Now that we’re almost a decade into the Social Age, storytelling has become a hot topic; there’s no end to the advice being dispensed through stories.

But a problem remains: in those stories, even the best of them, we’re talking about us, our people or our technologies. With each story, we’re still marketing or selling. And today, no one wants to be sold to. Our customers expect more.

They want partners who collaborate to find the just-right solution. They expect engagement. But first, they seek trust.

Which means your brand must have the right story…and the right people telling that story.

The Testimonial Economy

We now live and work in the Testimonial Economy. What does this mean?

Very little credence is given to what a company, brand – or even a person – says about themselves. Instead, we care more about what others say. Reviews on Yelp, Amazon, TripAdvisor and hundreds of other sites carry weight, while those talking about themselves carry mere words.

Which means we must make our best customers – and our best employees – advocates of our brand, brand champions. We must help them be so comfortable with our people, products and services they’re willing to put their personal reputations on the line to recommend us. Because it’s their stories about us that makes all the difference.

First: We Listen

Some brands figured out this 5-star mentality some time ago. They gave discounts, even free product, for submitting a 5-star review on Amazon, for example. Or they filled TripAdvisor and Glassdoor with fake testimonials. They bought their reputation; they sold their digital soul.

However, as they quickly learned, these stunts were superficial. These customers weren’t serving as ambassadors, but paid spokespeople. Mistrust developed. And when mistrust lingers, and expectations aren’t properly set, failure is imminent.

The most successful businesses can say this. Can you?

As the Social Age matured, so did the stewards of our brands. We learned that we must listen first. We must understand exactly what our customers think of us now. For brands that were used to telling their customers what they wanted, this was no easy task.

The Tough Conversations

The bold companies – organizations like Apple, Zappos, Nike, Southwest and Virgin – started the tough conversations with customers and employees. What do you like about our brand? What are we doing well? What can we do better? What would you like to see from us next? Have we earned your respect, and trust?

Those companies then took what they learned…and got even better. And as trust formed, those customers and employees became brand champions. They – through review sites, Amazon, social media, job boards, and break rooms – became the voice of the brand.

A Community of Storytellers

Someone has a good flight on Virgin or Southwest. Buys a great pair of sneakers from Zappos or Nike. Is the first of their friends to get the new Apple product. We all hear about it.

Because in the Social Age, everything is amplified. A sincere tweet is echoed dozens of times. A post on Facebook gets hundreds of views. A good deed goes viral on YouTube, Yahoo, Business Insider and Huffington Post.

But not because the brand spokesman stepped to the podium. Or because the press release went out on schedule. And not because we bought a full page ad in USA Today or had the best Super Bowl ad.

But because we treated a customer or an employee right. And they, through a good story, told their friends.

What does your brand stand for? What’s your story? And who’s telling it?

Interested in learning more about how to tell your story and build your business? Request a consultation today!