This article first appeared in Forbes Magazine, June 2020.
In my first role as chief marketing officer, I had no team, no budget, no market research or customer insights, and one big ask from my CEO: Find enterprise customers. With aggressive goals for growth, the company relied on marketing to work its magic to find those customers. And that’s when I discovered a really cool strategy that I still use with some of the brands I work with today.
I started a campfire.
The idea came from the summers I spent at my grandmother’s farm in Wisconsin. Every night, we would pile around the glowing flames, make s’mores, tell jokes. Inevitably, the jokes would turn serious, and someone would end up telling a historical fact, story or memory about our ancestors or about the homestead that the farm sits on.
We would also read and reread letters from the 1800s that were found in an old house on the property. The letters told stories of survival. Stories of hope. Each sentence created these images in my mind of what it was like to live during those harsh Wisconsin winters. Of what could have happened over a hundred years ago, right where I was sitting.
Telling stories around the campfire is a time-honored tradition, and the stories tend to be authentic and heartfelt. So I applied the same idea with the people inside my company in the hopes that the stories could be used to build brand unity, create powerful messaging and generate demand for our products and services.
I asked everyone in the company to tell me about a colleague, time, place or story that inspired them. It was a simple ask. The results were remarkable. Content poured in. I received hundreds of stories over a couple of weeks. I scoured them. I talked to the people who wrote them. And I found themes.
I hired a journalist and a designer, and together, from those stories, we created a heartfelt content program that gave potential customers and employees a glimpse into the kinds of people behind our brand. We shared the stories everywhere — across social, sales enablement, the website and more.
Because the stories were so authentic and relatable, the sales team didn’t need training. They naturally became our best storytellers and an extension of the marketing team.
The content program built trust with our audiences over time. They got to know the people behind the brand, and it made them want to do business with us. It drove demand. And at that moment, we moved from a sales-driven organization to a marketing-driven sales organization.
Everyone has a compelling story to tell. To find them, all you have to do is start a campfire. Here’s how:
Look around you. See your organization from different perspectives. Get to know your employees. Who are the superstars? What motivates them? Start a campfire.
Collect the stories. Hire a journalist, not just a writer. They can find the stories in your organization that are worth telling and write them in a way that captures each audience’s heart.
Tell the stories. Choose your medium(s). Build stories into collateral. Use those stories as sales enablement tools. They don’t have to be all about your product or service. Do more than sell your products and services. Tell them on social, but remember, social media helps people relate to what you do and who you are, not what you sell.
I’d love to see how you empower your organization to start a campfire!