Retail Observer

January 2019

The Retail Observer is an industry leading magazine for INDEPENDENT RETAILERS in Major Appliances, Consumer Electronics and Home Furnishings

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JANUARY 2019 RETAILOBSERVER.COM 31 easiest, most effective ways to attract notice, connect with people who matter, and inspire loyalty. As I've seen hundreds of times with my clients, storytelling is the ultimate influence model. The reason has to do with the way our brains are wired. Research shows that humans naturally create character-driven narratives to make sense of the chaos of their lives. It's an evolutionary fringe benefit that helped us pool our knowledge and improve our condition as we ran around hunting, gathering, and building civilizations. A good story triggers changes in neural activity and blood chemistry that are tantamount to having a physical and emotional experience. This is what you aim to achieve by telling a strategic story: to generate a virtualized experience that will speak both to your customer's values and to the essence of your business. Great business stories are often transcendent–they are anchored in some meaningful aspect of the customer's life–typically a struggle or an aspiration. The company's product or service is often a catalyst for joy, but not necessarily. Tom's story not only reveals the passion that drives his business; it resonates with the secret dream most of us have, to find our inner superpower and live an authentic life. By contrast, too many business stories are transactional–they're focused on describing service details or product capabilities. These tend to be more about the company than the customer, and they usually fail to awaken an emotion. Your widget may be the best ever built, but if you only talk about its specs you're liable to come up short. People are hungry to hear about the human factors that make your product special–the why behind its existence. PUTTING YOUR STORY TO WORK To find the stories that will help your business, a good place to begin is to reflect on the experiences that got you where you are. I ask my clients to ponder questions such as: What was the moment that gave birth to your company? When did you see your business change a person's life? If you have a mission statement, when was the last time you saw it put into practice–or violated? As you ponder these questions, think about the moments of truth– the vivid milestones of wonder, failure and triumph that marked your journey, shaped your big decisions, and had a meaningful impact on the lives of your customers and employees. These are your golden story nuggets. Don't shy away from stories of pain or struggle; sharing vulnerability is a hallmark of great storytelling, and a key to building trust. Once you've got a handful of nuggets that reflect the essence of yourself and your business, shape them into narratives. I recommend writing them down and refining them by sharing them with trusted friends and associates. To be effective, your story must feature specific people, places, and problems. You can also consider including a "takeaway"–a memorable bit of wisdom, or a call to action. Put these narratives to work in every channel across your business that might possibly touch a customer. Your website is the obvious place to start. It's amazing how many sites fail to use an "Our story" or "About us" section to share the saga of why they exist and who they serve. Newsletters and blogs can be powerful vehicles to remind potential customers of your existence. But there's no point in producing them if you aren't telling stories that bring your values to life. And don't forget your employee culture–new hires should hear your best stories while they're onboarding, and be encouraged to make those stories their own. BUILDING THE TRIBE We humans are tribal creatures. Our identities are shaped by our families, our communities, the companies we work for, and the parties we vote for. The lines are drawn at birth and then reshaped throughout our lives as we engage with new people and share our lives with them. This is where your opportunity lies. When you create an ongoing flow of interesting stories, you're engaging your customers in conversations and experiences that will inject you into their personal landscapes of meaning. In time, they'll come to view you as "one of us"–as someone who knows and understands them. People are loyal to businesses for reasons that go far beyond dollars and cents. They care about how a business makes them feel. They care about connectedness and the consistency of the treatment they receive when they walk in the door. As Tom Nissley put it, "I think the reason Phinney Books works, or that a big retail business works, is because there's a person at the heart of it." And nothing can bring that personal connection to life more powerfully than the stories that he or she can tell. Mario Juarez is an organizational consultant, coach, and motivational speaker. He focuses on helping organizations and individuals achieve better business results through strategic storytelling. An award-winning former journalist, Mario led a series of innovative communications initiatives at Microsoft before founding his company, StoryCo, which serves clients across a range of industries. RO

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