Connecting consumers by telling stories

What have Nijntje (also known as Miffy), the famous Dutch bunny by Dick Bruna, and André Kuipers, the Dutch astronaut who lived at the ISS space station for five months, got in common? Not much, at first glance, but they share at least one interesting similarity: they are both a guarantee for an interesting and engaging story. At the second day of the 2013 Marketing Insights Event (MIE) in The Hague it was, in my view, all about telling stories. A short story about how we can connect consumers and ultimately bring their voice into the boardroom of our clients.
The most inspiring workshop of the day, about telling stories, was given by Ferro Explore, an Amsterdam-based qualitative marketing research company. Their motto, as explained by Jochum Stienstra, is to ‘stop asking questions and start telling stories’. By using a method developed by David Snowden, Ferro Explore has consumers capture their reality and the complexity of the world around them in stories. Rather than asking questions, the stories and the labelling and further refining of those stories into archetypes lead to rich information and insights.
What is so interesting about this method is that it has many similarities with how we do qualitative research at InSites Consulting. Via a slightly different approach, the Research Communities (MROCs) or Customer Consulting Boards, we also provide a stage where the consumer’s voice can be heard; not just by us, researchers, but by our clients too, as it is our aim to bring the consumer into the boardroom. And we do it all by telling the stories of the consumers. Their experiences, their stories.
Telling stories has always been part and parcel of the human existence, from the first humans who roamed the earth until today. Life itself can be described as one big story, consisting of many smaller stories. Every day, we tell each other stories, small or big. We are fascinated by stories we read and see in books, films, television series… So how can we use stories to our advantage in marketing and market research?
At the second day of the MIE, several presentations were exemplary of the power of telling stories. Together with Energize, KLM presented their story of opening up the Chinese market and creating brand awareness and preference by using Nijntje, the famous Dutch bunny by Dick Bruna known all around the world. By cleverly coming up with a story in which Nijntje’s father is a pilot, KLM managed to create a substantial buzz among their target group, travel-eager young women aged 20 to 40. The success of entering the hearts and minds of the Chinese, who form a huge potential market, has led to KLM now even thinking of copying the campaign to other Asian countries such as Japan.
Another great story was that of 2theloo, about the quickly expanding chain of ‘toilet stores’ popping up around the world. Presenting public toilets as a brand and an experience, CEO Eric Treurniet presented the story of his company in 45 minutes. His presentation showed quite convincingly how a story and brand identity can be built around one of the most basic human needs.
The greatest story of the day, however, was told by astronaut André Kuipers. Having lived in the ISS space station for five months, Kuipers told the large audience about his extraordinary journey, spicing up his presentation with truly magnificent photos and videos. Although it did not have much to do with marketing, Kuipers provided the ultimate example of how storytelling engages and fascinates.
As one speaker noted, attention is scarce in this world where brands constantly try to grab our attention and where consumers have so much to do, to see, to hear and to experience. So when you manage to grab consumers’ attention, you’d better give them good quality content. And what better way than to give consumers an interesting and engaging story? Start telling stories!

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