Episode 010

Speaking human: Using storytelling to build trust with your customers with Alaura Weaver

How much of an impact can being transparent and vulnerable have on your business?

Copywriter Alaura Weaver, shares how storytelling and speaking ‘human’ are essential to building trust with your customers.

In this episode, we cover:

In today’s episode, we’re talking with Alaura Weaver, a copywriter who specializes in helping people speak ‘human,’ about the effect that storytelling can have on your business and how being transparent and vulnerable in your communication can create meaningful relationships with your customers.

She also shares a powerful story about the human cost of putting profit before people that’s definitely worth listening to.

Alaura is a contributing writer to CopyHackers, one of my favorite Copywriting resources online, and is the story editor and content manager for the PRX podcast, “Inflection Point.”

In today’s episode, you’ll learn:

  • How putting numbers before people leads to poor choices and a lack of trust from your customers
  • Why storytelling is essential to sales
  • Why you should frame your relationship with your customer as a shared story, with the customer as the hero of that story
  • How you can get actionable information out of qualitative feedback
  • And why it’s so important for companies to be transparent and vulnerable.

So if you want to discover how to communicate your story in a way that can help you grow your business, then this is definitely the right episode for you.

Show notes
  • [00:01:40] How Alaura got into copywriting
  • [00:02:13] Alaura’s previous work in B2B sales
  • [00:04:35] Why storytelling is intrinsic to sales
  • [00:06:16] Why Alaura decided to pitch an article to Joanna Wiebe at Copyhackers and how the process worked
  • [00:08:48] The moment that Alaura realized how dehumanizing business can be, and why that prompted her to look for a more human way of doing business
  • [00:11:11] How putting numbers before people can result in making choices that cause guilt and break trust between companies and their customers
  • [00:19:36] How Alaura applied a more human-first approach to her copywriting business
  • [00:21:32] Why you should frame your relationship with your customer as a shared story, with the customer as the hero of the story
  • [00:25:38] How Alaura walks companies through the process of discovering their story
  • [00:27:09] How Alaura sorts through data to find out what’s relevant and what isn’t
  • [00:31:20] The types of questions that Alaura asks in customer surveys
  • [00:32:13] How Alaura creates customer profiles
  • [00:33:56] How you can get quantifiable information out of qualitative feedback
  • [00:37:20] What to do with a customer persona once it’s established
  • [00:40:26] Why it benefits companies to be transparent and vulnerable
  • [00:45:11] The results that Alaura has seen from companies that take a story-based approach to appealing to their customers
  • [00:48:25] How Alaura would help people understand why a people-first approach is the most sustainable form of business
  • [00:50:47] One resource that Alaura recommends
Transcript

[00:00:32] I’m David Peralta and today we’re talking with Alara Weaver. A copywriter who specializes in helping people speak human about the impact that storytelling can have on your business and how you can use your story to create meaningful relationships with your customers. She also shares a powerful story about the human cost of putting profit before people. That’s definitely worth listening to. Alaura is a contributing writer to Copy Hackers–one of my favorite copywriting resources online–and is a story editor and content manager for the PRX podcast, Inflection Point.

In today’s episode, you’ll learn how putting numbers before people leads poor choices and a lack of trust from your customers, why storytelling is essential to sales, why you should frame your relationship to your customer as a shared story with the customer as a hero of that story. How you can get actionable information out of qualitative feedback and why it’s so important for companies to be transparent and vulnerable.

If you wanna discover how to communicate your story in a way that can help your business grow, this is definitely the right episode for you.

[00:01:40] David: So how did you get into copywriting?

[00:01:44] Alaura: I fell into copywriting, which is a lot of cases for people, because it's not like there's a copywriting major in college. It just doesn't happen that way. I was a theater major. Then, to get work during the day, my day job, I started doing business-to-business sales, and I did for a decade and then my –

[00:02:08] David: What kind of sales?

[00:02:13] Alaura: One of the things I did was sell business-to-business services to tech disposal, like people who wanted to get rid of their electronics according to all the HIPAA stuff. One of the jobs I had was selling advertising for a phonebook, and then the last business-to-business job was the best one, positively the best one, which was selling award-winning children's books to school and public librarians. That rocked.

Then, I had my kids and I thought I was going to give being a stay-home-mom a shot for a little bit. I was not a good stay-at-home mom, and I needed some way of focusing my creative energy. I was like, "Eh, I'll give content writing a shot." I discovered that that was a thing, and I became like one of those little drones at Textbroker or one of the content mills that was hammering out a thousand words per hour for two cents a word. Apparently, I was very good at it because these anonymous clients were saying, "You need to get out of this and go do your own thing. They are not paying you enough," so I did. I opened my own website and I learned from the greatest. I learned about content marketing.

Because I really did not want to have to go and chase down clients, I decided I wanted to bring clients to me but I also wanted to use my sales background so I discovered the art and science of copywriting and I started learning from places like Copyhackers, and Neil Patel, and Copyblogger, and I started building my business. Eventually, I had the cajonés to Joanna Wiebe at Copyhackers about storytelling and about how using my theater background, for example, and my creative background why storytelling is so intrinsic to sales and breaking it down because I couldn't find anything out there that really focused on the elements of storytelling and how it applies specifically to sales copy. That's what I did. I wrote this massive piece for Copyhackers. It was like 7,000 words. It could have been an e-book.

[00:04:45] David: Have you ever done anything on that size or scale before?

[00:04:48] Alaura: Other than my master's thesis, no, but it was a passion. It was something that was really just coming from my soul, and I was pouring it all out. I kind of see it as my manifesto of what I stand for and why I believe storytelling is central to having a human-to-human experience and also, frankly, why it's the most efficient way to get business done and the most sustainable way.

[00:05:23] David: When did you write this storytelling manifesto/masterpiece?

[00:05:29] Alaura: I believe it was 2015.

[00:05:31] David: Three years ago? Was Joanna Wiebe the first person that you pitched a guest post to?

[00:05:43] Alaura: On that scale, yes. I had also won a pitch contest for Be a Freelance Blogger, which was one of those training websites that I used as a resource, and my pitch was about how – because freelance bloggers usually get paid $20 a piece sometimes, and mine was about, "Okay, here's how I used content marketing to bring quality clients to me and how you can get paid more than $20 a piece for blogging."

[00:06:16] David: Walk me through that pitch process. First of all, how did you decide on Joana Wiebe and Copyhackers, and then what was the approach that you used to open that door?

[00:06:28] Alaura: First of all, Copyhackers, like the tone, her approach, just Joanna herself, I felt a kindred spirit. She was definitely the top person that I looked to for when I needed resources and so it made sense for me to kind of give back to her and say, "I know that this is something that people need but they cannot find." This is what I wrote to her, was, "On your website, there's tons of references to storytelling but no fundamental primers on what storytelling does to the human brain and how to use that to convert people."

My pitch to her was actually quite long and I would never send a pitch like that to anyone. It was a total noob moment. She actually wrote back and said, "I had to sit down with a glass of wine so I could take the time to read your email." I was like, "Well, I'm glad that you were slightly inebriate as you read it. That made you a little bit more open to my ideas," but she was all in. I sent her this outline. It was a very ambitious outline. I worked with her and her content manager at the time to hone it down, but it was still a massive endeavor. Apparently, it's still getting shared and getting massive traffic to the website so it's all good.

[00:08:14] David: Did you have any anxiety about reaching out to someone that you admired in that space so much?

[00:08:20] Alaura: I think, at that point, I was just like, "No, you need this. This is something that I am perfectly positioned to do for you," and it really was a kind of like, "I'm doing this out of appreciation for all of the wisdom you've shared me," so I didn't feel anxious because I felt like it was an opportunity to reciprocation.

[00:08:48] David: I want to take a step back because you've got a story about the moment you realized the dehumanizing side of business and how that caused you to pivot and want to never go back to that and to move towards a more human way of doing business, a more human way of relating the people, and selling to people, and connecting with people. I'm wondering. Can you walk us through what it is that happened and what led you to that realization?

[00:09:20] Alaura: Sure. This was back in 2008. It was the winter of 2008 and I was in the midst of an advertising sales campaign for the local phonebook company. This was back before my copywriting days.

[00:09:20] David: Where was this, by the way?

[00:09:40] Alaura: I was living in Toledo.

[00:09:42] David: For those of our listeners who are outside of the US?

[00:09:45] Alaura: Yes, it is Toledo, Ohio which is also known as–no offense to the Toledo people–but it's kind of Lower Detroit, and it's about an hour and a half outside of Detroit. This area was really economically depressed. It was on the frontlines of the global economic crisis. We had ghost towns of neighborhoods, of homes that were being foreclosed.

[00:10:13] David: That's right. That was the winter of 2008. That was right at the climax of the economic recession, the global recession.

[00:10:22] Alaura: Yes, but the recession had already been going on for at least a year if not more in this area of the US, in the Rust Belt. My job was to go out to all these small mom and pop shops and get them to spend thousands of dollars with my company on advertising for advertising in the phonebook. At the same time, Facebook was coming out and, at the same time, the smart phones were being adopted, not just in the text sector but people actually going into the store and picking up a smartphone. The phonebook was becoming obsolete and yet I was still working for a company whose bread and butter was selling advertising in a printed phonebook.

[00:10:22] David: Were you aware of this shift? Did you already know like, "Hey, this is kind of a dying industry," or, "This is kind of a dying animal here."

[00:11:11] Alaura: Not only was I aware but I was the top sales rep for selling digital advertising because I knew that that's where everything was going and knew that people had to get on Google. There was this heavy weight on my shoulders to fulfill the numbers, the majority of my sales. My sales quota was in selling print advertising and digital advertising was this little icing; it was this little bonus thing.

I would go out there knowing full well that the service that I was offering was really exploitative of these small businesses, and that really wasn't doing anything because their advertising – supposedly in times of economic crises, advertising is supposed to be good, but when you're trying to advertise locally to a depressed economy in the first place, who are you advertising to? Usually, people are not looking to spend money.

I had this moment where I had to go out with my manager on a field observation, and I had this opportunity to sell a half-page ad which is a pretty expensive ad in the Detroit Yellow Pages to this guy who had been in business for 40 years and had never purchased advertising before. He just so happened to have decided that this year, because there was no business coming his way, he was going to pay for advertising.

[00:12:46] David: He was desperate?

[00:12:47] Alaura: He was desperate. He lived in this farm out in rural Michigan. He had lived with his mother who had just passed away, and he gave me this envelope with $8000 in cash in it and said, "This is the last of my savings. This is all I've got. This is my last-ditch shot. I hope that this is going to work," and there's a part of me, of course, that was saying that, "This is such a gamble, man. Don't do it," and if I had not had my manager sitting there and if I had not had my sales quota, I would have probably had that courage to say, "Don't take this gamble. Take that $8000. Go somewhere. Do something with it. Don't put it towards this dying venue," but I took the money.

It was a terrible feeling. It should have been a victorious moment because it was actually getting me to my sales quota and it was putting that $8,000 on sales board, but it was this moment of shame and I realized that this is what it's like to do business when you put numbers in front of people, that when you're treating human beings like a hash mark on a sales board, then you're completely forgetting about the reality of their lives and you're purposefully shielding yourself from that impact that you're making.

I went to McDonald's with my manager and I said to him, "Did we do the right thing by this guy?" and he goes, "You're the first sales rep I've ever seen to feel guilty about selling a half-page ad." It was like, "Okay, I'm in the wrong business and I don't think that I'm doing business for the right reasons." I made, at that point, first of all, a decision to leave that company but also to find a company that had purpose beyond profit, and that's when I went into that librarian sales job and then eventually transitioned to copywriting and deciding that I want to help companies like that librarian company and also some other companies to just focus on the purpose. "What purpose are you serving? What's the impact that you're making, the real-life impact that you're making in people's lives?" because that's where your profits are going to come from, and that's where the reward is.

[00:15:22] David: That's a heartbreaking story. Thank you so much for sharing that. I really feel for that guy. I'm wondering what happened to him. Do you know what business he was in, what he was selling?

[00:15:35] Alaura: He was selling door parts. He wasn't even selling doors themselves; he was just selling parts to doors and helping people repair their doors and stuff like that. The hope was that his advertisement would reach people who were trying to hang onto their homes and repair instead of flipping their homes or reselling them. I don't think that much of anything came from that ad. We actually gave him a special phone number you could track to see how many calls were coming from that ad, and I looked at the numbers and there was nothing.

[00:16:12] David: So, the last of his savings pretty much went down the drain in the middle of the recession?

[00:16:20] Alaura: I think that, luckily, his home had already been paid off so at least he didn't have to worry about his home being foreclosed like so many others, and I hope he came through it.

[00:16:31] David: That's an incredible example of exactly what you said. This is what happens when you put numbers before people because, like you said, if you had had a conscience, you would have spoken out and you would have said, "You know what? Maybe this is not the best use of your money. Maybe there's something else you could do with that money to attract more customers," or, "Maybe there's something else you could do to shift your business or to save your business," but those numbers and your manager and that culture of hitting the quota above everything else prevented you from doing that.

[00:17:02] Alaura: That's a microcosm of a huge, huge problem in our economy and in how business is done.

[00:17:11] David: That's exactly the reason why we started this show, because we're seeing this happening on a macro and micro level. We're seeing individual people like you facing choices like this and feeling guilty about it. You have a sense. You have a conscience that tells you, "This is not the right thing to do," and, at the same time, what would have happened if you had counseled that guy and given him even better advice and he'd given you that $8,000 and got an actual return on it?

What would that have done? What kind of trust would that have created for you? What kind of trust would that have created for the company that you were working for, especially in a time of need, to know that a company was willing to put his needs above their own? You could create life-long, lasting relationships by making the right choice but instead, what happened, you got a single sale and who knows what happened to him, but he for sure is never going to trust that company again. No repeat business is going to come out of there. You can see how, sustainably, that just does not make sense.

[00:18:19] Alaura: It just falls apart. Exactly. The pressure, it wasn't just from the manager onto me to make that. I probably would have kicked under the table had I been like, "You know what? Maybe you should put this towards the digital side of things." These guys were putting the pressure on because they were getting that quota from the company, and the company was getting pressure from the shareholders, and they were probably trying to sell the company so they wanted to make everything look wonderful.

It's all about a lack of transparency, a lack of empathy and also the ability and the willingness to be vulnerable because when you expose yourself–not literally, of course–but saying, "Look, this is probably not the best path for you. We are not the best people to help you, but here's where you can get help," being vulnerable and saying, "We're not the best," is okay because then you're showing that you care, that you want to see that other person succeed.

[00:19:36] David: Now, let's fast-forward into your career as a copywriter. How did you apply this mentality and this way of doing business to finding your own clients and nurturing your own relationships with your clients, and what kind of results did you see when you did that?

[00:19:53] Alaura: When I started copywriting, one of the things they recommend when you're starting out is looking at the old greats of direct-response copywriting. I immediately recognized that that mentality, that win-at-all-costs mentality, that grow-at-all-costs mentality, and I was like, "I've got to fight to pick here. I'm going to differentiate myself as a copywriter by showing that win-at-all-costs mentality does not serve you."

"Maybe it serves you to get that click. Maybe it serves you to get that one sale, but it's not going to serve you to sustain relationships with customers and grow in the long term." We have a very fast-growth culture right now, and that's partially because, "I want to sell. I'm going to make this startup, boom, and I'm a sell and I'm going to retire and be a billionaire and have my Lambo." There's that dream but it's not a realistic dream and it's certainly not taking the human equation into it.

[00:21:16] David: It's also a dream that gets glamorized because the number of people that reach that is such a tiny sliver of a single percentage, but all the focus goes there and not on the reality of what everybody else's life is like and could be like.

[00:21:32] Alaura: Right, and it's a dream that you're selling. Again, everything is for sale as opposed to, "I'm offering to connect with you. I'm offering to play a role in helping you to achieve the success that you define for yourself, not that somebody else defines for you of what success looks like." As a copywriter, I realized that there was a space to fill and that storytelling was going to be the venue for that because storytelling is ultimately about seeing the big picture.

When you're telling a story, you have to know what that big picture is going to look like, and you have to know who that hero of the story is, what their goals are, what their challenges are that they need to overcome, who is going to guide them in their journey and help them get closer to their goals and, ultimately, what the overall arching team of that life is. In business, that storytelling can be translated as the theme equals the values that somebody goes through life believing in.

How do you as a company resonate your values? What's the theme of your company and how do you live out those values? Then, the hero within that story is your customer. You have to get to know who that customer is and what motivates them, what their fears are, what their greatest aspirations are and how you can inspire them to action that in a way that's aligned with their goals and aligned with their values. That's the story that you're telling with your customer. It's not about, "I'm going to tell you about my story. I want to tell a story with you together," because when you're saying, "I want to tell a story with you together," then you're thinking about the long-term relationship. That's what I wanted to bring to the market of copywriting, is that big-picture storytelling focus.

[00:23:48] David: There's another thing that happens because when you tap into that story and it resonates with your customer, there's something inside of them that happens that resonates back with your story, and there's a relationship that starts to develop and an engagement that starts to happen already right from the beginning which is the power of that story whereas when you're just using B-to-B marketing, sales-y kind of talk, there's no connection. It's just like, "Are you going to help me reach my end-goal? Yes or no?" instead of like, "Hey, this is somebody who can really help me on my path to success, to reaching my higher goals, to really help my company or help myself reach my full potential of where I want to be as an individual or as a company."

[00:24:30] Alaura: Right. It's about digging into the fundamentals, the core, of who that customer is, not just what they want. When I was learning about copywriting, a lot of the training of copywriting is ultimately about manipulation and it's about what buttons you need to push, what the power words are, what the triggers are that you need to get people to click that buy button. Yes, I'm going to be using a little bit of that psychology, too, but it's more about I want to get you to the point where it just makes sense. There's no other option than to say yes to this because we are the best choice for you as opposed to, "Buy now because we're going to take this offer away and you're never going to get it again and, by the way, your life will fall apart if you don't buy now."

[00:25:38] David: How do you walk companies through this process? How do you help them to discover what that story is, what their hero is aspiring towards, what those pain points, what those challenges that the hero is facing, their customer is facing – how do you help a company discover that?

[00:25:54] Alaura: That's through buyer persona, is my very first step. When I go to a buyer persona, I spend quite a bit of time researching not only who their customers are but who are the competitors' customers. Why are your customers going to you as opposed to your competitors and, if you're a startup like a prelaunch company, then definitely going to see what the competitive analysis and figuring out who the demographic is. I use Alexa. This isn't just some kind of esoteric, "Who's your customer?"

[00:26:39] David: Walk me through that. Let's hear about that because a lot of people can very easily make assumptions and go into a buyer persona and think, "I think it's marketing Mary and she's got two cats and a dog and she likes to watch Friends," versus how do you actually find out the reality of who are their customers. What do you do? What data do you look at? What steps do you take?

[00:27:09] Alaura: When I get the call with a new client, a lot of times, they will give me that. They're between 30 and 40 and they are professionals and blah, blah, blah. The first thing I do is I go to Alexa and see who's actually coming to their website. If they give me access to Google Analytics, I'll do that, too, and take a look at the demographic data which is very high-level – it's not in-depth but at least gives you a general idea of, "Do you have mostly younger visitors as opposed to people in their 40s and 50s?"

Alexa actually uses, "Are they coming to you from work or from at home?" so that gives you an idea of where are they coming to you from, who are they, what do they kind of look like, how much money they make, all that kind of stuff. Then, I narrow it down by either doing customer surveys if they already have a customer base or I go to their competitors and see who is going to them and what do those people look like.

Then, after that, after I get some more specific customer data, I start digging into social media platforms, who's following them, what do those profiles say. Now, I'm not going Cambridge analytical on anybody; I'm just taking a peek at some sample profiles just to get an idea and to see who else they're following, what their interests are. I can even go to Facebook groups or things like that and look up the topics of whatever your product or service is and see how people are talking about it, or Amazon reviews and seeing how people are talking about it and what matters to them and what they care about. Then, I eventually come up with a user persona that gives a portrait of that human being.

[00:29:11] David: How are you gathering all that data? That can sometimes be an overwhelming amount of information that's coming in. How do you sort through the noise and discover, "Okay, this is relevant to me. All of this is not."?

[00:29:25] Alaura: Well, first of all, you take a look at that profile and then you go back to the client and say, "Okay, what percentage of your business would you say is coming from this person?" The other thing I should mention is I love to listen to customer success phone calls, too, because that gives me a better idea of what the challenges are or where maybe my client is not coming through on things and what matters to that customer.

For example, I had this one client who was a college testing service and they said, "Well, we've got three types of moms that usually come to us." I go through the customer success conversations. I said, "Give me examples of people that exemplify that." They handed me conversations. I listened to them. I start picking up information that maybe they didn't even notice about that person, like there was this one mom whose daughter had taking the SAT in eighth grade.

She happened to mention that her schedule is so full, so that's a very different person than the mom whose son is probably going to get a sports scholarship and, really, they hadn't even been thinking about the SATs but the place that they're getting a scholarship you'd have to have a certain score for, so very different motivations and what matters to them. Going through the noise, I'm not working with big data. My specialty is working with small companies, but there's definitely ways that you can compile this data and see, "Alright. Here's what fits this profile."

[00:31:20] David: You mentioned customer surveys. What kind of questions do you typically ask in those surveys? What are you looking for?

[00:31:26] Alaura: A lot of times, I ask them about problems that are immediate and then problems that are bigger. I should've had my customer survey in front of me, but sometimes I'll be like, "What's the biggest problem you're facing right now with blah, blah, blah?" but then I'll also say, "What are some concerns you have about your community?" or, "When you're watching TV, what's something that jumps out at you that makes you feel afraid or makes you feel inspired?" Obviously, these things that are little written responses as opposed to little quantified numbers.

[00:32:12] David: So, open-ended responses?

[00:32:13] Alaura: Open-ended questions, right. One of my customers, I got on the phone with one of their clients and just had a conversation with them, recorded the conversation. Again, it's that human-to-human interaction. It's about letting them be heard. The pushback that you can get is, "Well, that's not quantifiable. You can't put that on a spreadsheet," but there are patterns and there are certain things; you can create a profile.

There's this thing called the emotional markets. He's a futurist named Rolf Jensen, and he created these spheres that human beings inhabit. One of them is adventure. One of is nostalgia. One is togetherness. One is comfort. I'm forgetting the other two but the point is, but the point is—

[00:33:18] David: We’ll refer to him on the show notes so people can find out for themselves.

[00:33:25] Alaura: As you're getting to know people, you can figure out, "Oh, you live in the lifestyle world. You live in the world of personal expression," or, "You live in the world of togetherness." Then, you can infer a lot about their values from that. Individuals definitely have their own stories but there are certain stories that more all-encompassing that people like to play into, too.

[00:33:56] David: Our CEO and founder, David Darmanin, he is huge on the feedback. There was one time where we've been running an NPS survey, net promoter score, to ask how likely are people to recommend Hotjar then give a score between 0 and 10. Then, at the end, there was an open-ended question. I think there was one sent to a segment of people, which is people who left Hotjar, what was their score of Hotjar and then why did they leave.

He had about a thousand responses and so what he did is, one night, he sat down–also with a glass of wine and some chocolate, actually–and he went through every single one. What he wasn’t looking for was individual responses. What he was looking for was patterns, because once he started to see patterns in the responses, then could start to group them together and then he would start to see that there were outliers and those weren't that big of a deal but then he started to see, I think, three, four or five emerging themes, people putting it in their own ways, and then he knew–you could almost say quantifiably at that point–that these are the three to five things that are driving people away from using the product or the reason that's causing them to leave.

He was like, "Clear," then he was like, "Okay, this is what we need to work on." I think there's a little bit of an intimidation factor in getting quantifiable information out of qualitative feedback, but that's where you get the most insight because that's where people are sharing their personal perspective with you. That's where people sharing exactly, "Hey, I'm telling you this is what it is. This is why I'm leaving your product," or, "This is why I love your product so much."

It is time-consuming. He had to put aside an entire evening. Maybe it took him three, four or five hours to do it. It's a big block of time and he had to put everything else out of the way, but three, four or five hours to figure out what are the three top reasons why people are leaving your product. What kind of return are you going to get on that when you can take that to your product team and say, "These are the top three things that we need to work on."

[00:36:08] Alaura: If you needed to automate that, you could because you can take that qualitative data, throw them into a word cloud or something and see what the top words are that people are using. There's ways to identify the patterns, and that's actually something that I do, too, with storytelling and capturing a voice. I can record a conversation with my client, have it transcribed, throw it into a word cloud, find out what are the overarching themes within this conversation, what's driving this conversation. That's how you start to create a portrait of what matters to people.

[00:36:47] David: What tool do you use, specifically, to get that word cloud?

[00:36:52] Alaura: You're giving me a quiz here. I'll give you a link. It's just a word cloud generator you can paste anything to and actually make cute little shapes and everything out of the words. This idea of patterns is actually intrinsic to storytelling itself. Storytelling is a pattern. Narrative is a pattern.

[00:37:20] David: We've walked through how you viewed surveys, you've gotten responses, you've gone into social media, you've used Google Analytics, you used Alexa–and, by the way, that's Alexa, the website ranking service, not Alexa, the Amazon bot–so you've used all of this information, first, to get a high-level view of where you need to focus, who this kind of person is that's buying from your client, and then you start to dig deeper into individual people, their profiles, what they're looking at, their individual responses to your surveys. You're starting to find patterns, and once you find patterns, you start to realize, "Okay, this is what's important to them. This is what matters to them. These are the challenges that they're facing." Now you've got this persona, what do you do with that?

[00:38:12] Alaura: I give it to the client and we work on the next step, which might be creating a brand voice guideline. A lot of times with my startup clients that are ready to scale up, they want to hone in on what their brand personality is now. I'll create a corresponding brand persona that either echoes what that person does or differentiates themselves. "We share these values but here's how I'm different from you because I have the ability to produce this product, or have the knowledge, or skills, or connections to get you to this next level," and then we talk about what the client cares about on my end, what the company cares about, what their purpose is beyond the profit motivation.

We talk about the why, the Big Why that Simon Sinek talks about in his TED Talk about what people follow. People aren't following leaders because of what they're doing; they're following leaders because of why they're doing it. That's about distilling that down into that brand persona and how you personify that. That's definitely more of a qualitative process than a quantitative process because it really is about a conversation and it's about getting vulnerable. Especially with my tech founders and my CEOs, they're so attuned to having a persona of success, of infallibility, and you kind of have to peel back the layers and say, "Where are you lacking? Where are things that your customer can help you with?" because if you're infallible, then you're going to eventually disappoint your customer in some way.

[00:40:26] David: That is so important because so many of us, as individuals and as companies, we want to project this aura of success, that we know what we're doing, that we've got the answers and that we hope that by projecting this perfect image, people are going to be like, "That person knows what they're talking about. That company is succeeding," but that's not the reality, and that's also not the reality that our customers are living because nobody is perfect and nobody's path to success is a straight line from perfect idea, put it out there on the market and it takes off. There's a massive amount of work that goes into that.

When you pull back the curtain and show that and people see that, and they realize, "Oh, this company's just like me. This company's struggling just like me and they're still succeeding. They're still doing well. That gives me hope. That gives me so much more trust in the fact that this is a real company." Personally, I am much more likely to believe what a company is saying in their newsletters to what a company is saying in cross or communication if I have that feeling that they're being authentic, and transparent, and vulnerable with me.

[00:41:48] Alaura: I think I was looking at Buffer. I was so impressed because every year, they release their employment equality standings. They're saying, "How close are we to closing the gender or racial gap within our community?" and sometimes they fall short. They're honest about it and they say, "We see this, and this is what we're going to do." Instead of having some PR person cover up and make it shiny, they're saying, "This is the work that we're going to be doing on this. This is the work that we, as a company, have to do, and we're just one company. If we have this problem, then a lot of other companies are having this problem so let's work on this together." That is so admirable. It makes me love Buffer in a way that sometimes their product falls short for me but I don't care because, as a company, as a brand, they're so willing to go the distance beyond just making a good product. They want to make a good world.

[00:42:57] David: This goes back to what you were saying, also, about how if you were projecting this infallible image, there's no opening for the customer to come towards you because you're not leaving yourself open to listen to them because if you've got all the answers, your customer can't contribute anything to you. That's why having a two-way relationship with your customer is so important, and that's something that we value here immensely here at Hotjar, is getting feedback from the customer and having our users help us build the product because we don't have the answers.

They do. They're using the product and they're out there in the real world and finding out situations where it's not living up to what they need. When they tell us that, we build it with them and then we tell them, "Hey, thank you so much for that feedback. We did what you asked for and here it is," and then it just creates a symbiotic relationship where you start to develop an emotional attachment to a company. 10, 15 or 20 years ago, you could never have imagined that that would be a possibility, but it's through authenticity; it's not through manipulation.

[00:44:05] Alaura: No, and this is something that I use over, and over, and over again as a copywriter when I remind myself it is personal. There's this whole thing about, "It's not personal; it's just business." That's BS. The business that you do personally affects the people that are employed by the business, the people who are running the business and the people who purchase from the business. Those are personal interactions.

To put a wall between this professionalism and the personal is to, again, dehumanize that relationship and as a business, you're saying, "I'm not responsible for what personally happens to you." There's the liability issues and blah, blah, blah. That's a completely separate issue than having an emotional connection and building trust. You're setting this up not as a transactional experience but as a relationship that builds over time.

[00:45:11] David: I also want to ask you: You're doing this with companies. You come in and you help them to find their story to change the way that they're communicating with their customers, to change their messaging. What happens at that point? What kind of results have you seen with companies who make this shift?

[00:45:34] Alaura: The quantifiable results are increased conversions and business growth because you've got people saying, "You get me. I couldn't imagine doing business with anybody else because you're so in-line with what I believe, and what I want, and how you can help me so, of course, I'm going to do business with you," and you start attracting the same type of person and their friends because that person is not going to not only be excited about doing business with you but when people get excited, they have to share it.

It becomes a viral thing that they're pulling their friends in and, all of a sudden, you are building that tribe around your brand so the conversions are a lot more direct than a lot of other ways. The other thing that you get is you constantly get feedback, and it's positive and negative but it's feedback. If you're a business that values empathy and the whole design-thinking thing, feedback is valuable because you're constantly getting data. Then, you can start testing, and iterating, and optimizing.

[00:46:50] David: This is a point that I also really want to support because when you've communicated in a way that's resonating with your customers and they start to care about you, they want to give you feedback because they care. Because they want to help you, they want to help improve the product, they want to help you succeed and they have the feeling that you're going to listen to them.

I, many times, get surveys from giant companies and giant corporations and I'm just like, "I don't have time for this. I don't really care." I will get a request from a company that I feel has been very open with me and I feel like I'm going to take the time to answer this. I'm going to take the time to give them, and sometimes I end up taking a lot more time than I thought and write paragraphs about why I think something should be improved because I care about their success and I know that their success is intertwined with mine.

There's a lot of quantifiable results like you said. There's increased conversions. There's increased lifetime value of a customer because they stay with you longer. There's decreased turn because they don't want to leave you, but then there's also the intangibles which this is connection that gets created to the company and the result of wanting to help more. Then, it's like the more data you get, the more people want to give you feedback, the more feedback, the better you can make the product. There are so many things that happen when you're honest with people and when you communicate vulnerably and authentically. How can you possibly believe that this is not the best way to do things? I get a little emotional about it. I get a little passionate about it.

[00:48:20] Alaura: I feel you, man.

[00:48:25] David: Related to that–I know we talked about this a lot–a lot of people are on the fence about embracing a people-first approach and thinking that it's all touch-y feel-y stuff and doesn't lead to anything measurable. What would you say to help them understand that putting people first really is the only sustainable way to succeed in the long term?

[00:48:45] Alaura: Well, I think the first question to that person is, "Do you want to sustainability to succeed in the long term? What do you value?" because if you don't value sustainability and you don't see the value in long-term growth, then you're probably right. It's not going to be the best decision for you, but I encourage you to think about the impact that your short-term decisions are making because, hopefully, you're the kind of person who cares about what impact you're making in the world.

Now, assuming that you are somebody who cares about the impact you're making in the world, then you need to stop fearing the un-quantifiable and embrace the fact that you have the capacity to innovate and find a way of quantifying impact, and that you can look to places like Acumen which is a social entrepreneurship non-profit that helps people develop sustainable business models and are constantly finding new ways of following and measuring impact.

You can look to places like non-profits. Even though they're non-profits, that doesn't mean that they don't have great business models and great ways of making change. I'm assuming that if you're a founder and you're an entrepreneur, that you're a change-maker because otherwise why are you in business if not to improve lives or improve some aspect of the world that only you have found a way to do? As far as pushing back against this idea of human-first and people-first, I think it's because people are messy, and sometimes it's okay to embrace the mess and find the beauty in the mess. Then, you can make order out of the mess.

[00:50:47] David: Great. My final question is: If you had to pick one resource to help our listeners succeed by putting people first, what would that be?

[00:50:55] Alaura: I think that storytelling is the best place to start because it really does help you understand the language of humanity and how to speak to human beings. I found a great playlist of TED Talks that are by master storytellers, some of whom are in films, some of whom are in social activism, some of whom are in entrepreneurship. One that stands out to me is by Andrew Stanton who is the filmmaker behind Toy Story, and Wall-E, and a bunch of Pixar movies. He breaks down what storytelling is and how to tell a great story, and why telling a great story matters to people and how it inspires people's actions.

[00:51:45] David: I've seen that TED Talk and I will recommend it to everybody who's listening to this because it starts with one of my favorite jokes of all time so it is well worth a listen to. I agree. I think that's a wonderful resource. Alaura, thank you so much for taking the time. If anybody wants to learn more about you or your approach to storytelling and speaking human-to-human, where should they go?

[00:52:08] Alaura: My website is www.wordweaverfreelance.com. Another resource you can use is that article that I mentioned on Copy Hackers. It's called Storyhacking, and that would be a great way of doing it. Then, you can also reach out on Twitter. I'm @wordweaverfree.

[00:52:26] David: Thanks again for taking the time.

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