The lost art of storytelling

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Pamela Bath

girlshoppingShould successful personalisation that delivers directly to the bottom line be as simple as replicating the traditional corner shop model of personalising a customer’s experience at every touch point? Possibly, but there are some fundamental basics that can make or break a successful campaign, and at the heart of everything is the ability to create a compelling story.

One of the key skills required in any effective marketing campaign is storytelling, so it’s rather ironic that the art of talking to people has been lost. Copy that’s bashed out every day without proper thought or targeting is comparable to sticking up an unpleasant shouty poster in a window or, at best, white noise; but that’s what emails have now become.

Bad copy irritates, good copy resonates. Effective copywriting is absolutely vital to personalisation but brands have increasingly brought this function in house rather than investing in storytelling and copywriting specialists. The result is that the grammar is awful, the content is poor and the people writing these emails do not have the age and life experience to relate to and engage with vastly differing audiences. Naturally, this impacts on whether the recipient continues to read that email.

Brands talk about how many emails they’ve sent out, but rarely discuss how many got opened. The reality is that 80 – 90 per cent of those emails never got opened and therefore were essentially a waste of time and effort. It’s simple: if your customers aren’t opening your emails – stop emailing them.

If you really want your email campaigns to work, you cannot possibly send the same one to every single one of your customers. Brands have to work out how to address consumers, and with what content, for each communication they send. We need to find a way to tell people the stories they want to hear in a format they want to listen to, and to bring products to life by focussing on the benefits, rather than the features.

The technology needed to achieve this level of personalisation is increasingly affordable but quality content is perceived as too expensive because it’s difficult, it takes time and if you’re going to get it absolutely right, then it is a big investment; but it is one that will ultimately bring benefits in the long run.

Our industry has got away with avoiding this issue for so long, but getting content right represents a real opportunity because our current standards are so low that brands would only need to be a hair’s breadth above the masses to deliver better returns on their investment.

The role of social media is also vital; we’ve talked about meeting customers’ expectations at online level, but how can we replicate those expectations across social channels? Marketers know they need to tweet about something, but they need to put in the resource to look at those conversations and what’s going on to be able to respond, engage and leverage that relationship.

The key thing to remember is that social spaces are supposed to be a platform for two-way interaction, in exactly the same way we would have a normal conversation. During the London tube strikes last summer, Direct Line ran a tremendous campaign on social media using the hashtag #everydayfixes. They asked people directly affected by the strikes to tweet them with any issues they had as a result – such as not having time to buy lunch or having to walk to work in scorching sunshine – and responded by couriering personalised boxes of ‘solutions’ to recipients throughout the city.

Their campaign was an exemplary illustration of a company who actually listened and responded on social media, in exactly the same way you would in normal conversation. But if you think about it, the social space is quite rude and very often one-way.

Most brands on social media don’t respond enough to their customers because they haven’t really thought it through. Personalisation and social should be hand-in-hand at every touch point, and the concept of telling a good story, as we’ve explored, should be filtered down more intimately through social channels.

So if you’re going to get social – be sociable!

For more personalisation tips and advice, download our whitepaper

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