Companies striving to create the perfect customer experience always put the customer first. Don’t they? Of course, this is Marketing 101.

Digital marketers got a shock to the system from presenter Richard Fouts, Gartner research vice president, speaking at the Gartner Digital Marketing Conference in San Diego yesterday: too many of them are failing Marketing 101.

“No one’s ever going to disagree the customer is the most important part of your story. They’re paying your bills,” said Fouts. But where are they in marketing efforts? Fouts said the customer ends up taking a back seat to the brand. “It’s the ‘we’ word. Stop the ‘we,’ stop the ‘our.’  It’s not all about you. It’s about your customers.

“When someone asks, ‘What do you do?’, they really mean, ‘What can you do for me?’ Any answer that begins with ‘we’ is a red flag. If we answer the question correctly, it opens a conversation,” said Fouts. “Every story, every movie or book, is a situation begging resolution.”

Tell Me a Story

Fouts urged digital marketers to harness the powier of storytelling, including emotion and humor, with a focus on impact. “Stories help us learn. Stories are how we remember,” said Fouts. It is these lasting emotions and images that create brand loyalty.

Fouts presented several examples of successful marketing campaigns built around storytelling, employing emotion and humor. Audience members remarked they felt surprisingly moved by Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign, which became the most viral ad video of all time when it tallied more than 114 million total views in just one month after its initial release in 2013.

“Old marketing tactics are running out of steam… Impact statements keep the story going. Impact creates a sense of urgency.”

It’s this urgency, said Fouts, which will drive customers to your brand.

“If marketers can quantify impact, they create the basis for cost justification and a buying decision,” said Fouts. 

Making Your Brand Memorable

Fouts offered ten tips for digital marketers to help them create powerful brand stories.

  1. Good stories start with business outcomes.
  2. They are about people.
  3. Caught in situations …
  4. Which are having impact …
  5. That beg resolution.
  6. Engage buyers emotionally …
  7. But direct them rationally.
  8. Make ample use of visuals.
  9. Keep it simple.
  10. Marketing is not about you and never will be.

“It helped me remember and go back to all those basics,” said seminar attendee Gretchen Fix, marketing manager for the Paris, France-based company Saint Gobain ADFORS. “I think you forget sometimes, you’re so problem focused. You have to adjust your thinking.”

Fouts says this is extremely common, and he lays the fault squarely at the top, with the CEO. “A lot of CEOs talk about themselves. When employees hear the CEO do it, they do it.” Fouts said it’s a natural outcome employees need to fight. “You’re being paid by your company. You get a check from them. You feel you’ve got to talk about them.”

Fouts isn’t telling digital marketers to ignore analytics or data. “Engage emotionally, then direct rationally… Don’t be afraid to tape into the emotional needs of your customers. Emotional loyalty is long term.” For digital marketers, this is a story with a happy ending.

The Gartner Digital Marketing Conference continues through tomorrow.