Customer Experience Innovation Blog with Toni Newman

Is this too personal?


When is personal not really personal?

Ok – let me back up a bit.

I spend a fair amount of time researching innovation and customer experience online and I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. More and more businesses, large and small, are trying to make their blogs, websites, social media posts etc… more “personal”.

Personally, I have no issue with being personal. After all, one of the S’s in my Five ‘S’ Solution is the ‘S’ for Seductive and one of the ways to create an innovative Seductive customer experience is to make it more personal.

So what’s my problem?

(Rant alert… consider yourself forewarned!)

My problem is that Seductive is supposed to be about the buyer – not the seller. My problem is that what seems to pass for personal these days is a one way litany of what is going on in people’s lives and quite frankly, finding out where a business contact or resource went on vacation, hearing how much fun they had at their cousin’s birthday party or some other innocuous detail of their personal life is not personal. It’s spam. It’s spam because it’s all about you and has absolutely no value for your customer – the person that you are actually supposed to be trying to connect with.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t share personal experiences. Telling stories has been around since the beginning of time and personal stories are one of the most powerful forms of communication that we have. The only difference now is that social media has made the sharing of stories so much easier – whether they are written in a blog, captured in a single image or crammed into 140 characters. However, sharing stories that are all about you and nothing about me, your customer? Well… that’s not story telling. That’s ego.

There is really only one reason to share a personal story in a business context. To add value to the lives of our customers and our readers because then – and only then – a story becomes the vehicle that helps you drive home your value and support your brand promise.


Innovation Insight …

Tell stories that add value for your customers

Keeping in mind that a story could be as long as full article on your website or as short as a picture with a caption on Facebook, for a personal story to circle home and create a true customer connection it should, to some extent, do the following three things.

1 – Trigger an emotional response.
If you tell a personal story in a business context, the story should be designed to trigger an emotional response for your readers.  Laughter, sadness, curiosity, shock  – you get the idea.  Don’t be afraid to play the Emotions Card(TM). Triggering an emotional response is the first step in using your story to create a powerful connection with your customer/reader.

The description of your cousin Vinnie’s 43rd birthday party last Sunday?  Only if your story makes me laugh, cry or be amazed.  The picture of the appetizers that you are about to eat at some swanky restaurant? Only if I will be shocked by the fact that you’re about to eat deep fried spiders, awestruck by the one-of-kind presentation on the plate or obliged to laugh out loud because the waiter brought you something hysterical in the place of what you actually ordered.

So, before you “post” your next personal parable, ask yourself, a) what emotional response is this story designed to trigger and b) if the story brings no other value than the emotional response, is that response enough of a return of investment for those who have taken the time to read/view it?


2 – Help your customer discover something strategic about you.
Any personal experience shared in a business context should help your readers discover or re-discover something about you that is strategically relevant to their perception of your ability to deliver the value that they associate with you and your brand.

Let me repeat that.  

Any personal experience shared in a business context should help your readers discover or re-discover something about you that is strategically relevant to their perception of your ability to deliver the value that they associate with you and your brand.

This criteria should not be interpreted as permission to load up on what I call “vanity posts”, boast posts are designed to show customers/readers how successful someone is.  Posts like “I won this”, “I did that” and one of my personal favourites, “This is a picture of me in the first class business lounge where I am sitting now.”

That is not what I mean by strategically relevant.

When Richard Branson posted a photo of himself and Archbishop Tutu with a caption that read Saying farewell to Archbishop Tutu as Chair of The Elders – I kissed his feet as always!, yes – it could be argued that there was a touch of self promotion.  However, the photo and the caption both demonstrate Branson’s commitment to helping others and the article that accompanies the photo is a humbling tribute to a group that is dedicated to making the world a better place.  Not only does this story score high on triggering an emotional response, it also allows the reader to discover or rediscover, the great work that Branson does – a fact that is strategically relevant to his overall brand.

However, when an entrepreneur posts something like” Been on the road non-stop.  So tired.  Can’t wait to get home for my first day off in 6 weeks.”, I’m not sure what strategically relevant fact I’m supposed to discover about them.  That they travel a lot?  That they’re so successful that they don’t have time to take care of themselves?  Are they complaining or bragging, neither of which are attractive emotional responses that someone would want to trigger? Not to mention the fact that this discovery does nothing to reinforce my perception of their ability to deliver on their brand promise.

So, before you tweet your next personal tale, ask yourself, a) what will my readers discover or re-discover about me or my business and b) will that discovery enhance their perception of my/our ability to deliver on my/our brand promise?

3 –  Deliver a valuable lesson

Using a personal story to deliver a valuable lesson to your readers is the most powerful way to create a connection based on trust, respect and gratitude.  Sharing a lesson with your customers that can enrich their life and/or business is the greatest gift that you can give them. 

Stories anchor learning and your readers will be grateful that you are willing to share your knowledge and valuable lessons with them.

Years ago I wrote a very personal article about my visits to my step-mom while she was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The article was entitled Truth is What you Make It and it dealt with the evolution of my perceived truth about who my step-mother was as a person. It definitely scored high in terms of triggering an emotional response. The blog inspired more comments and feedback than any other that I have ever written.  As for discovering something strategically relevant about me, I believe that it allowed readers to see into my heart and, as someone whose goal is to touch both hearts and minds with the spirit of Why Not!, that made perfect sense to me.

I think the greatest gift of that blog, however, were the lessons that it contained. The lesson that one of the fundamental skills of true innovators is their ability to challenge what most people believe to be true.  The lesson that our own perceived truths can keep us from living the full life that we deserve. The article also inspired many readers to re-examine their own feelings of loss and forgiveness.

So, before you announce your next personal anecdote, ask yourself, a) does this story share a lesson that is of strategic value to my readers and b) how could that lesson enrich their lives?

Is telling personal stories a great way to connect with your customers?


But remember, unless your story triggers an emotional response; helps your customers to discover something about you that is strategically relevant to their perception of your ability to deliver the value that they associate with you and your brand;  and serves as the launch pad for a valuable lesson, that’s not being personal. That’s just spam.  And we all know what happens to spam!

If you found spam free value in this newsletter, I hope that you will forward this email to your friends and colleagues or to post it on your favourite social media hangout.  After all. Some stories really are worth sharing.

Until next time,
Imagine the Possibilities!

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