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What ‘stories’ are affecting your business?

The Covid-19 emergency has completely changed our buying patterns, whether you’re a business or a consumer.

The buyer of goods in developed economies, like the UK, is not following his or her normal buying patterns. They are not buying on impulse or convenience or undertaking a ‘study’ of the market looking for the perfect item to meet their need. Neither is aspiration driving much buying. Aspirational goods such as holidays, cars and new houses are not even available, and they are not on people’s minds.

Instead when purchasing, more basic questions are being asked such as, “Can I get my weekly shopping essentials from that supermarket?” and “the website says it’s in stock, but will it get to me?”

Past experiences of a business generated by different buying patterns in a different world may well be forgotten.

Circulating stories

At a time of national challenge, stories fly around at high speed through social media. Some are fake, like the request for children to draw pictures for the new Nightingale hospital, others are real, like the fact that Ocado is max’d out and it is virtually impossible to get a delivery slot.

These stories affect our emotional state; making us feel worse (or better) about the current challenge facing the country.

They also update and inform our emotional attitude to a specific group. Some groups will win during this time other groups might lose e.g. Premier league clubs furloughing ordinary people while keeping the pay the same for the players.

It is natural, therefore, for businesses during this crisis to want to get positive stories about their businesses circulating in social media, particularly as it seems that this is now the only way to communicate with the rest of the word is via technology.

Positive stories about a business will generate positive emotion and eventually that will turn into revenue.

The nature and types of stories

Whilst a focus on story is important at this time, the wise and sensible business leader will apply this focus in a nuanced way.

All stories are not the same. Some stories are what we call ‘foundational stories’, these are key stories that form opinion and mindset in large groups of people. For example, the founding story of USA or India includes a reference to breaking away from a controlling monarchy/empire. Or, the founding story of Amazon includes the fact that Jeff Bezos packed books into boxes from his garage in its early days.

Other powerful stories (i.e. ‘life changing stories’) come into play at key stages of people’s life. Tony Blair, for example, claimed that his political direction changed when he spoke to an ‘ordinary’ man in the street cleaning his Ford Sierra.

What stories are you curating?

I don’t want to sound like I’m being over dramatic, but the current crisis is a significant world event. This period will be a milestone in history. People will refer to ‘Before Covid’ and ‘Since Covid’ like they did in generations past when referring to the second world war. People’s experience and the stories that are generated will shape the ‘new normal’ that will emerge when the crisis settles down.

The new normal

No one knows what the new normal will be, but it is fairly certain that the world and the UK economy will be damped down and so every business will be fighting for custom. How does a business compete and how does it differentiate?

It is hard to say… but what is certain, is that the stories circulating about a business during and immediately after the crisis, will shape the customer’s view of the business.

If for example a key internet platform crashes during this time, it will be remembered. Smaller businesses that are trading now but struggle to deliver will be remembered by lots of negative ratings. These sorts of stories have the potential to be foundational or life changing for a business, for good or bad.

The stories of businesses re-opening or re-launching can also be foundational. For example, when the pubs re-open, that first night out will be remembered, the story experienced that night will set the scene for future patronage of that establishment.

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How can you impact these stories now?

The trick that businesses need to employ now is to actively curate the best most affirmative stories. These stories are just like the content that an online retailer puts together for a product that it sells. The stories in all relevant media types i.e. written feedback/statements, images and videos need to be curated. Just as a good commerce merchandising team ensure that all product content has the same style/voice and quality, the story content needs to be curated in the same way.

The stories and message put out need to tell a cohesive foundational story. This new foundational story or more accurately, ‘re-foundational’ story needs to map onto your existing or more likely revised brand values.

An example…

A national B2B supplier of equipment before Covid, had the hospitality sector as one of its key markets, which has quick and accurate delivery as a key brand value. They may now have to change this as the new normal emerges and have, for example, customer partnership as their key brand value.

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To implement this, they may need to choose key accounts that they will help to restart by giving them preferential terms or other benefits that establish a new closer trading relationship.

If this is the case, what foundational stories can be curated now to build this up? Perhaps this business should seek out a small customer who will give them quotes, pictures or videos that say, “I was down, but Company X got me running again in no time – they saved my business” - This story then becomes the new moment of truth for a customer.

Positive stories like this not only help towards building a new future, but they can also be used to drown out negative stories that might otherwise gain ground, such as failure to deliver during the peak of the crisis.

How do I curate stories?

The first thing that a business must do is to listen. Not only, to hear what people are saying about it, but also must understand (and potentially leverage) the life changing and foundational stories that are being shared in wider society.

Ideally, the smaller story of a business needs to dovetail into a positive story that is taking place in society as a whole.

Secondly, it then needs to manage/collect and generate those stories whilst adjusting and managing its brand values.

Finally, it needs to publish them…

Effective publication of stories in the new normal will almost entirely be achieved via Commerce, which means using websites, social media and the like.

The group that needs to achieve this in a business is a combination of the marketing, sales and leadership teams.

To help them achieve this they need...

The right skills:

Besides the traditional organisational and management skills there is now a greater need for artistic and creative skills too! The leaders in the 'new normal' must be able to carefully describe and 'paint' their new brand as well as tell the new foundational story. It may be that help from a third party design or marketing agency is necessary.

The right systems:
  1. A Content Management System (CMS) which will help you to deliver digital marketing and content activity through a single interface, boosting your customer and brand experience. The CMS is the heart of content curation.
  2. A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system with exceptional inbound and outbound marketing functionality to support your outstanding service end-to-end, across all platforms. The CRM needs to be able to segment your customers well so that the right groups of customers or even individuals receive content tailored to them.

Like all significant challenges, the key to getting through the current crisis is to understand what is going on, decide on a new way forward and execute well. Do you need help creating the right stories to move your business forward? You can reach out to us and request a call back here.

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