Using stories to bridge the digital divide

View on-demand replay of Bridging the Digital Divide from September 2, 2020 here.

Once upon a time… 

From our earliest days, those words have been an immediately recognizable cue to listen closely because we’re about to hear something interesting.

They’re also evidence that stories are powerful. They never stop mattering. As adults, we ask people, “What’s your story?” Politicians talk about controlling the narrative, which is just a fancy word for “story.” Even in the world of high-tech marketing, stories have an important role. In fact, they’re the best strategy for bridging the digital divide that can separate a company from its marketing prospects. They can even help heal a disconnect between sales and marketing departments.

In other words, we like to think that we’re rational creatures who make calculated decisions based on logic and facts, but many of us underestimate the role that emotions play in our decisions—and stories are the way we transmit and process those emotions. It only makes sense that we as marketers should focus more on our storytelling skills.

Why are stories so powerful? And how has the technological revolution that’s underway changed the way we tell them? Let’s take a closer look.

Forging a human connection in a digital world

Stories have such a profound impact because they fill in the blank spaces with something coherent and meaningful. They get people to think in new ways and see things from fresh perspectives.

Just look at the way digital transformation is changing our world of work. Every CIO is either planning for digital transformation or has already embarked on it. But the term “digital transformation” can mean any number of things depending on your role in an organization. Whether you’re marketing digital transformation technologies to a prospect or rolling out that same technology within an enterprise, compelling stories can help you be dramatically more effective. Stories can help articulate the vision for a project, paint a picture of what a successful project will look like, and illustrate how a business will be better. They help people make sense of a complex world by allowing them to imagine possibilities. Without good stories, the idea of a “digital transformation” may be unsettling and confusing for the employees it will affect. For prospects, the lack of stories leaves them to imagine for themselves what the benefits will be and whether they’re worth the time and investment. And let’s face it, transformation of any kind is change management. which really needs a great story to guide the movement.

More channels, more choices, more complexity

Even though the art of storytelling is as old as language itself, technology has changed the way we tell stories to one another—especially as marketers. Today, we have a dizzying array of channels to communicate our stories, and that sheer range of options can create its own challenges. We’re finding we have to pack a lot of story into a small amount of space. We’re learning how to unfold a story over time via nurture campaigns. And we’re discovering that different audience segments tune in to different channels at different times. Not only do we need to personalize the stories we tell, we also need to adapt them to the constraints of the channel we’re using. To bridge the digital divide that separates us from our audience, we have to tell the right story in the right way—at the right time through the right channel. Nailing that combination is its own art form.

Storytelling as a two-way street

Finally, to maintain the bridge across the digital divide, we must become as skilled at gathering stories as we are at telling them. For example, to better align with sales teams, marketers need to understand the sales team’s stories and get a feel for how the team works, how they engage with prospects, and how they move deals to a close. The same holds true for understanding the prospect’s needs and motivations. That type of empathic exercise can help marketers hone their own storytelling tactics and make them more effective—while helping improve collaboration between sales and marketing. In other words, marketers need to become good listeners before they can become good storytellers and colleagues.

It’s never been easier to broadcast a story, but it’s never been more difficult to do it effectively. As marketing becomes increasingly metrics-based and data-driven, it’s important not to overlook the power of storytelling to connect us to our prospect/customer audiences and forge stronger connections with the internal teams with whom we collaborate. After all, a good story requires strong characters that develop with a narrative that brings everyone along for the journey.

Recording of September 2, 2020 webinar Bridging the Digital Divide.

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