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Even when on holiday, I’m always finding ways in which stories infiltrate both our business and our personal lives. I love how the following experience demonstrates the way that storifying a service brings it to life.

My wife and I travelled to Bali last year and decided to treat ourselves to a day by the pool at the W Hotel, right on the beach in Seminyak.

When we arrived at the pool bar, we were greeted by a friendly Balinese guy called Fernando. He was warm and accommodating and did an amazing job of looking after us all day, so we gave him a generous tip when we left. He was thrilled with the tip and invited us back to the hotel again, so we booked in for Friday later that week.

We arrived on Friday and met him again by the pool bar. He had arranged a lounger right by the pool, some hotel towels and free bar snacks. After we ordered some cocktails, he pulled out his phone and showed us a photo of his 5-year old daughter drawing in a schoolbook. He said with pride that his little girl had just started school and he had bought new school supplies with the tip money we had given him earlier in the week. We were really touched and gave him an even bigger tip at the end of the day.

I think this is a great example of how we can storify the marketing of services to create a stronger connection with our customers. The problem with marketing services is that they are intangible, and sometimes subjective. You often can’t see what service has been performed and you don’t always know straight away if the service has been completed in a professional manner.

If I take my car to the dealership to get a service, how do I know that they have done their job properly? I don’t, really – because I’m not a mechanic and all the work took place under the bonnet. But when I pick up my car, if it’s been nicely valeted, my unconscious reaction is that they must have done a great job with the service – because the car is clean!

Storifying services is all about wrapping them in a tangible, emotional context to make them more believable and real.

Here’s 4 practical ways to storify the marketing of your services:

  1. Add a real human story.

A lovely example of this is Bill Marriott, the 86-year old Chairman of Marriott Hotels, who recently posted on the Marriot blog a beautiful Valentine’s Day letter to his wife of over 60 years. Reading it, you can’t help but be moved by its warmth and humanity and so you get the feeling that Marriott Hotels embody the same values. You can read it here.

  1. Use a metaphor that communicates the key ideas you want to own

Insurance companies and banks use this principle to create more concrete perceptions around strength and reliability. Think about Tower’s lighthouse logo, and Pinnacle Life’s mountain. Some travel insurance companies use the metaphor of an umbrella to signify cover in adverse conditions.

  1. Use stories to upsell services and create a premium position

A few years ago, I was at Botswana Butchery for a birthday dinner. The menu was full of mouth-watering descriptions of various cuts of meat and the delicious ways in which they could be prepared. As we were pondering our options, the waiter returned to our table, and with a flourish and a bit of a backstory he presented a black, leather-bound book.  Inside was another world of delight – Botswana’s premium cuts, their crème de la crème of steaks, each with its own origin story – its age, where it was from, what it was fed, and how all of that came out in the texture and flavour of the meat. My point is, you can upsell from a perfectly good product to an even better one – by framing it with the right story. In this case, putting the premium product into a more exclusive presentation also helped to position it as a superior option.

  1. Pull back the curtains and give your prospects a behind-the-scenes look at how your service is delivered.

Quirky TVNZ reality documentary series The Casketeers* goes behind-the-scenes of a South Auckland funeral home and is a fabulous example of how stories can make a category that may be perceived to be dull, interesting. The power of behind-the-scene stories is that they demonstrate the care you take over your work, and help customers understand that there’s far more skill and thought involved with what you do – than they might have previously thought.