We have written before about all the possible heroes for your marketing story, but let’s be blunt: usually it’s best to let your customer be the hero. Your customer story has the advantage of being about someone they already care deeply about: themselves. Telling it will allow you to show the customer how your product or service fits into their life or solves their problem.
What is a Story?
Before we talk about how to tell your customer story, let’s back up for a second. What exactly is a story? In the business world, the definition can be hard to pin down. People sometimes use the word to describe an argument, a list of features, or a series of events. But an argument is not a story, and neither is a list of features. A series of events can be a story, but only under certain circumstances.
So, what is a story? A story describes a series of events focused around a character who acts to address a need. Their action results in either failure or success.
Take Hamlet for example: a Danish fellow needs to avenge his father’s death, he gathers his conviction to act, and he gains his revenge (with a rather messy result.) If you inspect any novel, movie, play, or TV show, you’ll find a character with a need, who acts to meet that need, and reaches a result through those actions.
Marketers and business leaders need to understand that stories are not there just to make marketing entertaining (although that’s a good start). Stories are the building blocks of humanity. They help us understand our own lives, and assess the lives of others. They are how we create our view of the world, and our place in the world. Entertainment aside, this is a language that touches your customer deep in their psyche — especially if the story is about them.
How to Tell a Customer Story
What does your customer’s story look like? Maybe something like this:
Act 1: Our hero has a glaring need. It’s either a problem that weighs on his life, or a benefit that can be grasped to assist him or his loved ones.
Act 2: Our hero discovers a product or service that can relieve this problem, bringing a significant benefit.
Act 3: Our hero enjoys the fruits of his actions: the problem has been limited or eliminated and the benefit has blossomed, thanks to our product or service.
Does this seem cliché? Haven’t you seen this before a million times? Of course you have. But that’s because this structure works.
Even Shakespeare wasn’t original – all but a couple of his stories are filched from other sources. Yet he’s considered one of the great playwrights. Why? Because execution counts!
The customer story will only seem cliché if you tell it in a pedestrian way, but if you speak with a fresh voice the story will feel fresh too. Aim to include:
- specific details
- recognizable style
- humor or pathos
- thoughtful design
By all means experiment! There are countless ways to tell your customer story.
Examples of Powerful Customer Stories
Here are three examples of customer stories you can use as inspiration for telling your own.
1. The Case Study
In this commercial for Dare Breton gluten-free crackers, we go through all three acts in just 30 seconds. The folks at Toronto’s Grip Agency (now dentsu One) developed this narrative from a real customer success story sent in by a happy consumer.
2. Viewer as hero
We told this story for Boounce in the second person, so the hero is actually the viewer – never seen in the video except for his cursor. There are two stories that are super-imposed here: finding Boounce, and finding a puppy. This brings a layer of emotional warmth to what might otherwise be an emotionally sterile subject. (It’s also one of the earliest videos we produced.)
3. Alternate hero
Does your customer hero need to be a person? Not necessarily. In this video for SecureExchange (now Zelle,) the hero is the customer’s money. Still, you see the three-act structure:
1. The money is locked up in a bank.
2. The money is freed to fly by SecureExchange.
3. The money brings benefits to its holder.
Is story-telling just for videos or content marketing? No, every asset in your marketing mix can help tell your customer’s story. Of course, you need to really understand your customer before you can tell their story. Start with some research, then weave a tale. And sign up below for our newsletter if you’d like to keep up with our content.