The Best Stories Are Not Told, They Are Made

As people move from advertising observers to brand participants, they transform from consumers of our message to co-creators of our message. This means advertisers must shift their focus from storytelling to storymaking.

Storymaking is about creating tangible value. Leading-edge CEOs are granting marketing departments real authority to design more than advertising: They engineer the customer experience as well as the product, from a marketing perspective.

For example, Chick-fil-A has found a way to be generous to its “guests” and distinguish itself from other fast-feeders by focusing on families. Chick-fil-A has always been a leader in bringing families together, but the brand determined to become even more intentional about it.

Calling customers “guests,” Chick-fil-A employees have been known for responding to their customers appreciation with the famous phrase, “It’s my pleasure.” Other examples of being intentionally generous to their guests include an operator walking from table to table with an enormous pepper grinder to add pepper on request, and the toilet paper in the bathrooms is even folded as it’s done at exclusive hotels. These examples of serving families were a natural extension of this experience.

Storymaking starts with understanding the needs of consumers. For example, most Millennial parents say if they had an extra 15 minutes in a day, they would spend that time with family.  So, Chick-fil-A introduced “Bypass the Line” with the Chick-fil-A One mobile app. That’s why it became one of the top downloads from the App Store in 2016. However, convenience and amenities are not the only ways this brand found to serve families a better chicken experience.

Chick-fil-A focused on ideas to encourage family time, such as “Daddy-Daughter Date Nights” and “Family Dinner & A Mystery” nights. The consumer posts in social media, with their candle lit tables and fast food adventures, outpaced every other quick service restaurant online. “Our focus is on providing a remarkable experience that brings families together,” said David Salyers, marketing innovator of the brand and co-author of the book, Remarkable.

At Chick-fil-A, the kid’s meals are not packed with toy incentives but with creative resources that teach object lessons. Take, for example, “Surprise it Forward” gift cards. They were designed to teach respect for elders. An online video about a child giving a Chick-fil-A-branded thank you card to an elderly neighbor drove 4.3 million views on Facebook, with some of the most likes of any branded video for the QSR industry.

Interestingly, Chick-fil-A never mentioned the chicken in the online promotion of these kids meals, but the customers didn’t forget to bring it up. One online post read, “Love it. Thank you for your compassion. And chicken, don’t forget the chicken.”

It all goes back to the product itself. Brands can no longer succeed by simply making incremental improvements on last year’s model. More than ever before, your product itself is the most important marketing tool you have. Social media has augmented this power. Without a truly standout product or service, marketers are left with very little to work with. Your product or service is core to your brand story.

This is why it’s strange that marketing still has no seat at the table on the boards of most companies. In the Participation Age, the CEO is the chief marketing officer, too. Rather than forcing the marketing department to sell what we want to sell, we should first consider what the customer wants to buy. The current organizational structures are all wrong for this. Product development and customer experience innovation should report to marketing. Not the other way around.

– Excerpt from: Surfing The Black Wave: Brand Leadership in a Digital Age