urged. "And start imagining that you are going through their journey." That's the beginning piece; the brainstorming comes after. To illustrate that point, he posted five questions that you should put on a whiteboard when starting a marketing initiative:

  • How do customers recognize they have a need?
  • Where do customers get their information?
  • How do they evaluate alternatives to satisfy their need?
  • How do they actually make the purchase?
  • How do they act after the purchase has been completed?

Audience members filled the board with answers in an exercise that you could tell Grech has perfected in his teachings. "It's about empathy," he said. "Too often we fail to seek to understand [the customer journey]. Ask questions that are meaningful and powerful. The biggest human need is to be validated and understood. It shows that you really care about them."

Grech's original expertise was nonfiction storytelling—he has two Masters degrees in the field. "When we survey business owners about what skills would most help them grow their business, storytelling finishes dead last. Yet my seminars on business storytelling, where I ask business owners to articulate why they started their business, consistently rank the highest of everything I teach."

The Atlanta chapter of the American Marketing Association recently released a whitepaper called "Storytelling 2020: What You Need to Know About Storytelling in Marketing."

According to the whitepaper, storytelling allows brands "to foster engagement in ways that inspire [people] to take action, whether it be a click, like or purchase. Even more, it creates an evolving narrative that naturally connects with [audiences], adding value to—and ultimately becoming part of—their everyday lives."

Among its suggestions are checking out new technologies. "There are a number of new technologies than can be used to extend and evolve your brand story. Consider allocating a portion of your budget to new technology and innovation testing. Supporting testing encourages teams to put analysis into the things they are interested in. It also gives your audience a say, which is important when you're seeking a connection with customers."

And, of course, data has to be a huge factor. "Success demands you know your customer. Spend time unpacking your data to learn the behaviors, habits and expectations of your audience. Consider creating a customer journey map to have a more solid understanding of the journey your customers take when they interact with your brand."

The whitepaper also gave a push to small companies like BizHack. "There are many digital agencies and consultancies that are already working successfully in this space and, as a result, know and understand the opportunities and hazards of things like emerging technology. Lean on their expertise to help push boundaries, assess risks and think creatively."

Grech said that good storytelling needs to be pervasive and un-siloed within a company. "We've worked closely with more than 300 business owners to identify their deeper mission and higher purpose, the 'something bigger' that they're striving to achieve. We call this their Brand Promise, and that promise needs to be present in every communication with a client, prospect or staffer. One of the business owners we work with custom-prints paper cups, and his Brand Promise is to create unforgettable social gatherings."

He added that running a company has brought together many strands of his business life: storytelling, broadcast, gamification, coaching, even improv. "I find that really appealing. But what's been most satisfying is learning the amazing stories of resilience and determination embodied by the business people who go through our courses."

It's those stories that need to get out there.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…