Why Marketing Leaders Should Embrace Story Listening Before Story Telling

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Tony Zambito

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Listen designed by Mister Pixel
Listen designed by Mister Pixel

“What I’ve seen is a leader doesn’t start with storytelling, they start with story listening.”

John Maeda, Design Partner, KPCB

During the past two years, B2C as well as B2B marketing leaders have heard much about the concept of storytelling in marketing. With the number one challenge facing marketers today being one of connecting with customers and buyers, storytelling can seem like one sure bet. Recent headlines in the blogosphere seem to all suggest and promise businesses can accelerate their revenue growth through storytelling.

Not so fast. I believe organizations are prone to make the mistake of a rush to storytelling.

In my work conducting B2B in-depth executive interviewing, I have been hearing overtones of what can be characterized as a rush to storytelling. Here is an example from a recent interview:

“Don’t’ get me wrong. I found it entertaining and interesting. But, I am not sure what it has to do with our situation.” Vice President, Operations

This type of response can suggest marketers and organizations may be missing the mark on what makes good corporate storytelling. Previously, I had written about how organizations have to be on guard for marketing content like a product versus actually producing effective content marketing. This same line of thinking should be applied to the idea of effective storytelling.

The Art Of Story Listening

As the quote from John Maeda (@johnmaeda) points out, to be good at storytelling leaders must embrace the art of story listening. Story listening involves taking an immersive commitment to understanding the stories taking place in the world of your customers and buyers. Leaders who make this artful practice a foundation of market leadership are able to, as John Maeda explains, bridge the past, present, and future. Helping customers and buyers to see how a story about the future connects to their present as well as past stories. And, how a future story offers a brighter future.

Let us take a pause at this moment and hear an excellent framing of this very concept by John Maeda:

Several Key Points To Embrace

What leads to embraceable storytelling? I use the word embraceable because I believe it is the intent we should aspire to – to have our customers and buyers embrace the stories being told as ones they want to be a part of. There are several key concepts to keep in mind when it comes to thinking about corporate story listening and storytelling:

  • Human-Centered Marketing: marketing leaders will need to embrace the concept of putting the human story at the center of marketing.
  • Learn Design Thinking: design thinking will become more important to the future of marketing. When we think about content marketing and corporate storytelling, being good at these is predicated on how well an organization embraces design thinking.
  • Listening As A Best Practice: story listening is hard to do. However, it is a best practice to be developed if the intent is to lead with storytelling, which offers a brighter future to customers. This is where qualitative buyer research and buyer persona development can be helpful.
  • Empathy Is Embraced: closely aligned with listening, is the ability to embrace empathy – the ability to walk in the shoes of your customers and buyers.
  • Provide A Vision of The North Pole: this is such an apt metaphor by John Maeda. Businesses today can help customers and buyers by first listening and then providing direction to a better future.

Making Story Listening A Priority

Marketing leadership today and in the future can be achieved by first embracing story listening as a best practice. Avoiding the mistake of a rush to storytelling, by first listening and understanding buyers at a deep level. Without question, the challenge of connecting with buyers today is significant.  However, succumbing to the pressure of taking shortcuts and rushing into storytelling can backfire.

The old adage of “haste makes waste” applies when thinking about how to be good at storytelling. If organizations do not first embrace story listening, then their storytelling efforts may be wasteful.

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