How Data Provides a Two-Way Story to Drive Performance

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I am a believer in the power of stories. On a human level, stories lead to empathy. If we acknowledge that all of our unique stories are worth telling and being listened to, we take the first step toward understanding each other. The same holds true for brands. 

Empathy is integral to marketing that wins hearts and minds. And data is the key to unlocking the insights that make marketing more meaningful for consumers. Through strategic messaging and visuals, we tell our brand stories to consumers. 

We lead with the hook – what’s in it for them and why we think they should care. We guide them through a journey toward conversion or loyalty. Through their behavior and engagement, consumers tell us their stories. It becomes a two-way conversation, or a two-way story between brands and consumers.

Creating and communicating a successful brand story is rooted in empathy 

Customers today expect more from the brands with which they engage. They share important information about who they are and how they feel, and, in return, they expect valuable experiences tailored to their wants and needs. Brands must hone their data strategy to deliver those experiences and build an effective two-way exchange. 

The story consumers tell us with their data is valuable. Brands must reciprocate with experiences of value. This is true at every stage along the sales funnel, from awareness to consideration to conversion. Today, this value goes beyond a sales proposition and a hot offer. Value can include entertainment, status, shared values, education, information, a cause, and more. But in a word, it must be an experience.

It’s what we do with the data that matters most

It’s important to know what data to collect and how to act on it, as well as ways to measure performance that can drive iteration and ultimately create meaningful, long-term customer relationships. When I set out to launch a creative campaign, I work with a team that is empowered by “knowing the who” better than anyone. Having meaningful insights beyond demographics, fueled by the passions of our consumers, is paramount in this two-way exchange. The insights inform the messaging, visuals, calls to action, and offer so that our creative works as hard as it can to appeal to the emotional and rational drivers for our audience. An effective story has all of these components. But it doesn’t stop there.

This is a constant conversation that leads to continual optimization in real time. Listening is as important as telling the story. As we measure response behavior, such as cart abandonment, consumers are revealing the truth in their story and telling us where the story should go next. We adjust and we optimize, and technology enables us to modify our story in real time to meet consumers in the moments that matter most with messages that resonate. Campaigns don’t miss a beat, performance gets better all the time, and sales goals are met.

Data fuels the modern two-way story 

At the forefront of storytelling’s history lies data’s evolution. In other words, data’s evolution is showcased in the way our stories have transformed over time. Originally, stories were full of hearsay, or data that was heard through the grapevine. For example, Hansel and Gretel was a story shared for good reason: to scare children from going into the woods and facing the fate of those never found. Today, our stories are told through tangible numerical evidence. In marketing, this evidence paints a clear picture of how users are spending their time on the internet and interacting with media. 

I’ve expressed how data helps us craft stories that will resonate with people. It deepens our human understanding and enables us to be more authentic in our messaging. How does data do that? I’ll summarize.

Data creates a two-way story with customers. In this exchange, you deliver value to customers and they, in turn, give you important information about who they are and how they feel. Within customer experience management, this value exchange allows you to heighten the experience. It is the quality of the data and what you do with it that matters most for performance. The strategy you put into place by employing all the disciplines together – data, analytics, media, creative, production – is where the magic happens. The character arc occurs when a prospect turns into a customer, and then a loyal customer and an advocate.  

At a high level, you need to create moments of truth.

These moments strung together provide consumers with experiences.

Over time, experiences help build relationships for the long-term health and success of your brand. 

Now more than ever, storytelling is an integral part of the marketing dynamic. Consumers are running the show. I encourage you to find personal ways to engage with them in order to inspire a response and boost performance. Companies that balance brand and demand will harness the power of storytelling to make their values clear and their voices understood for a generation of consumers demanding nothing less.

Suzy Jackson is Creative Director at Merkle.