How to Use Customer-Led Storytelling to Grow Your Business

 

If you want to get serious about story marketing, the first step is always the same. 

Stop talking about your product or service (as much), and start talking about your customers: their experiences, their struggles, their hopes and dreams.

Taking your customers’ experiences with your brand and turning them into marketing assets is called customer-led storytelling… 

…and it’s one of the most effective methods to attract leads, generate buzz about your business, and increase your sales.

That’s why in today’s article, we’ll show you exactly how to use customer-led storytelling to grow your brand. You will learn:

  • Top 3 types of customer experiences that make for amazing marketing fodder…
  • 5+ highest-performing assets you can create based on those experiences (and no, we won’t be talking about testimonials OR case studies this time!)…
  • Our favorite ways to use customer-led storytelling in your marketing…
  • …and what you need to do to discover these stories in the first place!

Sound good? Then let’s get cracking!

customer-led storytelling

3 types of experiences ripe for customer-led storytelling

So which specific customer experiences can you use to tell engaging stories that boost your brand’s reputation, attract high-value prospects, and increase your sales?

In our experience, they fall into 3 separate categories:

 

  1. Delightful customer interactions

Whenever your customers reach out to your brand — usually through customer support — and walk away happy with the experience, it’s an untapped opportunity to tell a great story.

It checks all the boxes:

  • The problem your customer was hoping to address, even if it wasn’t huge and scary.
  • The tension of them being in this situation and not knowing how things will turn out.
  • The resolution of having their problem solved above and beyond expectations.

Some companies put these interactions right at the heart of their brand storytelling strategy. For example, you might not shop at Nordstrom… 

…but you’ve heard the story of their employee gift-wrapping some items from Macy’s for free because their policy is to put customer satisfaction above petty competition.

These stories don’t say anything about how great your products or services are, but they resonate all the same — all thanks to emphasizing the customer experience.

Ask yourself: when was the last time someone on your team went above and beyond for a customer? It doesn’t have to be life-changing. Even something small will do, as long as it’s meaningful. Like this story about an Air Canada gate attendant named Wade who helped a family of four to make their flight on time.

Look for interactions like these, and you’ll have plenty of inspiration for customer-led storytelling!

 

  1. Unique use cases

For every 100 customers who use your product exactly the way it was intended, there’s always one who invents a whole new way to benefit from it.

For example: we think about website building software as purely B2B… but some people use it for wedding planning, or setting up an online store to sell their kid’s art, or building something weird — like this site that randomly generates useless websites on demand!

On the surface, these use cases aren’t very… well, useful for promoting your business. But surprisingly, they are! For 2 reasons:

  1. They appeal to your customers’ emotions more than “regular” case studies. Your audience will instantly latch on to what’s cool, weird or funny about them, and remember them even long after they forget everything else about your brand!
  2. By being so far outside of your audience’s expectations, stories about these use cases help to highlight everything awesome about your product or service without triggering the instinctive, “Ew, they’re trying to sell me on something!” response.

Plus, studying these unusual customer experiences can benefit your brand in another way. You’ll be forced to reexamine who your target customer is, what drives people to buy from you, and what aspects of your product or service people value the most.

It’s like looking at the city you live in through the eyes of someone who’s just visiting — eye-opening, surprising, and kinda cool!

Here’s an example of a real brand story featuring a unique use case.

Workflowy is a productivity software program that most people use for making to-do lists: get milk, write an article, that sort of thing. But this person, Michelle, uses it to keep her anxiety in check.

Uncommon as it is, her story still emphasizes what’s appealing about this app: how it’s intuitive and easy to use, and how it helps you unclutter your brain and achieve peace of mind. Brilliant storytelling!

 

  1. Emotional experiences

Finally, you can come up with some of the best material for customer-led storytelling just by asking this one question:

How does your brand make people feel?

Emotions are at the core of all great storytelling, branded or otherwise. If you can zero in on your customers’ feelings associated with your product or service, you don’t even have to mention things like features and benefits and pricing — your message will resonate anyway.

Our favorite example of this is extremely obscure and comes from all the way back in 2015. We weren’t even sure we could find it, but we did!

It’s a Skype ad (or rather, a short film) released in Russia, telling the story of a real-life pet detective and his search for a lost dog. You don’t need to watch the entire video (besides, it’s in Russian) — but watch what happens 4 minutes in

The detective finds the lost puppy hiding in a hole, boots up Skype on his phone and calls the owner. Then she helps him lure the dog out by calling its name. Puppy saved! Cue the audience going, “Awww!” 

The whole thing is slightly silly but incredibly heartwarming. This video succeeds not by talking about Skype’s features or competitive benefits compared to other conferencing software, but purely on the strength of the story and its emotions.

And that’s exactly what we mean by emotional experiences!

How to gather customer stories worth telling

You might say, “This all sounds awesome, but how do I know if my customers have had these experiences? I’m not exactly swimming in emails telling me these stories!”

We hear you. And here are a few things you can do to gather customer stories straight from the source:

  1. Talk to your customers directly. We’ve talked about customer development surveys and interviews before. Well, you can use them to uncover great stories, too! Whenever you’re talking to customers, ask them about the specific experiences they’ve had with your brand. 9 times out of 10, they won’t have much to share — but on the 10th time, you’ll strike marketing gold!
  2. Ask your team members. Any employees who talk to customers on the regular can notice unusual use cases or awesome stories and bring them to your attention. Ask your team to be on the lookout for this stuff, and make it easy for them to share the exact stories — for example, by adding a special field to your weekly or monthly reports.
  3. Put out an “open call” for stories. Host a social media contest or a giveaway and ask people to share stories about your brand in order to enter. You’ll get some shares and engagement out of it, plus some excellent marketing material to boot!
  4. Encourage customers to contact you. Usually, people want to tell you how your brand, product or service has made them feel. Use this to your advantage — let customers know that your contact form or company email isn’t just for quote-unquote “serious” messages but also anything and everything they want to share. 

These four tactics, when used regularly, are more than enough to fill up your “treasure chest” with remarkable customer stories. But what do you do with them once you have them?

5 marketing assets that thrive on customer-led storytelling

Now let’s say that you’ve tracked down some awesome material to use for customer-led storytelling. Now what? How do you take these stories and actually turn them into marketing assets that promote your brand?

Well, here are 5 ideas that you can take and implement right now:

  1. Enhance your website copy.  For example, you can use customer stories to inject some interest into your About page. As the second most-visited page on your website, it could always use some love! And contrary to the name, your About page should always be primarily about your customers, not your brand.
  2. Create some kick-butt content marketing pieces. You can turn customer stories into all sorts of engaging content like: 
    • Blog posts
    • Infographics
    • Videos
    • Presentations
    • Podcast highlights
    • Even comics

You can use these as standalone pieces of content or insert them into other marketing materials like brochures or whitepapers!

  1. Improve your email marketing. Customer-led storytelling provides excellent material for your branded emails, sales copy, landing pages, and more. You can use these stories wholesale, or break them down into tidbits of powerful copy that speaks your customers’ language and comes across as authentic.
  2. Create awesome social media posts. Lots of brands have trouble with the “social” part of social media. Using customer-led storytelling for your regular posts and real-time Stories (on Instagram or Facebook, for example) can help you connect with your audience in a more meaningful way and grow your following.
  3. Increase social proof. Most of the time we think of social proof as big, impressive numbers of recognizable “As seen on:” press logos — but it doesn’t have to be. A screenshot of a 5-star Amazon review or a heartfelt customer email can be just as effective, if not more so. And you can use these tidbits of social proof everywhere in your marketing!
  4. Create memorable, non-salesy ads. If you’ve seen the examples we mentioned above, then you know that customer stories can become amazing ads for your brand. By speaking directly to people’s emotions and lived experiences, they can go right through the mental barriers we all have against overtly salesy content and deliver your message in a direct, impactful way.

Want to try your hand at customer-led storytelling? Let’s talk

Book a free strategy session with one of our video marketing experts and let’s discuss how The Draw Shop can help you tell these stories in a way that converts!

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