The Single, Best Question for Cultivating Customer Stories

When you take a step back and think about the practice of content marketing, it sits at the intersection of business objectives, consumer psychology and artistic expression. In order for that collision to be fruitful, your endeavors must be built into your business’ acquisition and sales funnel. They must also speak to the desires and needs of your intended target audience.

And they must, of course, be delivered in a striking, engaging and MEMORABLE manner. In short, getting it right is something of a balancing act, and this is why generating customer stories is such an important part of modern marketing.

Of course, storytelling is nothing new when it comes to content marketing. For as long as businesses have been pursuing content marketing strategies, they have been building narratives and placing the prospect or customer within them. But what happens when the source starts to run dry? What happens when it becomes a struggle to craft new, engaging customer stories?

Gaining Insight Direct from the Customer

To navigate this significant obstacle, you need to find ways to engage with real customers and get them talking. Rather than presuming to simply tell the customer or the prospect the story you assume they want to hear, how about taking the time to learn about what they need, and then crafting a story around that? There’s a novel idea! (pun intended)

Communication should never be a one-way street. We need to engineer a specific approach to engage customers and become good listeners if we are to become successful storytellers. However, this (rather obvious) advice seldom becomes a regular, deliberate part of a marketer’s routine. A key obstacle that often holds us back comes from the amount of pressure we’re comfortable placing on our audience.

What Not to Do

Picture this scene… You’re walking down the street wearing a branded piece of clothing. A representative of that brand walks up to you and says, “Hello. I’m a representative from (insert brand).”

He then rattles off a barrage of dispassionate questions, including:

  • “Where did you purchase your shirt?”
  • “How much did you pay for it?
  • “What else did you buy along with that item?
  • “Did you feel you were supported enough during the buying process?”

How would you feel about an interaction like this? Probably not very good. And I’d venture a guess that you wouldn’t want to stick around to tell him the whole story.

If we, as marketers, are asked to approach customers like this, we’d be right to feel uncomfortable forcing these conversations. Heck, that customer may even be put off from purchasing from this brand in the future.

A Better Approach

So how do we approach customers in a way that takes the pressure off, while opening the door for a great story? By leading with one, simple, highly-effective question:

What made you seek out our product/service?

That’s it. That’s all you need. You don’t need to know about future purchasing plans, annual household income, or grandmother’s maiden name. You just need this singular, key piece of information.

And it only takes a moment to ask. In one fell swoop, your business has the insight it needs, and your customer remains untroubled. That all-important relationship remains intact.

A Succinct Reply or a More In-depth Answer

In some cases, your customer will be all too willing to let loose and give you a rich, superbly detailed account of what made them decide to make their purchase in the first place. This will furnish you with an enormous amount of data that you can then put to work in crafting your next set of customer stories.

Of course, it won’t always work like this. In fact, more often than not, you are not going to get much from your customer at all, other than a few brief lines regarding their motives and objectives for the purchase.

While the former situation is certainly the ideal, don’t be put off when you run into the latter. Instead, get used to it — or, better yet, embrace it.

This is still a content marketing goldmine. By perusing the answers your customers give you, you will be able to mine a rich seam of customer psychology and acquire the bones of a really smart piece of content marketing.

Why This Lead Question is So Effective

So what exactly is it that makes this concise piece of phrasing so effective in developing the narratives that will make up the future of your marketing initiatives? Let’s look at four specific reasons.

1. It provides direct insight into the core aims of your customer

We can learn a lot from quantitative statistics, but it is important to keep in mind that all customers are still human beings with their own aims and motivations. This means that qualitative data is just as important when developing content marketing strategies, and is, in fact, more important when crafting customer stories.

2. It considers the purchase journey in a more complete fashion

A customer purchase cannot be considered in isolation. Instead, it must be looked at as part of a complete journey, including what brought your customer to the point of purchase, and what happens next. Asking this question forces you to confront the customer journey from a wider perspective, and build content pieces that reflect this deeper understanding of the route to purchase.

3. It taps into the golden trifecta (discussed above)

Right at the beginning of this article, we touched upon how content marketing exists at the confluence of art, psychology, and business understanding. This can be thought of as your ‘golden trifecta’ — the magic sweet spot that you need to hit time and time again. This all-important question helps you to do so.

By enquiring after your customer’s motives, you are putting yourself in their position and gaining insight into their psychology. You are also achieving a direct appraisal of your business’ structure and the efficacy of its marketing channels. Finally, you are developing a narrative arc with a villain (the customer’s need/pain point) and a hero (your unique solution) — surely the cornerstone of all great art.

4. It helps you to better understand the diverse purchase motives of your audience

Customer segmentation is a key part of any marketing strategy. You need to know who your audience is before you can target them, and you need to know how different segments of your audience react to different forms of marketing.

You may even need to appraise the way in which you segment your audience in order to do it better next time around. Asking this question gives you a first-hand glimpse of the diversity of your audience’s driving factors, and helps you to ensure you are effectively targeting everyone in the right way.

In Summary

Customer stories are so powerful, but uncovering them can be a challenge without the right process and approach. Keep it simple. One question is all you need. Now you just need to figure out HOW you’re going to ask it. That, unfortunately, is a tale for another day.

Feature image credit: Evan Dennis on Unsplash