Like endless coffee into a paper cup

Last Friday, when I was returning from GITEX Technology Week and waiting for my flight’s departure at Dubai airport, I fancied a large cappuccino. As usual I could choose from a variety of global coffee house chains in the departure hall. But, beside Costa Coffee, Caffè Nero and Starbucks, there was also a small – well, relatively small, as nothing’s ever small at DXB – local coffee shop near to my boarding gate.

I was attracted by that particular place, because it had a selection of 5 or 6 coffee roasts from different origins on display and let me choose from several brewing methods. The menu card also told me that the beans were sourced from sustainable plantations and that the company’s connoisseurs created their own blends. That sounded and smelled really good. So, after I ordered a cup of Indonesian Takengon I could hardly wait for tasting it.

After a few minutes, to my surprise and disappointment, my cappuccino arrived in a paper cup. The same kind I would have gotten at any of the multinationals in the hall, with a different logo printed on it. And that banal recipient completely ruined my customer experience. Delivery is an integral part of a product. Customer experience is a key differentiator. A good cappuccino deserves to be served in a premium coffee mug or – even better – a wide bowl cup. Delicately topped with some velvety steamed milk and finished with a dash of cocoa powder.

By the way, the same is also true for your business presentations. Good content needs to be presented by an even better speaker. Delicately prepared and attractively delivered as a story. Never let your your company’s message flow out like endless coffee into a paper cup!

Some background reading for coffee lovers:

Bring on the CX magic

“Customers want their choices to align as much with their feelings and senses as with their values and ethics. The rational approaches taught at most business schools — offer customers more value for money, add features, make service more efficient — are not enough.” – Stefan Thomke, professor at Harvard Business School

The Magic That Makes Customer Experiences Stick” is the title of a research paper that appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of MIT Sloan Management Review. Intrigued by the title and eager to find out what this magic is all about, I started reading the article. And, frankly, the answer to the question didn’t really surprise me: the missing ingredient in today’s customer experience design is… [drum roll] emotion.

In the article the author of the paper, Harvard professor Stefan Thomke, describes how he discovered the power of emotion in consumer experiences in the classroom. When he asked his students for their most memorable experiences as customers, they replied with phrases that reflected emotional impact: made me feel special, showed empathy, really cared, trusted me, surprised us — instead of using with the expected terminology functional value, efficiency and cost-value analysis.

Thomson identifies five ways for companies to infuse customer journeys with emotion:

  • Stimulate the senses, and trigger emotions such as surprise, trust, joy, and even anticipation;
  • Turn disappointment into delight. Be prepared to transform negative experiences into positive ones;
  • Plan to surprise. Thrill your customers again and again through continual innovation and unexpected solutions to problems;
  • Tell compelling stories. Companies that infuse stories into the customer’s brand experience can provoke an emotional response and create sticky memories;
  • Run controlled experiments is all about understanding your audience and making sure to trigger the right emotions during a customer’s journey.

I’m not a business school professor (not counting a few guest lectures I’ve given), but still I have written about the power of pathos or emotional appeal in almost any post I published on this blog. And about how storytelling techniques help marketing and communication professionals to get their audience engaged beyond the rational and make them connect emotionally. Not only consumers, but also business customers.


Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses, magician poster, 1899
(source: Wikimedia Commons)

In my humble opinion, the magic that makes customer experiences stick and that keeps your audience come back for more has been perfectly articulated by American author and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, when she said that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel…”

Related posts:

  • Almost any of the 200 other articles I have published on this blog.

Cut the crap (enterprise edition)

More than two years ago, I published a post on this blog with a not so very nice title: “Cut the crap.” In that article I fulminated against the corny, poorly designed, and –above all– unwanted canned PowerPoint Shows (appearing as PPS or PPSX attachments) that filled up my personal mailbox.

Today, I’m writing the Enterprise Edition of this indictment. Denouncing another kind of scam that hits my work inbox with an almost daily frequency. No, I’m not talking about the real spam, like the recommendations for places on the web to buy pills, the discrete sex offers from cheating housewives, the generous donations from Nigerian billionaires, the free Amazon gift cards, or the not-to-miss opportunities to acquire booming stock. There’s actually a softer kind of trash that is invading my mailbox.

As a B2B marketer, with my job title visible on the web and on social media, I am unintentionally but effectively exposing myself as an easy target for direct marketing campaigns and unsolicited mass mailings that sound like:

Hi Dave,

On your website I found out that your company provides content and video delivery network solutions.
Would you be interested in receiving a sample of our email lists? We have a comprehensive database of 42 million viewers of popular American horror films, such as:
* Assault of the Killer Bimbos
* Cannibal! The Musical
* Slime City Massacre
* Spooks Run Wild
* The Velvet Vampire

Thanks and looking forward to having a call with you.

PS: if you wish not to receive any more emails from us please reply with “leave out” in the subject line

Even if the content and the wording of the vast majority of these emails look the same to me, some of the senders seem to fail dramatically in conducting basic research on their addressees, or in personalizing their message.

  • One of my colleagues recently got an offer that was intended for somebody else. Though I’m not sure that a salutation like “Dear <firstname> <lastname>,” (with the placeholders not filled in) is a good way to avoid such naming mistakes.
  • As a potential (meuh, not really…) customer I can also confirm that phrases like “on your website I found out that …” or “we have identified you as an employee of …” don’t make a very good impression.

What I find most contradictory is the fact that all these mails are sent by people trying to convince me of the quality and the effectiveness of the address databases they sell – while the content of their message is actually telling me the opposite.


Most senders of such mass mailings get a unique – and equally impersonal – reply from me: “leave out”. Only the ones that, like in the example above, manage to attract my attention through their incompetence get an original and personalized reply from me, e.g.:

Dear Steve,

thank you very much for your email.
Unfortunately, my company doesn’t distribute any content, my name is not Dave, and I don’t like horror movies at all. As a fellow marketer, however, I’m impressed by the errors in your address database, as well as by the lack of customization and personalization of your message.
As a result, I am not interested in receiving a sample of your data, nor in having a phone call with you. May I kindly ask you to remove my address from your mailing list, and stop sending me unsolicited scams.

With regards,

Outbound marketing – even when delivered through a digital channel like email – is so 2000-ish. My dear B2B direct marketers, please cut the crap. Stop wasting your time, my mailbox space, and the internet’s bandwidth. There are lots of better ways to fill your sales funnel, and to make leads and prospects connect with your business. Consider this rant as a plea for better digital marketing. For a real data driven approach. For social selling. For decent content. For more personalization. And for an outstanding customer experience.

(Note: the email example I quoted above was fictitious, but the movie titles are too hilarious not to be true. You may consult this Wikipedia page to discover more juicy American comedy horror films…)


Keep your audience coming back for more

In the era of content, communication, conversation and customer experience (coincidentally all starting with a “c”,) a marketer’s or sales person’s capabilities to create a decent message house, translate it into a captivating story, craft a compelling presentation, and use it to engage with a specific audience are essential.

As Richard Branson once said in Entrepreneur magazine:

“Good speakers aren’t just talented or lucky – they work hard.”

This is why, over the past 3 years, I have written 127 articles about the principles of storytelling, and about mastering the 3 P’s of presenting: your pitch, your preparation and your presentation.

You’re currently reading my last contribution before the summer holidays. And, as I’m getting short of inspiration – some would call it a writer’s block –  it may be also the beginning of an extended period of lower activity on this blog.

As I have done for the past two years, I have bundled all the pieces I wrote between September 2014 and June 2015 in an e-book. You may download PDF compilations of all past B2B Storytelling posts by clicking on the images below.

eBooksSo, well, here’s a final advice from your humble servant:

“Each time you deliver a presentation (or in this case write a blog post), ask yourself at the end if you left your audience wanting more.”

To all followers of this site: thank you for reading my posts, and please come back from time to time. Because I will occasionally (but probably less often than before) publish a new story when something worth writing about comes to me (so feel free to suggest topics I could or should blog about via the contact tab on top of this page…)

Happy reading and enjoy your (and my) vacation!

Creating personas for audience-centric story design

“In this age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers.” – David M. Cooperstein, Forrester Research

Not so long ago, I participated to an ideation session in which we used personas to represent different user types of a new application. In user-centered design and marketing, personas are fictional characters, created to represent classes of users that might use (or appreciate) a site, brand, product, or service in a similar way. Sketching imaginary characters with a name, a face, and a story makes it easier for people to generate and evaluate ideas. Musing about a day in the life of Fiona Wright, “a middle-aged female manager with two digital native children, who’s interested in technology and gastronomy” could e.g. facilitate brainstorming about the functionality and the GUI of a new restaurant finder app. Defining and fleshing-out personas may also help you with personalizing your presentation for a specific audience, and building a narrative that resonates with a number of (possible) archetype customers in the room.


Starting from a sheet with made-up demographic information, such as their name (or nickname), age, gender and family situation (some marketers even search the web for a picture of a look-alike), these are a few other questions to ask and – consequently – assumptions to make about your targets:

  • What is their job, level of seniority and role in their company or organization?
  • What do they do in their free time? What are their personal interests?
  • What does an average day in their life look like?
  • What do they value most? What are their goals? How do they get motivated?
  • What are their main challenges and pain points in their job? In their daily lives?
  • What could be their most common objections to your product or service?

The answers to the above questions will empower you to tell a better story, by putting yourself into the shoes of (some in) your audience and establishing an emotional connection with them – as they’ll help you better understand what they think, believe, do, feel and need. In older posts I have described a few tools for characterizing, predicting and influencing the reactions of people in the room. Drawing a power quadrant, an influencer quadrant, and a personality quadrant for each of the personas you create will enable you to adapt your content and presentation style to their anticipated behavior. More reading:

Highway 61 revisited

Last week, I had to prepare and deliver an Alcatel-Lucent company presentation to a broad, local, and non-technical public of all ages. That’s quite a challenge indeed. How do you explain high-tech concepts, products and solutions such as optical transmission, IP routers, ADSL, 3G and 4G mobile networks, customer experience management, etc. to the mother of your colleague or to a 10-year-old child? After some reflection, I decided to use the metaphor of a highway as the lead theme of my story.

Metaphors are great tools for storytellers. As they create an implied comparison between seemingly unrelated objects and/or concepts, they offer us a creative means to convey much more content compared to only talking about the naked topic of your presentation. Furthermore, well-chosen analogies are understood cross-culturally and cross-functionally and so they appeal to all audiences.

So, here’s how I educated, entertained and engaged the crowd on how Alcatel-Lucent ensures that there are no traffic jams on the digital highway… (view the full presentation on SlideShare)

I started with an introduction, unwinding the fact that the global population will create, consume and communicate about 2 zettabytes of digital information in 2012. A quick poll among the people in the room (“Who of you owns a smartphone? A tablet? Has an internet connection? Watches digital TV? …) identified each single one of them as an active contributor to the imminent data storm.

Two zettabytes – two sextillion bytes, or a 2 followed by 21 zeroes–  is the amount of binary data that can be stored on 137.5 billion iPads. If you stack all these devices into containers and transport them by road, you’ll get a 9000 kilometers long colonne of trucks. Reaching from Antwerp to Shanghai. And still there are no traffic jams on the digital highway!

As such, I had laid the foundation for the rest of my talk. Building upon the figure of speech of a jamless highway, I could comprehensively introduce my company’s communication technologies, product portfolio and R&D activities in a way (that turned out to be) well understood by most.

  • Assuming a digital highway section is about 10 Gigabits per second wide, an optical fiber –which is thinner than a human hair– can contain almost 900 of these high-speed tracks;
  • IP routers are like super cloverleaf junctions, interconnecting up to 1600 incoming and outgoing freeways. All (data) traffic can merge onto intersecting roads without having to slow down or stop;
  • Wireline and wireless broadband access technologies, such as xDSL and 4G LTE mobile networks, provide the entrance and exit ramps. Over the past decades, access speed has increased by a factor of 2000;
  • Driving a vehicle is about the comfort, safety and convenience of drivers and passengers. Customer experience solutions help service providers closing the gap between customers’ expectations and experience;
  • Highway infrastructure needs to be planned, constructed, maintained and serviced. This is why professional services are needed to make the (road) network work;
  • Research on new technologies and applications is necessary to anticipate with a changing market demand for eco-sustainable and connected cars. In the near future, drivers and passengers will no longer have to carry any content but get it streamed to their vehicle while driving.

People liked the story and grasped the message. I got lots of positive feedback: “my parents understood your presentation” and “my kids thought you told a cool story.”  Are there any greater compliments a technology speaker can get?

Some guidelines for finding the right metaphors to spark your presentations and using them effectively can be found in these Way Beyond Ordinary and SOAP Presentations blog posts.