Introduction to customer narratives

The analogy of a customer ‘journey’ to describe how customers progress in the customer lifecycle is to my understanding incorrect. Humans tend to create narratives to make sense of their world. So I would like to suggest to use the term customer narrative instead.

Following engagement with the brand, the customer will start to create a new narrative, including fragments of the brand’s story.

People tend to use narratives as supporting mechanisms to deal with the uncertainties of life. They believe that if they are capable to understand the meaning of the past, they can somehow predict the future, or at least grow in confidence.

So, each person tends to make sense of their world (meaning), which helps them to predict their future, which gives them sufficient confidence to act (move) and get/obtain/reach/grab whatever they long for (motive).

Therefore, to influence a customer, marketers have to understand their narratives (empathic listening), their level of confidence and their longing.

Companies may choose to fulfill or to instill longing (customer-centric versus product-centric). Either way, the objective of storytelling is to infuse the narratives of potential customers with the brand’s narrative.

While weaker brands may be able to change (some of) the habits of customers, stronger brands know how to coalign their brand’s story with the story of the customer, in such a way that the two narratives become entangled —making the brand to become a part of the personality of the customer.

A way to perceive this entanglement throughout the cycle of engagement is a double helix — like a DNA strand, where the two backbones are held together by base pairs. I like to see these bases as the touchpoints between the two backbones, i.e., the narrative of the brand and that of the customer.

“Life stories [narratives] do not simply reflect personality. They are personality, or more accurately, they are important parts of personality, along with other parts, like dispositional traits, goals, and values,” writes Dan McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, along with Erika Manczak, in a chapter for the APA Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology. “ In the realm of narrative psychology, a person’s life story is not a Wikipedia biography of the facts and events of a life, but rather the way a person integrates those facts and events internally — picks them apart and weaves them back together to make meaning. This narrative becomes a form of identity, in which the things someone chooses to include in the story, and the way she tells it, can both reflect and shape who she is. A life story doesn’t just say what happened, it says why it was important, what it means for who the person is, for who they’ll become, and for what happens next.”

“Life is incredibly complex, there are lots of things going on in our environment and in our lives at all times, and in order to hold onto our experience, we need to make meaning out of it,” Alfred Adler says. “The way we do that is by structuring our lives into stories.”

Thomas Schelling, in his paper ‘Egonomics, or the Art of Self-Management’, suggests that “.. individuals suffer from a sort of split-personality disorder whereby the present self-wants a specific thing (e.g., eating a cookie) but the future or past self-wants a different thing (e.g., losing weight).”

Gaurav Madan affirms that “at the core of Egonomics is the idea that within each individual exists two selves: the past or future self and the present self, constantly at odds, leading to a sort of cognitive dissonance between the two. Both selves exist within us and are equally valid, but aren’t always active at the same time. It’s a natural and ongoing conflict between immediate desire and long-term desires, we call longing. Egonomics is the pursuit of awareness of that longing.”

Case studies illustrate how ego subtly interferes with success but also how ego sparks the drive to achieve, the nerve to try something new, and the tenacity to conquer adversity — from the book ‘Egonomics’ (2008).

Edwin Korver (Gonzalez)
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