Storytelling isn't child's play—it's your best tool to connect

We know that the best tool for marketers to persuade consumers to buy their products never changes: solid storytelling. Whether you’re selling a coffee maker, a golf club or an actual rocket ship, the key is knowing how to tell your story, in a way that will resonate with your audience at the right time. Sounds easy, right?

With today’s fragmented data and tech stacks, not so much. That’s why many of the world’s leading brands rely on data and technology to help tell their stories. Epsilon provides access to its leading identity solution and its enrichment data in a connected marketing platform Epsilon PeopleCloud, which helps create those personalized consumer stories.

For marketers, it’s critical to be able to “connect the dots” and activate their messages in market. So, it was a bit ironic when Epsilon learned that some of its clients found the PeopleCloud story to be cumbersome and complicated.

To learn more about the importance of simple, resonant storytelling and the PeopleCloud messaging evolution, I chatted with Jon Beebe, SVP of marketing and customer experience at Epsilon.

Kate Sirkin: Jon, broadly speaking, what kinds of data should brands be looking for when telling stories?

Jon Beebe: Because there are so many data sets and types with different strengths and weaknesses, there’s no one right answer to this question. It comes down listening to consumers’ signals and identifying the data and insights that will help you.

A brand story might resonate with one person, but completely miss with someone else. The most important thing is to really understand who you’re talking to. Epsilon PeopleCloud enables brands to look at each individual customer’s needs and personalize their communications accordingly. This individual-level view is crucial for maximum resonance.

But then of course, there are common story-building techniques that are tried-and-true that we used when refreshing our PeopleCloud story.

What were those? Walk me through the making of the PeopleCloud refresh.

Beebe: The first thing we did was to think about common cultural, shared experiences that everyone can relate to. It may seem like we’re slowly turning into robots, with all the tech jargon around us, but we’re not there yet. We’re still just people, at the end of the day, for whom simple stories resonate best. Logical proof points are wonderful, but they don’t always hit home as well as they can when they’re not grounded in easily understood contexts and emotions.

So, we came up with some ideas: Food, music, the human body, the five senses and building blocks. These are all readily understood by and resonate with people, so we created some concept art for all of them just to see how they felt. We kept this brainstorming portion pretty high level, as we wanted concepts that could be easily customized for each client, because we’re so aware of the importance of personalized marketing.

And then, finally, there was testing internally, and with some of our closest client partners. This is where we asked ourselves, “Do these concepts have legs? Can they tell the story holistically?” We actually started off really liking the human body concept, but during testing, we found it was a little weird and awkward—especially when we got to the digestive system. 

So, we decided to go with the building blocks concept. And I’m so excited about it.




Explain to me how the building blocks concept connects back to our PeopleCloud story.

Beebe: The metaphor is pretty exact, which worked out great for us. Data are little bits and bytes: expressions of people’s actions—and inactions—they take all day long, online and offline. Their web activity, email opens, purchases—all generate more pieces of data. They’re little signals about what people have done and what they may need or want next, that marketers can use to create more dynamic customer experiences.

It’s not about dumbing your solutions down when trying to communicate them; it’s about telling the story in a simple, more engaging, resonant way. 

On their own, standalone data elements might not be very interesting or valuable, but when pieced together, they can help to create a holistic view of the consumer, which we can act upon to build more powerful customer experiences. I see this as being just like building playscapes—entire worlds—through building blocks.

On top of that, building blocks are also all about the idea of plug-and-play, which really fits in with Epsilon PeopleCloud’s unique ability to flexibly plug into brands’ existing tech stacks.

Outside of the metaphor itself, there’s also the fact that building blocks are also just wonderfully eye-catching. In a sea of generic stock photography, data points and jargon, building blocks are colorful nostalgia triggers. After one of our internal training sessions, a colleague’s five-year-old daughter saw the presentation and asked her, “Mommy, why are you playing with toys?” She explained her job to her using our new creative approach, and it created new connection between the two of them. It was amazing to hear.




So, beyond the training sessions you’ve hosted internally, what was your go-to-market strategy for the PeopleCloud refresh?

Beebe: We knew we wanted to make a big splash so we mapped out an integrated campaign with lots of legs. First, we updated our product pages with the new imagery, and launched a snackable explainer video. We also developed a library of modular PowerPoint slides on the products’ core differentiators (privacy, personalization, etc.) for sales teams to seamlessly drop into client pitches. This plug-and-play approach also maps back to the building-blocks concept.

Our social campaign recently launched with some cheeky animated ads. We’re planning a LinkedIn takeover where our employees can change their headshots to a block character. The list goes on … and we’ll carry this thread across a variety of formats and channels in the coming weeks and months.




So then, once a story has been put out into the market, how can marketers know if it’s resonating?

Beebe: We’ve already received a ton of direct positive feedback so far, both internally and externally. Our new pitch deck has gotten a lot of love and attention from our sales teams, who enjoy the new storytelling. It helps them to simplify Epsilon’s value proposition in a fun and engaging way.

On top of that, clients have also shared positive reactions. One told us, “ … I can finally see the value of PeopleCloud, and how all the modules work together for our customers … and how it fits into our existing tech stack.” That was incredibly gratifying to hear.

Lastly, what advice would you give to marketers looking to simplify complex solutions like you did with this rebrand?

Beebe: You’ve likely heard the adage, “You can explain anything to a five-year-old if you understand it well enough.” And I think that’s true.  

It’s not about dumbing your solutions down when trying to communicate them; it’s just about telling the story in a simple, more engaging, resonant way. Making things easier to understand doesn’t make you or your brand look less credible—it actually does the opposite.

I would recommend spending some time with metaphor and nostalgia, and genuinely consider how you might explain your offerings to a five-year-old. Just like with Epsilon PeopleCloud, it’s all about the individual—never forget the human element at the core of your marketing.

This article was originally posted on Adweek, September 2022.