Why Customer Experience is Rooted in Story

Posted on February 23, 2017 · Posted in Customer Experience, Marketing, Storytelling

February 23, 2017

by Carla Johnson

Stories have characters – heroes, villains and mentors. They have a setting. They have plots that unfold over time. And they have themes. The same must be true for story’s function in marketing. Brands that make themselves the hero of the story waste opportunities to become relevant to their audience. Customers’ worlds revolve around the customer, not what a brand sells. Companies need to evolve stories that help customers identify their problems, find a solution and help their wishes come true in the end. You know, to live happily ever after.

It takes a foundational commitment to storytelling before a company can springboard into creating stellar experiences for customers. But there’s a stark contrast between the stories brands tell and the experiences they create.

Content-driven experiences

One of the reasons marketers have a hard time shifting into an experience mindset is because they don’t understand the totality of what they need to think about. Marketing automation brought the spotlight on moving prospects through a buying process. But customers don’t care where they are in your organization’s structure. They care about the interactions they have with your brand. Instead of demand gen and MQLs/SQLs, marketers need to bridge silos and create rich experiences for customers that make them want to come back for more content that’s valuable, entertaining and inspires continual engagement.

“Customers equate brands with experiences. From customer service to the digital journey to retail ambiance, our association with a brand is based on how it makes us feel.”
Forbes writer Daniel Newman

More and more, the customer experience is seen as the major competitive differentiator in every industry. By consistently delivering personal and memorable experiences, companies can create a distinct offering that engages customers and creates advocates and loyalists.

Accenture points out this growing trend in their report, 2015 B2B Customer Experience.  While “we’re B2B” has been a scapegoat for performance, B2B companies are being impacted by expectations that customers bring from the B2C world. This is why…

  • 86 percent of B2B executives consider the customer experience provided during sales and service interactions to be very important.
  • 41 percent put the customer experience at the top of their list of strategic priorities.
  • 79 percent are convinced that a differentiated sales and service customer experience has a direct effect on business results.
  • 78 percent believe it provides a competitive advantage.

This is something that global manufacturing company Emerson understands. CMO Kathy Button Bell and her team put market research front and center in understanding customer needs and expectations. By beginning everything with market research and development – what Button Bell calls “Stage Gate Zero”- she took the voice of the customer (VOC) and backed it up to research and development, the beginning of everything the company creates and delivers. This wasn’t marketing looking to improve marketing’s performance. It was marketing driving how the company performs by putting the experience of their customers first and then understanding how to drive value around their needs.

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Button Bell knew the stickler with many B2B companies is that they wait until stage five or six – when they’ve started producing a product – before showing it to customers and asking for feedback. But that’s too late. At Emerson, she wanted to instill VOC into the earliest stages of product development for a more innovative approach to delivering stellar experiences to customers. Many of the answers to their customers’ problems weren’t product-focused anymore. For example, customers may want a single invoice for a complex bundle of products and solutions or a way for Emerson to deliver better service.

Button Bell then took a step back for a bigger perspective to understand what challenged Emerson’s customers the most – a talent drought. Realizing that without an infusion of young talent into the industry, both Emerson and its customer base would struggle to bring new ideas and innovation to the industry. This 125-year old engineering-driven company saw that it needed to take a deep dive into how it was perceived by engineering graduates who were being wooed with the likes of Netflix, Apple and other companies more enticing than Emerson. It also needed to entice more talent into engineering majors and keep them in the profession.

To connect with a younger generation, Button Bell partnered with internet star Hank Green. A relevant, wildly popular ‘Geek-Chic’ celebrity, Green and his brother started a video blog in 2007 called Vlogbrothers. Today, their YouTube channel has more than 2 million subscribers. Together, Button Bell and Green launched Emerson’s #IloveSTEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative which sought to inspire and empower the next generation of engineers by connecting science to technological advances and modern convenience.

Kathy Button Bell, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Emerson

“Future innovators who will be our employees, our customers and business leaders need STEM education today,” Button Bell said. “Emerson’s STEM focus is influencing the company’s marketing and recruiting efforts, and this first-of-its-kind campaign for the company is designed to entertain and inspire both current engineers as well as a future generation of business people.”

The Emerson.com/iloveSTEM site goes beyond storytelling and delivers a content-driven experience that brings a science-loving community together. Students use the video-rich site to understand concepts they study in class. Teachers draw on it to support one-on-one learning. Adults use it because topics are fun, covering everything from origami-inspired pop-up shelters to closing the gender gap in tech to recharging an iPhone using fire.

Marketing, take the wheel

Just because B2B executives believe customer experience is the top differentiator, doesn’t mean they know what to do. Accenture’s report also highlighted executives’ declining confidence in their ability to deliver a differentiated experience for customers – dropping by 8 percent in a single year to reach 32 percent in 2015.

Part of the angst is that there’s no clear picture of leadership; not every company had a dedicated customer experience team. That’s where marketing has an opportunity to step in. Instead of measuring customer engagement around brand love, we need to look elsewhere. We’re seeing expectations that we’ll soon own then entire customer experience. And we’re also seeing the CMOs who don’t lead with a different set of competencies are excused from their seat at an increasing pace.

It all circles back to the stories that we tell. A strong brand story based on purpose create a north star for organizations. It makes priorities clear and empowers front-line employees to make the brand come alive and make decisions that create a consistent experience. It’s impossible to have a differentiated customer experience without knowing – and believing – the story of what a brand stands for.


Are you interested in creating a stronger brand story that you can turn into stellar customer experiences? 
Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help. Or follow me on LinkedIn, and  Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.

About Carla Johnson

Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.

Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands hasn’t gone unnoticed and the latest of her seven books, Experiences, sets the benchmark for a new era in marketing. Named one of the top 50 women in marketing and the incoming chair of the ANA’s Business Marketing Association, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking.

Today, Carla travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.