By David Hofmeyr, Strategy Partner at Ogilvy UK

 

“Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

These lines are from the last page of The Minpins, a book published in 1991, a few months after Dahl’s death. The book is the author’s final contribution to an astonishing literary career. Roald Dahl, the beloved author of children’s books, was a subversive genius. His gift? An uncanny ability to make kids feel that here was someone who truly understood them.

At least, that’s the way it was for me.

Whacky, batty and barmy, his stories held me in thrall when I was a boy. Without James and the Giant Peach, The B.F.G., Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, The Witches, Fantastic Mr Fox, Matilda, Danny the Champion of the World and so many others, I’m not sure I’d be the person I am today. His words transported me, made me laugh, left me breathless for more. They gave me an enduring love of reading and writing. But their true wonder, was that they made me feel as if he knew me. This giant of a man, in his English writing hut, understood me – a boy in South Africa, thousands of miles away.

I think the reason he connected with me, was able to carry me away – beyond his obvious genius – is that he was innately curious. Dahl was able to look at the world, really look at it, and see the ordinary, everyday things that make life magical and absurd.

This ability – to absorb the world around us, to see and listen, and find inspiration – is the essence of how we begin the process of creating memorable and compelling customer experiences.

A book is perhaps the simplest example of a customer experience. We draw it out the shelf and we begin to page through, wondering what adventures lie ahead. And, if the author is skilled, we find ourselves absorbed, utterly compelled to turn the page. Why?

Because stories, from Beowulf to The B.F.G, are deeply-rooted in our psychology and our DNA. Neuroscientists claim emotion is the fastest path to the brain and that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone. That’s because the brain releases dopamine when it experiences an emotionally-charged event, making it easier to remember.

Stories are powerful because they speak to us directly, on an emotional level. They make us feel less alone in the world. As if our needs, desires and fears are completely understood.

This doesn’t happen by chance. It happens by design. Creating an emotional connection with someone requires listening and looking and learning. This is as true of writing a book as it is of creating compelling customer experiences for brands.

And it begins with the customer, not the brand.

It’s the same way all stories begin – with a hero in their ordinary world – like Charlie Bucket. Dahl, in showing us Charlie in his small house with his parents and four grandparents, tells us so much about him and his problem – wanting to rise up out of poverty.

Without a problem facing our hero, there is no story. It’s the same with brands. Unless brands can demonstrate they understand the one key problem their customers face, and offer to resolve it in surprising ways, they will make no lasting impact.

Brands must show they understand the problem their customer faces and then offer advice and expertise to resolve it, that no one else can. In story terms, who is the brand? Well, if the customer is Charlie Bucket, then the brand is Willy Wonka – the guide and mentor – offering credible, authentic and unique solutions to the problem the customer cares most about.

Where success is measured by engagement, and customer satisfaction, storytelling is not only an effective tool, it can be transformational. Re-energizing and re-wiring the way we think, plan and talk about brands. And it begins with the customer.

As a published author, a student of storytelling and a planner with over 20 years in advertising, I aspire to Roald Dahl’s idea of watching the world with glittering eyes. Because, it might well be the only way of really seeing things – and finding that magical insight.

After all, what’s a customer experience without magic?