By Steve Olenski September 11, 2018

A self-proclaimed massive coffee-imbiber, Steve has been writing for Forbes via his own column for 10 years. His diverse background—ranging from creative director and copywriter on the agency side to director of marketing and other roles on the marketing side affords him a very unique perspective on the world of marketing today. No one is more attuned to the state of marketing than Steve. On top of all this he is one of the most prolific content marketers and writers today.

It’s no secret that retail — and the retail experience — is undergoing a massive transformation. This is in response to the most competitive environment retailers have ever experienced. New players are innovating and finding success while stalwarts are being forced to reinvent their playbook to remain relevant. Retail brands like Macy’s knew they had to do more to retain and win customers.

Macy’s Is Making the Move

Marc Mastronardi, Macy’s executive vice president of business development said they realized the critical need to go where customers are going. “That includes both in our stores and on our digital platform. As our customers expect to seamlessly move across touchpoints of our brand, we want to make sure that we have an effective path to interact with them. The Macy’s Style Crew platform gives us the ability to bring the talent of our store colleagues and allow them to interact with their customers both in the store and through social networks.”

Macy’s latest digital initiatives include mobile checkout, virtual reality room design, and augmented reality furniture shopping. These all provide a way for customers to go beyond the store. At the same time, it creates a compelling experience while they are in the store.

Overall, retailers like Macy’s are approaching their strategy with a three-pronged approach. Mastronardi explained, “This includes a healthy brick and mortar business, a robust e-commerce business, and a great mobile experience. In terms of brick and mortar, we’re hyper-focused on evolving the experience that exists in stores today to align to customer demand. This includes our recent acquisition of STORY and our investment in b8ta. These initiatives will bring more excitement and deliver new experiences to the customer in store.”

Platforms to Transform Retailers Into Storytellers

Also, new companies are offering brick-and-mortar brands a chance to innovate their marketing. Powered by a global community of filmmakers, creative platform Tongal works with NBCUniversal, National Geographic, and other media brands to innovate and develop content in the entertainment space. Now, the platform is leveraging its network of more than 150,000 creators to help retailers. Already, Tongal is actively helping businesses scale beyond the store to connect with new audiences online and boost sales.

Recently, Tongal partnered with Macy’s to work with select members of its Macy’s Style Crew digital ambassador program. The partnership has produced fun, shoppable Instagram videos to sell beyond the walls of retail. The company offered some insightful tips that brands can use to improve their storytelling strategy and boost consumer engagement.

Storytelling Lessons

According to James DeJulio, the cofounder, president and chief creative officer at Tongal, the first step is to understand that consumers become the audience for the story a brand is telling. This audience will respond to any value created within the story. That value comes from the information used to develop a meaningful story.

To become a world-class storyteller, there are four main things to consider:

Stories have protagonists and that protagonist cannot be a brand.

In a book or movie, the protagonist is typically the main character. To keep the audience engaged, that protagonist has to be interesting. People relate to other people. Therefore, your stories cannot have your company serve as the protagonist.

For example, the Macy’s Style Crew is a great success story. The retailer sees the real impact of connecting people to the Macy’s brand by connecting them to the people and personalities of Macy’s rather than focusing on the brand itself.

Consider what you’re saying when using the phrase, “pay attention.”

Most brands still have an interruption-based mindset. Their corporate structure was built 50-plus years ago around the practice of paying to infiltrate some form of storytelling, culture, or interest-led activity in very short increments of time (i.e., how much can I pay to have their attention?).

DeJulio explained, “We’re now in the age of infinite choice and scarcity of attention. Successful storytelling brands will have to ask themselves, ‘What value am I creating for this audience? Is what I am about to do worthy of them paying for it with their attention? What can I do in order to get them to give me their attention?’ This is difficult for brands because it requires flipping the script from 10% entertain and inform and 90% interrupt to 90% entertain and inform and 10% interrupt.”

Be part of the audience’s experience rather than expecting them to join yours.

If you sincerely want to be a part of culture and influence, then your priority should be to meet and connect with your audience where they are and be relevant to the reasons they are on that platform.

Whether they are using online platforms or are participants in online subcultures and communities, you must tailor storytelling to their existing experience. Otherwise, the audience members will view your actions as intrusive. Then, they will ignore you.

Declared data platform Jebbit is approaching this from a new angle by asking audience members to participate in telling the story, directly asking consumers about their experiences and preferences. “People are voluntarily sharing information about themselves — data the brand is looking for,” Tom Coburn, Jebbit’s cofounder and CEO, said. “And they’re spending time with the interactive experience, sometimes a minute or two minutes. And during that time, we have their undivided attention.”

Borrow audiences to build audiences.

Entertainment-led partnerships are a great way to tell stories, drive sales, and build your audience. Think about an established storytelling platform and determine if you can partner with it to borrow their audience.  For example, there may be a storytelling platform that your communities and the people you’re trying to reach are passionate about.

Consider toy-licensing partnerships. A toy manufacturer builds relevance and storytelling into their product by borrowing from entertainment. DeJulio noted, “If everyone is paying attention to ‘Stranger Things’ and your product can suddenly be Eleven, now you’ve got an immediate storytelling platform to work with.”

Include Community in Storytelling

Tongal’s mantra is “by the audience, for the audience.” They believe brands must foster online communities. However, they can only do that by enabling those communities to create content on their behalf. The Internet exists to help people organize themselves around an interest or platform. They are creating content for each other.

DeJulio added, “Because of the Macy’s Style Crew’s storytelling and community-driven communication style, the audience is connecting with the Macy’s influencers. They’re relatable. This is just an organized way for brands to accelerate that relatability by building and empowering a community of content creators around your brand over time, and, as a result, developing an audience.”

According to DeJulio, there’s an abundance of stories any brand can tell. These are primarily found in a global community that has an experience with that brand. There’s no way to uncover all the stories that resonate sustainably unless you use a community-based storytelling model that places you next to the real people and stories.

 

This article originally appeared on Forbes.

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