Worthy of imitation

Storytelling tips from the Nielsen Norman Group

As an analytical thinker, storytelling has always been a struggle for me. I tend to organize information differently than storytellers. But throughout my career it has become increasingly important. Anytime I find a good teaching tool for storytelling, I try to work with it and incorporate its lessons. 

I especially value the reminder here to pair our stories with artifacts. If we handle it correctly, a very complex story can be embedded in a single image or token. 

Nielsen Norman Group: 6 Rules for Persuasive Storytelling, 2019-Apr-28 by Rachel Krause

Stories help us explain difficult concepts.

Giving additional context helps our audience connect with a concept. This additional context can be in the form of behaviors, emotions, reactions, motivations, or goals. Unlike a flow chart or artifact, a narrative allows the audience to understand the reasons behind users’ actions; they remind our audience members that they are not the user.... 

Stories allow us to form a shared understanding.

Thinking about how to build a product usually involves feature lists and backlogs. Stories bring user pain points and goals to the forefront of the conversation and help teams create a shared language of why they’re building a product or feature and whom it benefits. These stories can also be used to rally around a product vision, painting an image of how life could be better with that product.

6 Rules for Persuasive Storytelling

    1. Adapt your vocabulary to match your audience.
    2. Appeal to the needs of your audience.
    3. Back up your points with real data. 
    4. Focus on the entire omnichannel experience, inside and outside the interface. 
    5. Pair your story with an artifact for memorability and alignment.
    6. Follow up with a summary. 

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Half Price Books shows the way in instituting loyalty

Half Price Books is the perfect example of a company that deserves our loyalty, not because they care, but because they care enough to institute systems that preserve their values. 

Retail Touch Points: At Half Price Books, Empowered Associates Create Curated, Store-Specific Assortments, 2019-Apr-19 by Bryan Wassel

Half Price Books is unafraid to take its time when expanding to new markets. The retailer needs the right combination of demographic makeup, population growth and size for a city to become a good target, and it recognizes that not every scouting mission will be successful.

“Unlike a shoe store, we need lots of people, just because such a small percentage actually buys the printed word,” said Thomas.

With such a small audience, the key to success is making sure those that do shop there are dedicated. One way Half Price Books achieves this is through its ambiance. The retailer builds its own wooden shelves for a “homey feeling” inside the store, and its eclectic selection of both popular and unknown authors recalls the experience of visiting the famous Strand, an independent New York City store that claims to house 18 miles of books.

“Stores are a destination,” said Thomas. “If you’re a reader, and you live in New York City, you go to Strand. You want to browse their sections and discover new authors and discover new books, and we are a browser’s paradise. People love treasure hunting.”

The other key to the Half Price Books shopping experience is the staff. These associates aren’t just passionate readers who are experts on their favorite genres — they are also the ones purchasing used books from customers to further develop their relationships. Half Price Books uses a comprehensive onboarding process that includes author and category tests, as well as training on how to price incoming books.

“We give them a lot of autonomy and a lot of responsibility and authority,” said Thomas. “We’re giving our employees a pot of money and telling them, ‘You decide how much to pay for this book.’ So they feel an ownership, they love it, and they know how important it is. We have to train them thoroughly because we have 3,000 employees, and over 2,500 are deciding what to buy that book for, and what to price that book at.”

The extra effort and responsibility gives the staff more to do than the average retail associate, creating a deep sense of investment in the company. 

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How to create a retail experience that allows us to compete against Amazon

As Amazon expands into the grocery business, we can learn great lessons from the companies which are competing effectively, especially Walmart and Trader Joe's. Walmart's success is mostly about distribution power, but Trader Joe's uses techniques which any retailer can copy. 

The Trader Joe's approach to retail:

  1. Make it personal
  2. Make it enjoyable
  3. Make it easy to manage transactions
  4. Make us feel like we are supporting the community.

Harvard Business Review: What the Grocery Stores Holding their Own Against Amazon are doing Right, 2019-Apr-12 by Amit Sharma

The nature of customer loyalty is changing as shoppers get more comfortable buying groceries online — prioritizing convenience, choice, and ease over physical proximity to a store. As consumers become more sophisticated, retailers need to inspire lasting loyalty across their customer base. To do it, they should offer flexibility, proactively communicate about order status and other details, and build emotional connections with shoppers.... 

And people are emotionally connected to grocers, as utilitarian as grocery shopping may seem. For example, Trader Joe’s, which ranked highly in the C Space study, inspires loyalty by creating an enjoyable shopping atmosphere. A 2018 Forrester survey of 287 brands rated Trader Joe’s first in positive customer experiences, and the company regularly outranks other grocery chains in sales per square foot. Trader Joe’s fans closely follow new product releases, request stores in their towns, and have even created their own community on Reddit.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t offer grocery delivery, but it has created such a personal and enjoyable shopping experience that customers actually want to visit its stores. Everything at Trader Joe’s is designed to make grocery shopping feel more friendly, personal, and laid-back, including its flexible return policies, free samples, quirky product labels, fast check-out, and helpful employees.... 

Grocers need to offer their customers more than points-based customer loyalty programs, which are no longer a competitive differentiator. Most grocery chains offer similar benefits and do little to foster an emotional connection between a shopper and a brand. A study by Accenture found that 78% of shoppers abandon loyalty programs after signing up.

By investing in the factors that build long-lasting loyalty instead of transactional programs that most people ignore, grocers can attract repeat buyers and brand advocates.

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The new function of hierarchy

Be careful that your 'self-starters' don't start off in different directions. If we have competent, empathetic leaders, we don't need too many of them, but we do need a few. 

diginomica: Flat hierarchies--progressive organizational thinking or digital's 'flat earth' theory? 2019-Feb-22 by Cath Everett

Robert Ordever, Managing Director of culture consultancy OC Tanner Europe, is not convinced that an apparent desire to remove hierarchies from the business is actually about people wanting to eradicate leaders at all. Instead he believes it is more about a certain tiredness of what they have become. He explains:

Much about leadership has evolved to where it’s unhealthy, so control-and-command, lack of respect and transparency etc. Leadership has got itself a bad name and what people crave is a better form of it – and if they’re not happy with what they’ve got, it’s human nature to go to the extreme when thinking about alternatives.

For him, in both the workplace and the animal kingdom, there will always be natural leaders and followers. But a key aim across businesses of all stripes at the moment is to find expressions of leadership that are not based on title and privilege or on traditional characteristics, such as being ‘strong’, all-knowing and having to take tough decisions. Ordever explains:

The new style of leadership is about building a great team by bringing talent together, empowering them, enabling them, helping them grow and then getting out of the way. So it’s about involving people in decision-making, respecting the individual, enabling innovation and constantly learning. But even in a hierarchy-free organisation, there will always be strong leaders that come to the surface because without leaders, it’s difficult to keep people moving in the same direction. 

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Publishing content to customer needs, not a calendar

At PatSnap, the Head of Content is Timi Olotu, and he has established an incredibly effective practice. He and his staff develop blog posts, research, and interviews which are prized by PatSnap customers. The process of interacting with customers, performing research, then tracking statistics is so well ingrained, that having a "content calendar" is irrelevant. 

Managing Editor: A Different Kettle of Fish: How Timi Olotu Has Built a Successful B2B Content Marketing Program, 2018-Oct-16 by Lee Price

For one, research is key. I try to instill a research sensibility with my team. One of the first things I invested in at PatSnap was a Blue Yeti microphone. We regularly interview people and we need the audio quality to be good. Then we have a framework to document all the key insights, and behavioral and attitudinal trends that we learn from those calls and from talking to salespeople.

But I would say the thing that really gives us an edge is that we spend a lot of time really trying to figure out what we should be talking about. When I joined I tried to stamp out the mentality of having any kind of weekly or monthly publishing quota. We try to stay responsible and do end up publishing pretty much weekly. However, what was important was to shift the mentality away from "we need to be talking" to "we need to be saying something compelling."

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Why good board members are hard to find

I'm all for having a very small board of people who actually want to contribute.  

Twitter: The Great Non-executive Director (NED), 2018-Oct-13 by Fred Destin

2/ what we normally get - a bunch of high level comments at board meetings only and vague moral support for the founders.

3/ what we’d really like - firstly someone who cares as deeply about the success of the business as the others around the table, and anticipates issues and dynamically maps out opportunities... 

6/ here is my list of wants from a great NED : (a) consigliere to the founders (b) independent voice on strategy (c) help align the board when issues arise (d) hold both investors and founders to account - be the institutional “memory bank” of the board

7/ (e) help the company anticipate major issues - in particular when it comes to financing (f) provide strong moral and ethical compass to everyone at difficult times (such as say a recap) (g) reframe the debate when it gets stuck

(h) speak the hard truths no one wants to hear in a non-partisan way (I) get to know everyone in the team and be a cheerleader for morale (j) help recruit (k) help with execution in areas of expertise. 

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Customer empathy games proposed by IDEO

IDEO has developed a very good program to help companies get their employees to empathize with customers. If employees are not users of the product, customer empathy is always an ongoing challenge.  

Harvard Business Review: To Get Employees to Empathize with Customers, Make Them Think Like Customers, 2018-Sep-28 by Erin Henkel and Adam Grant

What’s the best way to cultivate empathy? The standard answer is to spend more time with customers. For example, leaders at IBM, Medtronic, and Microsoft have sent their people out to meet customers and see their products in use. But recently at IDEO, we’ve been encouraging companies to go a step further. Instead of just getting to know the customer, we want employees to become the customer.

The idea is to create an embodied experience for employees, rather than just a conversation. People learn much more when they are physically engaged in an activity, not just talking about it. But you can’t just take employees through the actual customer experience. They already know it like the back of their hands; it’s too easy for them to get defensive and justify the way they already do things.

Instead, we bring people into different contexts — removed from typical day-to-day company operations — that can serve as a metaphor for what customers experience and therefore jolt employees into a more empathetic stance.

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