Resonant Narrative: Toward a Relationship-Centered Marketing Approach

by | Tech Marketing

In marketing, numbers are everything — and yet they mean nothing.

For the first half of my career, I worked as a temp for Compaq Computer Corporation, a project manager and copywriter for a creative agency, and an online merchandising manager (today you’d call it “web content manager”) for Hewlett Packard. In most of these roles, I was tasked with delivering a quarterly business review that consisted of a metrics report and a brief presentation of the numbers.

I was young and earnest, and I wanted to report the numbers wholly and accurately … but the numbers weren’t always good. Sometimes, traffic was down. Sometimes, campaigns didn’t work. But I knew that the quarterly business review reflected on my performance as an employee, and as such, it determined whether I continued to have a job.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that I could tell a different story with the numbers I had at my disposal.

Traffic was down? Well, it was down across the industry, and compared to the average, we were actually up!

A campaign didn’t work? Well, do we really know that? The analytics software had a week-long outage, so we can’t say for sure.

By the end of my corporate career, I had a total distrust in metrics. Numbers meant nothing to me. In my experience, it was the story you told around those numbers that gave them meaning.

As my copywriting and strategic planning skills improved, and I ventured out on my own as a consultant, I carried with me this distrust in numbers. I started paying more attention to the thing that made a difference: the customer relationship.

Without good customer relationships, you don’t have a business. And you can’t dance around the fact that your customers don’t understand your solution, can’t remember your brand when it comes time to buy, and don’t trust that you’ll deliver on your promises.

And you can’t narrate your way out of a poor customer experience.

The relationship between a company and its customers matters more than any number.

And it can’t be fudged. But it can be improved.

A few years into being a solo consultant, and now looking to grow a team who could help me expand my bandwidth to help more clients, I drew a line. It was not my job to put words on a page. It was my job to forge a relationship between the company and its customers (existing and future).

It was my job to connect company and customer.

Copywriting and strategic planning were just the tools I used to do this.

Solving the conversion problem

Drawing that line was a game-changer for me. While my competitors were selling “SaaS copywriting services,” I was digging deep into how to solve the relationship problem for startups and mid-market technology companies.

In this period of time, I was certified as a conversion copywriter. The very first thing you learn when you are being trained in this discipline is how to conduct customer research for the purpose of gleaning language to use in sales and website copy. It was obvious to me that this could be applied to writing editorial content and campaign copy, too — though it seemed no one had ever done that before.

So I tried it. In time, I developed a system that operationalizes voice-of-the-customer data. I called it my Forensic Customer Profiling system.

And it worked.

My clients were ecstatic about the copy they received. They sent me gushing testimonials and positively trending metrics (which I took with a grain of salt, of course). I was told that during sales calls, customers were mentioning the articles and white papers I wrote.

I had a system that worked to create copy that connects companies to their customers.

Still, I knew I was only scratching the surface of what was possible.

Two things happened around the same time, and I didn’t see the connection right away …

Digging deep into deep listening

First, in graduate school where I was earning my master’s degree in communication, I began to dig deep into the research on listening. There are two sides to the communication coin — transmission and reception — and I felt like there wasn’t enough focus on the latter.

I read the academic research on listening, and learned how it was a skill that most of us weren’t born with — but something we could learn with practice.

I compared this to what was being taught in mindfulness and compassionate communication circles.

It was obvious that there was a gaping void in marketing, and its name was listening to customers.

Marketers weren’t listening. And that’s likely why they weren’t connecting with their audiences. Because audiences are made up of individual humans, who need to feel heard and understood.

Exploring the now-and-later buyer conundrum

Second, I came upon research from John Dawes at the University of South Australia and Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science that showed that at any given time, only 5% of business buyers are actually in the market to buy.

That leaves 95% of people in the target audience who aren’t ready to buy right now.

When we focus only on converting the 5% who are waving around their dollar bills, we’re not addressing the 95% who aren’t quite ready to do that — but may be ready soon.

Good storytelling addresses this 5% ready rule. When we use storytelling, we create an experience that doesn’t just captivate the audience today — it stands the test of time. It creates a lasting impact. So when the 95% are ready to buy, they’ll remember your product, your brand, your company.

Listen – Understand – Reflect

Customers need to feel heard and understood.

Stories connect companies for the long run with the 95% of customers who aren’t quite ready to buy right now.

But how do you listen to customers — and what do you do with that data?

And how do you know what stories to tell, and how to tell them effectively?

The answers were in my own Forensic Customer Profiling system.

The system I designed to give me instant answers to marketing questions now gave me the solution to 1) bringing more humanity into tech marketing at a time when robo-copy is on the rise, and 2) producing short-term AND long-term marketing results for clients.

We humans build connection with other humans through listening, understanding, and reflecting back that understanding. This is the foundation of human relationships.

Marketing is creating a relationship, too.

Resonant Narrative Marketing

I use the term “resonant narrative” to describe the humanistic marketing communication method I’ve developed with the practice of listening, understanding, and reflecting back the audience’s needs and desires through narrative.

Resonant narrative is rooted in deep listening practices, operationalized by conversion copywriting systems, and applied with storytelling methods.

I’ve been developing and using this approach for 10 years with technology companies that are now household names — and I’m still finding new ways to use it all the time.

I’ll be completely honest: I don’t know exactly where I’m taking this. Initially, I wanted to start training marketing organizations in my methods, so they could really get the benefit of my system for the long run. Most companies put my firm on retainer for copywriting, or hire me as a consultant to create a specific deliverable for them (a content strategy, a priority messages map, an editorial calendar, etc.) — but once the engagement comes to an end, they’re on their own. Training them in my system is the proverbial “don’t just give them a fish, but teach them to fish” scenario. However, I’m still working on how to articulate the value proposition to an audience that continues to put numbers before relationships.

And I’m thinking that maybe that’s exactly where I need to start — spreading the message about how metrics are meaningless, and relationships are all that matter in business. How to go about building those relationships with customers through marketing, well, that’s my secret sauce.

And it’s a secret I’d love to share with more companies that treat customers like human beings.