How to drive growth and engage, influence and serve the customer through the power of storytelling
Partner, Customer, Brand and Marketing Advisory, KPMG Australia
It was Walmart’s content and digital strategy gurus Chad Mitchell and Dan Kneeshaw who said, “Great content is great content. There isn’t internal or external anymore – but what we call ‘eternal’.”
Unlike in the past, today’s brands communicate with their customers 24-7 and across numerous platforms. Now, it’s not enough to focus on product or price or to have a fixed message for every segment. Instead, customers want to tap into a continuous brand story that aligns and evolves with their needs, wants, status and beliefs.
As well as engaging externally with customers, an organization’s purpose has to drive what and how it communicates internally, too. Some of the most successful companies are those that recognize that today’s customers are better informed and better connected than ever before. And by taking a customer-centric approach that taps into their expectations through the power of stories, organizations are likely to achieve three times the revenue growth of the average FTSE 100 or Fortune 250 company.1 This requires businesses to break down internal silos and reshape their operating models – bringing together the front, middle and back offices.
Storytelling is the way that humans have connected with each other for thousands of years and can be a powerful way for businesses to make a lasting emotional connection with their employees and customers. Stories are more memorable than facts alone, while visuals help people better understand strategic messages.
Yet while 81.5% of internal communicators believe effective content equals engaging and compelling storytelling2, many organizations don’t see a direct link between storytelling and the bottom line. But as KPMG International research3 shows, building a deep rapport and connection with customers has proven to result in commercial business success. The Six Pillars – Integrity, Resolution, Expectations, Empathy, Personalization, Time and Effort – outline the key attributes shared by top-rated organizations and can all be found in effective storytelling.
Tapping into the emotions of your audience, allowing them to empathize, challenging them, building trust through clarity, consistency and authenticity are all elements of good storytelling.4
For example, every day at Ritz Carlton, every team across the globe shares stories of great things that have been done for customers the previous day. The hotel chain’s purpose to provide ‘unique, memorable and personable customer services experiences’ is borne out through this celebration of real-life stories.
But the most progressive brands are those that allow customers to tell their own stories through their brands. Adidas is doing just that with its GamePlan A online lifestyle magazine5, hosting stories written by employees and like-minded businesspeople and aimed at internal and external audiences. The message is: what we are, you are. This use of personalization drives an emotional connection between the brand and consumers.
But how does a brand achieve fluidity and adaptability? It creates continuous stories about its product or service, its employees and work culture, and its values to achieve a deeper emotional connection. And to do this, a brand needs to be clear on its purpose – in other words its ‘why’.
Firms telling stories about their strong sense of purpose are attracting more customers across all generations, as environmental and social concerns increase in many countries.
When Netflix released a presentation describing its culture and values6, it was viewed more than 16 million times online. The 127-slide deck, with no music or animation, went beyond brand positioning. It clearly set out the firm’s approach to talent management and workplace culture in an authentic way that allowed customers to see what kind of company they were buying into.
Once a brand works out its ‘why’, all communications pivot from that point – whether that’s internal communications, ad campaigns, tweets, Instagram posts, blog posts, conversations between brand enthusiasts, or recommendations. In our multi-channel world, the possibilities for human stories are endless, but to maximize the opportunity a brand needs to tell the right story and land it on the right platform at the right time.
While living and breathing the brand purpose through storytelling has an integrating, aligning and cohesive effect across all customer touchpoints, clarity and consistency also build trust over time. Organizations must follow through by providing great customer experiences – resolving problems and managing complaints well and making life easy for consumers to buy from them. Promoting brand advocacy among employees is one way for organizations to showcase their good work.
Southwest Airlines’ purpose7, for example, uses the power of storytelling to make sure each of its 46,000 employees pursues its clear vision of being the most loved and most traveled airline every day. It does this by rallying employees around a common purpose: “We exist to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”
The airline’s communications are filled with real-life stories to help employees visualize what great customer service looks and feels like. For example, every week CEO Gary Kelly gives a ‘shout out’ to employees who have demonstrated going above and beyond. Reinforced over time, this purpose, demonstrated in action, spins out to a wider public.
Founder Herb Kelleher said: “They (competitors) can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty – the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.” By aligning a company purpose, culture and message through the everyday stories of its employees and customers, loyalty is built.
But it’s not enough to just create a fantastic customer experience. In order for storytelling to be truly effective, organizations must work in a joined-up way to deliver products and services to consumers, and in turn achieve profit and growth. You can’t have one without the other. Winning the battle for an ever-evolving customer requires all levels of an organization to be obsessed with the customer. Future-focused businesses must shape new operating models where every department is connected and pulling in the same direction. Without that, they’ll be left behind.
*1 Source: KPMG International research 2018 & 2016
*3 Customer first, customer connected. KPMG Global Customer Experience Excellence report, 2019