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Customers Want to Be Part of the Brand Story

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Customers Want to Be Part of the Brand Story
Customers Want to Be Part of the Brand Story

I'm not a native New Yorker. I can't walk as fast as they can, I don't root for the Yankees, and I can't differentiate between the legit Jewish delis and the tourist traps.

For the past few summers, I've lived in walk-in closets passed off as apartments for internships, and I officially declared New York my home eight months ago when I became a reporter for Direct Marketing News.

Two years ago, in an attempt to familiarize myself with the city and make the Big Apple feel a little smaller, I paid a visit to a New York landmark: Coney Island. I was not a fan. I found poking fun at the “freaks” to be cruel, and I was terrified that the creaking of the Ferris wheel was an indicator that this carnival ride may be my last. The only saving grace was the hot dog and cheese fries lunch that I inhaled from Nathan's.

But perhaps, I judged Coney Island too quickly. Maybe, if I had known the park's story and what it stood for, I would have given the bearded lady and the mermaids another chance. After all, a person—or your customers for that matter—can't get to know you until you let them in.

At the TALK NYC's ENGAGE: The NYC Digital Storytelling Conference, Mike Monello, partner and chief creative officer of marketing agency Campfire, told his own Coney Island tale. Reminiscing back to the early 20th century, Monello discussed how people would flock to the amusement park to watch people brave the Steeplechase ride and laugh at the entertainers and the women with their skirts flying up at The Blowhole Theater.

“People would pay for the privilege to entertain other people,” Monello said. “They liked seeing shows, but they liked seeing each other more…[and] isn't that what powers YouTube?”

Creating communal experiences is one of the most critical components of storytelling, Monello said.

“Fan communities, and communities [in general], exist because people want to connect with each other,” Monello said. “Fan communities exist whether we do anything with them or not.”

For example, Monello referenced the semi-circle-shaped Greek theater to illustrate the impact of community. Monello said the theaters were designed that way so the audience could see each other's reactions, which would in turn generate more reactions.

To deepen its emotional connection with its fans, Campfire categorizes its engagers into three buckets: skimmers, dippers, and divers. Monello said skimmers make up the broadest audience and are the least engaged out of the three. He said skimmers might catch a piece of a brand's story, which they typically pick up from the dippers. The dippers tend to “dip in and dip out of a story,” Monello said.  He explained that while the dippers still don't lead participation, they enjoy social sharing. Finally, Monello referred to the divers as the “hard core” fans who are very active and cause a ripple effect that gets the other two groups to engage with a brand. He added that marketers don't need to dedicate a large portion of their budget to this group; however, they must ensure that the divers aren't ignored.

“On a basic level, you shouldn't be shot gunning the same content everywhere because communities are different,” Monello said.

Thankfully, Monello did reference Nathan's glorious hotdogs in his trip down Coney Island memory lane. To show the difference between storytelling and story-giving, Monello told a story of a great hot dog scandal! In the early 20th century Nathan's sold its delicious franks for five cents. According to Monello's legend, rumor spread that Nathan's hot dogs were so cheap because they contained filthy ingredients. To put an end to this vicious rumor, Nathan's had carnies dress up as doctors and eat the hot dogs in front of its stand to show that the hot dogs were safe to eat.

While Monello said that storytelling is more of a “linear narrative,” story-giving is more of an interactive experience.

“You have to create an experience that's going to let people take it away,” Monello said.

Now, maybe you didn't read this blog to know more about my Coney Island experience, but you did get to know me better. If you want your customers to know you better, get a solid grasp on your brand's story and share it with your fans. Also, be open to hearing your fans authentic, personal stories. Monello acknowledged that marketers are still exploring storytelling. So, I guess this is one marketing story that is to be continued…

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