Leveraging the StoryVesting Framework to Achieve Breakthrough Business Transformation

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Business transformation happens when you're able to provide impactful experiences both to your customers and to your employees. StoryVesting is the framework that guides you to that goal, but if you're looking for a basic roadmap, this isn't for you. This framework is steeped in intelligence, behavioral economics, and journey analytics.

Buckley Barlow

Buckley Barlow
Founding Partner | RocketSource

Post Summary

  1. The Need for Business Transformation is Indisputable
    Keeping pace with today's fast-moving modern consumer requires companies to pivot intelligently out of strategic inflection points.

  2. StoryVesting: A Modern Experience Framework
    Customer experience transformation stems from a company's ability to innovate within the guardrails of a rock solid framework.

  3. The Importance of Alignment in Experience Management
    Growth is spurred by aligning your employee's experiences with your customer's experiences.

  4. Knowing Your Customer Journey Analytics Lets You Run Agile
    Customer journey analytics delivered within a growth framework gives you the insights you need to run an agile operation with minimal risk.

If you asked me what the term Business Transformation meant 20 years ago, I would’ve given you a very different answer than what I’ll give you today. A couple decades ago I would’ve happily woven together a convincing fictional narrative filled with hypothetical business examples. And it wouldn’t have been a bad approach—for then or now—because there’s a power in all stories—fictitious and real.

The use of “once upon a time” has been capturing the interest of crowds since the 1600’s, heck maybe even earlier. Thanks to our roots in oral tradition, we still naturally perk up at the thought of hearing a good story. Storytelling is still a major element in media today. Our continued love for storytelling is why millions of people tune into reality television to watch who will get the final rose, or who will get voted off an island. It’s why we watch documentaries and biographies with anticipation or turn to social media to watch people’s daily lives unfold in real time. There are even websites, like Peoplepedia, dedicated to publishing life stories. One obvious example of storytelling in media is the series, Once Upon A Time. This show bases its entire plot structure around the fascination in classic fairy tales, and every weekend, my family curls up on the couch to catch up on the latest episode together. It’s meaningful to me and my family because it brings us together, but science suggests that this desire to indulge in our guilty pleasure goes far deeper than that.

The reason fiction leaves such an impact is because of what it does to our brain. Researchers in Spain studying the neuroscience of stories found that we aren’t just processing language when we consume fiction. There’s a plot line, a hero, a villain, a climax, and a resolution. When reading a story our brain lights up in the same areas as it would if we were actually experiencing what’s unfolding in the story itself. Our brain empowers us to feel the rush of the highs and the devastation of the lows—something that would be nearly impossible to achieve by looking at bullet point highlights alone.

Perhaps it’s because of this physical response to stories that people have started telling their own stories via social media. As of March 2018, there were 450 million statuses shared on WhatsApp, 191 million snaps shared on Snapchat, and well over 300 million stories shared on Instagram every day, according to Facebook and Snap Inc’s quarterly reports. Why are millions of people publicizing the details of their life? To form a connection.

Regardless of whether a story is fictional or not, Princeton researcher, Uri Hasson, found that the brain of the person telling the story actually synchronizes with the person consuming the story, allowing the storyteller to plant ideas, opinions, and emotions into someone else’s brain. Because stories engage the brain as though we’re living the experience unfolding in black and white, it makes sense that non-fictional stories are a key gateway to deeper potential empathy. That’s why we crave these real stories where truth abounds. Jeremy Hsu of Scientific American found:

Personal stories and gossip make up 65% of conversations.

What does this varied media consumption and all of these stories have to do with business transformation? A lot actually.

Today, the story I’d tell to explain Business Transformation would be as genuine as they come. That’s because we’re neck deep in a technological revolution that’s changing the way people tell their story, and the way they hear those stories from organizations. What worked several years ago isn’t working today.

Today, transparency and authenticity are at the very heart of our socioeconomic backdrop and the way in which we approach brand experiences. When told truthfully and authentically, an organization’s story can attract customers and employees who will live and die by the brand. And to do that effectively requires companies to adjust the way they engage with today’s modern consumer.

SPOILER ALERT (Kind of): Now, if you think this post is about authentically telling stories—well, it’s not. Business Transformation is a lot more complex than that and I’m not going to waste your time and insult your intelligence. I’m pretty sure you’ll learn something new, so buckle up…this post is a doozy and I hope you’ll get a plethora of value and even some key ideas from reading it.

The Undeniable Need For a Contiguous Business Transformation Strategy

Modern consumer behavior is changing and today’s buyers are demanding more from the companies they work with. Real-time consumption and purchases are becoming the norm. 10% of retail sales happen online, and that number is expected to grow by nearly 15% over the next few years. Even when purchases aren’t made online, purchase decisions often are. BrightLocal’s local consumer review survey found that:

85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, reshaping traditional word-of-mouth marketing as we know it.

And the way we receive the products we buy has changed too, with Airbnb selling experiences, and taxi cabs getting a run for their money with the global proliferation of companies like Uber and Lyft.

These new expectations and buying behavior have accelerated an undeniable necessity for companies to transform alongside the market—and not just as a one-off event but more of a sustained, contiguous business transformation strategy.

I recently wrote about the S Curve of Business, which showcases the natural shape of business growth, as well as what happens when businesses encounter the need to pivot. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, I encourage you to give that post a good read. In the meantime, I’ve summarized what happens on the S Curve of Business in a long, but insightful display. I created a monster of in an infographic on my post about the S Curve of Business, which I encourage you to look at over there. Even though it’s long, every component is critical in its own right.

If you want to see this infographic together in all its glory, feel free to download it in the resources section at the end of this post. For the sake of business transformation, specifically, I decided to simplify the complex by looking specifically at how to manage the S Curve of Business (also referred as the S Curve of Growth) as it pertains to transformation. Although business transformation is complex in nature, we were able to scale back to three core stages—rising out of strategic inflection points, running a data looping mechanism to aggregate the flood of data points available, and then modeling them to draw out valuable insights that direct the next phase of your journey.

There’s a lot to each layer of this, so let’s go through it piece-by-piece.

Stage 1: The Strategic Inflection Point

No business I’ve ever grown or consulted with has experienced a straight linear progression upward. What’s more common is for business growth to scale rapidly, then plateau, and even slump back ever-so-slightly before launching into further growth. We call those plateaus and slight dips inflection points.

Although strategic inflection points in themselves aren’t new, what is new to today’s market is the speed at which businesses are encountering these points. In the past, the average company would experience one inflection point every ten years. Nowadays, with the ubiquity and ease of access to tools, resources, and talent, the S Curve of Business is becoming more and more condensed, and businesses are experiencing inflection points every two years.

These dips on the S Curve of Business pose an opportunity to propel your business into its next evolution. But today, with the amount of digital disruption in the market, inflection points aren’t just opportunities—they signal a necessity for change.

As evidence, let’s look at how technology is disrupting the construction industry. Through emerging technology and advanced use of data, a Chinese construction company was able to build a 57-story building in just 19 days. To put context to this, the Freedom Tower in New York City took over seven years to complete. For construction companies to compete with that level of speed and innovation, they need to adopt an agile approach and transform using the latest technological advancements.

Pretty impressive! Without question, technology is getting smarter by the day, and it’s impacting businesses of all sizes and in all industries. Whether your business is an ark, sailing with incredible velocity but dampened reflexes, or a tiny speedboat, fighting hard to make headway and able to swerve at a moment’s notice, the ability to adopt new technologies is critical for growth.

Stage 2: Aggregating an Abundance of Data

But it’s not just the latest and greatest technology that’s driving this necessity for transformation. It’s the sheer amount of data available today. To inform positive transformation, these disparate data sets are critical to tap into.

Transformation infographic- data

As the data pours into an organization, it must get aggregated and mined for insights. Although it might sound simple, this is the point where most businesses get stuck. It’s a hard process that requires many team players and a calculated approach to ensure that you’re modeling the right data from these various data sets.

I’ll dig into more detail about how data are collected and mapped to pull out insights later in the post, but for now it’s important that you recognize this shift that’s happening. Organizations that are tapping into these data are practicing intelligent transformation, while other organizations that still rely on opinion and guesswork to drive out of inflection points are failing.

Stage 3: Drawing Insights From Data

Sitting on data is worthless. It’s how you use the insights from those data that matters. To gather the information needed to run an intelligent operation, you need to take that data and run it through prediction analyses to get a glimpse into what the future looks like for your customer base. But having those data-centric conclusions at your fingertips isn’t enough. In order to make your data actionable, you must run the insights you’ve uncovered through a framework.

Transformation infographic- framework

A framework serves as a guide for future initiatives. It drives decision making and keeps the organizational ship on course, which is important because McKinsey determined:

70% of business transformation projects fail.

Take a look at BlackBerry as an example of one of these failed companies.

Case Study: BlackBerry’s Failure to Grow on the S Curve of Business

BlackBerry was one of the pioneers of the smartphone industry. In fact, at one time, they were considered disruptors. This company entered the market with force by quickly empowering professionals to keep in touch with the office regardless of their location, leading to significant increases in productivity. Companies loved the devices and bought them in bulk to provide to their employees. The phones quickly received the nickname, “Crackberries” because they were so addictive.

In 2011, more people were buying smartphones than personal computers. This was the height of BlackBerry’s smartphone success. This time, they failed to hit the mark. Apple’s iPhone was taking the consumer market by storm, and these devices were causing a distinct shift in how people engaged with the world, not just the how they engaged within their profession. It was at this point that BlackBerry reached a strategic inflection point, and it was at this point that they started to suffer. Although companies preferred the BlackBerry because of its focus on “professional features,” improved security, and limited distractions, the end user—the people craving a bigger screen and better app options—wanted more than Blackberry devices offered.

StoryVesting business blackberry case study

BlackBerry tried to keep pace with the iPhone by adopting a new design, but their attempts at iterating on their phones were headed in the wrong direction. They didn’t have the end user in mind, which ultimately caused them to disconnect from what the market truly wanted. As a result, more professionals traded in their BlackBerry for a smartphone that could do more than email, and by 2016, BlackBerry stopped selling smartphones altogether.

It wasn’t a design flaw that caused BlackBerry to suffer a quick demise. It was a lack of accurate insights guided by a framework to drive them out of the strategic inflection point.

For BlackBerry, they missed tremendous opportunities, and their smartphones fell out of use because they didn’t have the proper guidance when innovating on their product line.

Transformation guided by data extrapolated and interpreted through a framework and then run through predictive analysis is the cornerstone of progress within any business. This kind of healthy transformation isn’t a disorienting significant shift or abrupt redefinition that makes your stomach drop. Instead, it’s about honoring and answering a natural progression toward growth.

Let’s look again at how the elements of our infographic work together.

Transformation infographic complete

The need for transformation is born out of strategic inflection points, but successful business transformation is done using intelligent insights. It’s through the sum of these three parts that businesses progress and surge ahead in the market. That progression is key.

We, as people, crave progression. I’d bet a good chunk of money that the thought of stagnation strikes fear into the heart of you and your peers. This desire for growth is a natural holdover from our days of hiding in caves for protection from animals with sharp teeth and claws. We’re often on the hunt for new and better ways to survive.

Your business requires the same amount of drive (and fear of stagnation) if it’s going to succeed. Just as you want to become a better version of yourself, your business does too. It’s through that initiative to evolve that you’re able to transform your business by propelling it into the next stage of its life—whatever that may be.

I speak on this urge to transform with confidence because I’ve experienced the benefits first hand. But it wasn’t guesswork that brought me here—it was research.

Let me rewind about 25 years to give context to what you’re about to read. It was right about this time that I got sent into a transformation of my own. It all started on my high school girlfriend’s front doorstep—a seemingly simple situation that threw me into a whirlwind of research and realizations that spanned almost 20 years.

Throughout those 20 years, I was unintentionally building a robust business transformation framework. This framework has guided me through the success of multiple businesses over the last decade, and it’s taken me well past my initial goal of financial freedom. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten anywhere, but it didn’t get tossed together by chance. It started with a healthy amount of data from the responses of surveys I conducted for well over a decade—1,969 to be exact. Before I get into what these people taught me, let me show you how it all came to life.

The Beginnings of a Modern Experience Framework

Have you ever experienced a moment in your life that burned so hot it was singed into your memory bank forever? I have, and I can recall every detail right down to the bite of crisp, misty, evening mountain air on my skin. It was when I was at the peak of my awkward teenage years, standing outside my date’s house looking more at the ground than at her, wondering if I would be able to steal a kiss and scared to death of what her reaction might be. As I finally got the guts to lean in, headlights flooded my blushing face. I turned to the sight of her father’s BMW coming up the driveway with a mortifying, deer-in-the-headlights look on my face.

Her father wasn’t just any Joe Schmo. He ran a large retail chain, which you can find in nearly every town here in Utah. It was his stores that my mom, neighbors, and friends frequented—and he drove a car that glided up the driveway like it was riding an inch off the ground.

Car lovers just don’t forget the first moment when luxury and grace on four-wheels takes their breath away, and that first close encounter with a BMW was my moment. The car was black as the night we were standing in, and I could tell from the pristine way it shined that this car signaled one thing—financial success. I was in instant awe, and for the rest of my formative high school years, I didn’t share my peer’s goals of getting an A+ on every exam or scoring touchdowns under the Friday night lights. Instead, I aimed to do whatever it took to buy my own BMW.

Re-Evaluating the Definition of Success

Over the years, I came to realize that what I envied about the man driving the BMW wasn’t his car or his wealth—it was his success.

But that success led to more important things that went way beyond the amount of money he had in his bank account. It afforded him freedom and inspired confidence, which led me to my next realization. The concept of success is more multifaceted than most people make it out to be.

Almost everyone in my network seemed to be striving for their version of success, but not everyone’s version was the same as mine. While I longed for a BMW, someone else longed for a title to put on their business card, or the security of the white picket fence and a large yard where their kids could play.

The more I explored the concept of success, the more complex it became. Trying to afford a BMW in high school was in some ways an easier goal than trying to understand the variety behind the concept of success, but that’s exactly what I aimed to do next.

Success Didn’t Look Like What I’d Envisioned It Would

Although I majored in English and got my MBA in finance, I’ve always had an insatiable fascination with human psychology and behavior. That fascination drove me to take many courses, workshop and even audit many hours of psychology courses, just to get an understanding of how the human brain works. It’s still a bit of a treat when I get to crack open a new psychological article, or research paper.

If you’ve taken any psychology classes or socioeconomic classes in college, you probably ran into social psychologist gurus like Albert Bandura. Bandura conducted the famous Bobo Doll experiment, which is a classic in its own right. If you haven’t heard of it, I encourage you to click that link. The gist of what he found is that children who saw adults acting aggressively toward a doll figure were more likely to mimic that aggression to the doll later when playing alone.

Social imitation may hasten or short-cut the acquisition of new behaviors. – B.F. Skinner, Leader of Behaviorism

These lessons aren’t just applicable to children. We, as humans, regardless of age, observe the world around us and then try to model that same behavior. That was what I was doing on my pursuit to find the path to success, and that’s what consumers do when making purchase decisions. According to an online reviews survey by ReviewTrackers:

94% of consumers avoid a business if the review is negative.

In addition to using Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiment to gain a better understanding of why people act the way they do, I also took a lot from his approach to experimentation. I applied those learnings as I set out on my journey to uncover the root of a person’s success. I also realized that in order to understand clean and proper experimentation, I’d have to understand data and the models to understand it.

Photo Credit: Mashable

Although my meandering journey was well underway, many ideas started to crystallize when I was in my early 30s and found myself shoulder-to-shoulder with the opportunity for a conversation of a lifetime. On a 4-hour first class flight from Salt Lake City to Washington D.C., in the seat next to me was Eric Schmidt. If you don’t immediately recognize his name, you might recognize him better as the former Executive Chairman of Google, and Alphabet, Inc. He was the perfect candidate to answer all my queries about success, and our conversation was nothing short of enlightening.

Eric Schmidt talked my ear off while I hung onto every word about the qualities he looks for in his hires and what drivers are key to building personal and professional success. I’ll never forget how he eloquently helped me understand the importance of hiring people with tons of passion for the company, unwavering persistence and loads of curiosity to solve big problems. He was a treasure trove of insight and conversing with him opened my eyes to the importance of relationships when building success. I realized that I had been so laser-focused on my pursuit to discover the recipe for success that I had been neglecting relationships, and therefore drifting as far away from my goal as I was inching towards it.

I also realized that regardless of what success looked like for each individual, it had way more ingredients than I’d initially thought, and what I was able to glean from Eric Schmidt on that 4-hour flight only scratched the surface.

Like any researcher worth his salt, I wasn’t ready to stop at just one conversation.

The Test of Success and Innovation Business Transformation

In my fervorous collection of more research I hunted down and wrangled interviews from a lot of people, but mostly anyone who met the following criteria:

  • People who were willing to talk to me about their drivers of success and how it was achieved.
  • People who had exerted a degree of influence and impact on someone else.
  • People who had demonstrable success in terms of impact/value from the eyes of someone else.

Those qualifiers might not make it sound like I was too picky with who I talked to, but I intentionally sought out people who had done exceptional things in their lives. I soon found myself on a constant journey of picking the brains of professionals like Jim Sorenson of Sorenson Medical, John Huntsman of the Huntsman Corporation and Gene England of England Trucking. At the start of every interview, I asked each one of them one core question: What qualities make you/a person successful?

I took something away from every interview, even simple observations like the fact that all of the people I was talking to were fantastic communicators. And yet, as insightful as all the conversations were, the answers to my question started to become so diverse that I quickly realized I wasn’t getting closer to an actionable solution. People attributed their success to things as varied as having an excellent staff, or just having good luck. How was I supposed to reconcile these answers, let alone try to replicate luck? I continued to be met with a broad range of responses, making it impossible for me to bring them together, so I knew I needed to change my approach.

In search of more consistency, I began to ask what personal traits led to your success? And I paired that question with a subset question of, who do you value the most with those traits? This line of questioning took me down a fascinating rabbit hole.

the storyvesting framework methodology

Being the Curious George that I am, I hunted down the person whose traits they said they valued the most and put that unsuspecting victim through the same rigor of questioning. This branching method of examination led me to some remarkable realizations.

Uncovering the Traits That Make People Successful

When it came to traits for success, and the traits businesses looked for when hiring, I’d anticipated Ivy League degrees to be front and center. I mean, it would make sense that people who spent hours soaking up information from some of the top professors at the best schools in our nation would have the most success, right? But as I talked to a variety of organizational leaders in HR, marketing, the C-Suite, and others, I found out just how wrong I was. I’ll break this out further below in detail, but for now, take a look at some of the data I gathered over the years of doing this research.

storyvesting framework methodology

The most common trait of success, or trait that is seen as leading to success, was passion and the ability to collaborate with others. Or, as numerous executives put it, someone who was “vested”.

The keenest business owners don’t seek out employees with an ivy league education. They seek out someone who is vested.

It’s important to note here that this data is skewed in a good way. The people I talked to fit a very specific cohort—people in charge of hiring for, managing, and leading teams. These people were recruiting the perfect person to transform their business and get to the next level. What fascinated me was that these were the same people, responsible for the growth of an organization, that wasn’t hiring based on education, but instead based on passion, collaboration skills, and work ethic. Education was more of a preliminary filter.

Who Exemplifies the Traits That Make a Person Successful?

What was equally fascinating were the people each successful person within this cohort relied on to achieve that success. When I asked these business tycoons who exemplifies the traits that make a person successful, I’d expected them to point to paragons of business success, like Steve Jobs or Henry Ford. If not a well-known industry influencer, I had naturally assumed that they would reference people who worked in a position above them. A manager might say their directors exemplified success, and a director might point to the VP they reported to, and that VP would mention their direct superior in the C-Suite. This was yet another case where I learned not to put too much faith in initial assumptions because I had been pretty off base.

The results of my questioning were much more diverse than I expected and included fewer C-suite positions than I would have thought. Many people didn’t refer to their superiors so much as their career equals, people who worked under their management or even worked in another organization altogether.

The wide demographic of people I eventually talked to all opened my world to new realizations that, as much as employees might see their managers and VPs as representations of success, those higher up the corporate ladder reciprocated that view. I’d often hear answers, such as, “I wish I could see the large and small details like our Vice President of Strategy.” As it turned out, successful people recruited team players with skills they admired, and maybe even lacked themselves.

Organizational Traits That Drive Business Transformation

In addition to asking about the individual traits of success for people, I was curious to uncover organizational traits of success. I wanted to know what successful people believed made organizations rise above the fray. So I followed up my research with a more questions: What are the key drivers to making an organization successful, both from a team and a company perspective?

63% of successful businesses consider the idea/vision to be a critical driver for organizational success.

Of everyone I interviewed, the majority of people pointed to the business’s vision (or “Why”) as a critical driver behind the company’s success, especially during a transformation period. Success was more about why they were in existence than the products they sold or the channels they used.

StoryVesting Methodology segment 1

Not only was the major response about vision, but several of the other responses revolved around the people vested in making that vision a reality. These answers put more of a spotlight on employees than I’d initially expected.

When looking closer at the responses I received, I noticed two things:

  • The most important and valuable traits weren’t something that could be easily taught; they had to be ingrained within a person.
  • The last two notable mentions—specialized knowledge and intellect—appeared to be oxymorons because it demanded that people were specialized, while simultaneously omnipotent.

That last takeaway was interesting. Having contradictory expectations can be catastrophic to company culture. It sets a standard that’s unachievable. It was telling to me that those were at the bottom of the list. The key drivers of success and a successful culture were centered on a person’s ability to be vested in the company’s mission and vision—passion, collaboration, hard work, loyalty, and positivity. Those were the drivers that built momentum.

Overall, my data suggested that success wasn’t rooted in tangible items or physical products, but instead was inseparably connected to people. This was far more profound than my initial ideas on success, and I knew that this was just the tip of the iceberg. I had my work cut out for me to uncover all of the insights buried in this research and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t chomping at the bit to start. These findings were powerful, and I couldn’t wait to bring them to life.

Success Confetti: Building an Intelligent Framework for Success

In the face of so many unexpected epiphanies, and now in possession of 1,969 responses to a single handful of question sets, the challenge ahead of me was to put this hard data through analytical rigor to pull out actionable insights. I knew there was something compelling in here just waiting for me to extract.

Naturally, to begin this process I spread all 1,969 responses on pieces of paper over the floor of my living room. You could say, my house was covered with success confetti for a party that my wife did not appreciate.

To start the analysis, I partitioned out the data. Because there were several different questions, I knew that my raw data sat in silos, and couldn’t be easily merged without becoming dirty. A good way to address this issue is to run a meta-analysis, which allows you to pull out consistencies from various data sets to uncover a single answer. As helpful as this analysis would have proved been, I didn’t have enough of statistical chops back then to do it properly, so I decided to take a more qualitative approach.

I looked at what people were saying and quantified the qualitative data, or humanized the data, which as you might know, is pretty darn hard. Even though it was a big lift, I knew there was too much here to ignore, so I started applying metrics to each answer and pulling them together piece by piece. What I learned was worth it. Every one of the responses helped me transform myself and my career. It was through that personal transformation that I developed a framework for success. A framework that has guided me through the success of multiple businesses.

The Spark That Started the StoryVesting Framework

A business transformation framework should cover multiple layers and nuances that can’t just be summed up into one or two takeaways but is deceptively simple at the surface level. Like a pocket watch, it has a very understandable surface layer but requires multiple intricate parts below the surface that overlap and coordinate in perfect unison to work.

I knew that the framework I was creating needed to be able to sustain multiple nuances applicable to organizational growth, organizational alignment, and be adapted over all of a company’s departments. As I began building this out, I decided that it needed to be versatile enough to have every type of initiative run through it from development operations to growth marketing and customer experience initiatives. Sounds reasonable, right? The only question left for this framework was how on Earth was I going to build it? So, I started with the easier part—the name.

How This Became “The Why” Framework: The Root of the Name StoryVesting

Throughout my data analysis, I continually came back to one core theme—the importance of having vested people on board who were passionate about the company’s story. Those two words stood out to me above the rest—“vested” and “story,” so I dug further into each to see why they were such a dominant recurring theme.

The Story is Your Business’s Why

The first part of the term—story—doesn’t refer to fictional stories told by businesses. The story in this term is very much non-fictional. It represents the mission of the company, or what’s often referred to as the “why.”

A business’s why refers to why the business was started, and why people show up day after day to work toward the mission. The combination of these answers solidifies the reason the brand is relevant to the market.

As an example of a business that’s clear with their why, consider Dodge. This car company focuses strongly on the farming community with their truck line as an example. Not only do they build trucks that are tough enough to haul hay but they invest in Super Bowl ads like this one which exemplifies their business why and make their devotion to the farming community unquestionable.

This poetic advertisement speaks to the people who wake up before the sunrise, work their fingers to the bone in the summer heat or winter snow, and then go to bed long after the sun sets to do it all again the next day. Regardless of whether an employee works on the marketing team to convey this message to their cohort, or they work on the assembly line putting these rugged trucks together, everyone knows why they’re there—to give the farmers of America a truck that’ll work as hard as they do. This why enriches more than just their pocketbooks. It enables every employee with a passion for the farmers of America to feel more fulfilled by what they’re doing and more inclined to help the company achieve success.

Without this type of story backing your organization’s growth, it’s hard to run any successful customer experience or transformation initiative. And when you hire people who are vested in your business’s mission and vision, you further amplify the story the consumer hears.

Cultivating Vested Employees

In the course of my interviews about traits of success, these leaders in companies with beautiful, well-built processes kept pointing me toward employees who were strong collaborators, passionate about their life’s work, and who believed in the company’s vision. Many credible leaders described them as being “vested.”

I was surprised to hear the term vested pop up in this context. I had certainly heard it before, as I’m sure you have, especially if you’ve ever worked on Wall Street. It’s most commonly used when referencing financial gains directly tied to the company’s success. If the company does well, vested employees are handsomely rewarded via stock options. And unlike “investing,” which, as a rule, allows a person to take a “set it and forget it” approach, “vesting” requires a person to stick around for a certain amount of time if they wanted to receive any of that vested or earned money by way of their stock options. Leave early, and the unvested value stays behind.

Although that’s one way to think of it, these answers were giving me a new perspective. Vested, in these cases, served to be a beautiful respin on this old stock term.

When someone has a vested interest in something—a company or a cause—they have a particular reason to see it through to success. Yes, vested employees want to see the benefits coming back to them from the business, but it goes deeper than that. They are willing to work for those benefits by transforming themselves personally and professionally. They’re making meaningful connections with others both inside and outside of the office and using their skillful collaboration to further the business’s success.

An A+ idea without the right people in the right place won’t get anywhere, but the right people can take a B+ idea and turn it into a million dollar company.

People are the core that drives any business transformation, but without the right people in the right mindsets—the kind that cultivates a vested interest—they’ll shoot any transformation in the foot.

In fact, the common problem among transformation frameworks is that they fail to address the employee. The people—the key trait of organizational success, according to my research—aren’t often considered at the heart of a framework. So I started exploring what an employee-centric framework would look like with the concept of vested employees at its core.

With both “story” and “vesting” having such strong meaning and impact, I thought it was only natural to combine the two to name this framework. And just like that, there I had it.  Well, it wasn’t that simple, but I don’t want to bore you. StoryVesting was the name, but now, I had the heavy lift of building this out into something actionable, sustainable, and transformative. A framework I could use in my own businesses.

The Many Iterations of the StoryVesting Framework

I had a name locked down and now I was dead set on using what I’d learned from the 1,969 responses to create an actionable framework that would drive organizational success. But like any good transformation story, it took a lot of trial and error, and each one of those ‘trials’ taught me something very important that contributed to the final result. Boy, we’ve come a long way baby.

storyvesting framework evolution

A lot of these iterations were trashed because their approach was too linear or simplistic to encompass something as complex as a living, breathing organization. I’m hoping that by tearing apart these old flops with me today, you can avoid repeating my same mistakes, so let’s break down each of these iterations in detail before getting into the final version.

Taking a Linear Approach to the StoryVesting Framework

My first crack at a framework centered entirely around how the employees interacted within the business. The goal behind this framework was to enable employees to grow by giving them a solid a plan and strategy to evolve continually.

linear business framework

I broke the framework up into four sections—growth, education, support, and action. The idea was that:

  • You’d start with educating your team members.
  • Then, you’d move to a supportive role, encouraging them to be creative while they built up their skillset.
  • Then, they’d take action by way of taking reasonable risks while they put their ideas to work.
  • As a result of that action, your organization would grow, and the process would start over again.

It seemed to make sense on the surface, but I quickly realized it wouldn’t work.

As I mentioned earlier, I have always been fascinated with psychology and behavioral economics, so I knew how natural it was for humans to want to engage in linear thinking. But as I dug deeper, I realized that, although humans like linear thinking, people don’t take tidy linear, or circular, action steps. Instead, human processes are too messy and complex to be guided by a framework this simple, especially within the complex world of business. Professional success didn’t come from moving within the restrained steps that I’d outlined. Thinking about success linearly, the way I was trying to do, just wouldn’t work.

The relationship between what people say they care about and their actions is often highly non-linear. – Harvard Business Review

Even though we like to think in black and white, the reality is the connection between a person’s beliefs and behaviors isn’t cut and dry. Take people’s opinions toward the ecosystem as an example. A survey by the National Geographic Society and GlobeScan showed:

The number of people who were ‘very concerned’ about environmental issues increased from 56% to 61% over the span of two years. Despite the increase, consumers still haven’t changed their behavior to reduce the carbon footprint.

Another study looked at the attitudes vs. purchase behaviors in organic markets. Perhaps unsurprisingly, researchers found a similar incongruity between the attitudes toward organic products, such as produce, and the purchase of these products. The mean of respondents that held a positive attitude toward buying organic was 4.9 on a 0 to 6 scale, which signals a clear desire to buy organic products. But, respondent’s purchase behaviors only had a mean of 1.3 on the same scale, which signaled a low follow through on buying these products. Once again, the buying behavior didn’t match the buyer’s opinion toward the matter. In both studies, it’s clear that there’s not a standard progression from believing one thing to be true, and acting in a way that represents those beliefs.

We’re complex beings, and because of that, our thinking and our actions aren’t always aligned. That’s true in our personal lives, and it’s true in our approach to business. Outside factors enter the mix, unexpected changes occur, and soon everything falls out of line. A robust modern experience framework needs to honor that complexity. One way to do that is by understanding the mindset of people within the organization.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindsets

In my research, 63% of successful professionals believed the number one driver of organizational success was the business idea and vision. So it makes sense that the employee buy-in to the organization’s ideas and vision was crucial to business transform. That buy-in starts with approaching the vision with the right mindset.

Time and time again I’ve watched growth initiatives sink or swim based on the level of buy-in from the organization as a whole. That’s because transformation requires that everyone is bought into the things that matter. According to my research:

63% of successful leaders believe the number one driver of organizational success is the business idea and vision.

It makes sense that employees must be bought into an organization’s vision. But, if you’ve ever led out growth initiatives, then you likely know how difficult, yet critically important, it is to get organizational buy-in. Zappos sure knew during a recent transformative time in their business.

When the online shoe company implemented a complete restructuring of their internal processes, they offered to buy out any employee that wasn’t 100% on board with the changes. As a result, they lost 18% of their employees. They made this drastic choice to assure that moving forward every single person in the organization had a growth mindset.

One of my favorite psychologists who frequently speaks on the subject of mindsets is Carol Dweck. You might be familiar with her work if you’ve gone through my team and culture learning path over on In The Know. She literally wrote the book on mindsets which is aptly titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In it, Dweck talks about the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.

If you haven’t read her book yet, I encourage you to do so, or at the very least set aside some time to watch this interview where she drops some major knowledge bombs on a group of leaders at Google.

In the video, she dives headfirst into the difference between the two mindsets—fixed and growth.

People with a fixed mindset are set in the idea that they only have so much potential and ability to learn. It’s these people who throw their hands in the air and give up when things get turbulent, and it’s these people who have a hard time growing their knowledge base.

An organization that operates with a fixed approach amplifies these limitations. When leaders don’t believe that their team can evolve alongside the organization, they fail to invest in them and encourage them. This, Dweck says, leads to a host of problems, such as lack of collaboration out of fear of looking stupid, and an increased risk of people going to great lengths to steal the spotlight from their colleagues. I broke out a couple more behaviors that indicate a fixed approach in this infographic from my post about the most crucial ingredients for a successful business on In The Know.

growth vs fixed mindset

You can see how growth mindset individuals and organizations are different in several key ways. As Dweck puts it, people with a growth mindset spend more time learning than they do trying to look smart. They believe that they have a limitless potential to learn and by working hard, they can grow as a person. Organizations that adopt a growth approach encourage people to develop their talents, empowering their team and making them more vested as a result. These organizations promote creativity and innovation, unlike fixed mindset organizations that make someone pays the price if an initiative doesn’t work out.

It’s important to note that Carol Dweck doesn’t look at these two mindsets as a dichotomy. Instead of looking at them in black and white terms, she encourages us to approach this as a broad spectrum. We’ve probably all experienced a time in our lives when we had more of a fixed than a growth mindset and vice versa. The trick is being able to identify, and turn around our mindsets toward growth.

One way we aim to get away from cultivating a fixed mindset at RocketSource is by avoiding the toxic attitude of “I don’t care how it gets done, just get it done!” We hate that kind of culture because, by nature, it pushes people into adopting a fixed mindset.

Among our employees we instead practice a “your problem, is my problem” mentality. It’s through this system that we empower our team to be proactive without feeling like they’re the ones shouldering the brunt of the workload, or worse, the ones who will have a price to pay if it doesn’t work out.

“You have to love the process, not the stuff the process buys you.”

In developing the StoryVesting framework, I decided that it was important to have it encourage empowerment and collaboration. I wanted organizations to be able to empathize with a person to better make them feel like they can succeed, giving them the logical tools to achieve transformation and deliver an exceptional customer experience.

The linear approach wouldn’t achieve that goal, and it wouldn’t encourage a growth mindset, so, I broke the framework apart and tried again. This time, I looked past internal mindset alone and looked at the other critical person in the success equation—the customer.

Breaking Internal and External Operations in Two

Not only did my initial linear approach to building a framework not honor our complexity as humans, but it didn’t take into account the various stories being told— specifically the stories of the employees and the customers.

I wanted the second iteration to represent these stories better, so I broke the framework up into two parts.

storyvesting framework second iteration

This second iteration looked at aligning two core factors:

  • What drove employees within the organization to buy into the company’s vision and take part in passionate collaboration to fuel growth?
  • What drove the customer’s desire to buy?

In looking at the internal side of the framework, the business’s story, I aimed to answer three simple questions. Why did the company exist? How did the company serve the market? What caused the organization to grow?

In the customer’s story, I needed to dig into what it was that triggered the person to search for what the business had to offer. I wanted to know their pain points, needs, and what they wanted from the solution they found. I figured that in determining these factors, the business would have a robust structure to make strategic decisions and propel growth out of strategic inflection points. This iteration vastly improved on the last since it was customer-centric, but also took into account the complexity of the people working inside the company.

Although it was an improvement, it was far from perfect. This iteration still failed to take into account the depth of human physiology and psychology. I knew that even though the alignment of the business and customer were crucial, I needed to give more consideration to what the customer experienced in their journey. To correctly build out the customer side of StoryVesting, I took a deep dive into behavioral economics, starting with how the brain functioned.

The Incredible Brain

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the human body is the brain. The way it pulls and synapses, enabling us to think and feel, making decisions on a dime and maneuver our way through this world is fascinating, don’t you agree? That’s why one name I’m proud to associate myself with is Dr. Carrolee Barlow, my sister and the CEO of the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center in the Bay area. Whenever I get the chance to visit her, I love picking her brain about the brain. I can’t seem to get enough of this unbelievably fascinating topic.

Although we’ve spent hours together talking, there’s one thing I’m regularly reminded of—the brain is unbelievably complicated. So complicated, in fact, that it’s taking every single neuroscientist on the planet to figure out even one iota of what this organ’s doing. That’s because there are 100 billion neurons, or brain cells, firing off to keep us alive—but shockingly, we’re continually losing brain cells. Although the loss of power sounds like a bad thing, it’s really the brain’s way of ridding excess through something called “apoptosis,” so we can continue getting the signals from the other neurons.

In addition to neurons firing off, hormones are continually released in that small, three-pound part of our body. Those hormones influence how we behave throughout the day. For example, coffee and hormones go hand in hand because the increase in caffeine intake has been shown also to increase serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and acetylcholine, which can improve mood and perceived energy.

These insights into how our brain functions are truly compelling. They’re also just the tip of the iceberg. Even though the brain is known as our command center, we still don’t know even close to half of the details of what it’s doing and how it works.

What we do know is that we’re evolved creatures with two parts of our brain—the limbic system and the cortex. Understanding the role these two systems play in decision making fuels our customer journey mapping and leads to a better understanding of how to develop compelling and impactful brand experiences.

The Limbic System

buyer cognition the limbic system

The Limbic system, as Science Daily defines it, combines emotional states with stored memories of physical sensations. This is the inner part of the brain that acts as a storage center for all of your emotional responses to the outside world. Check out this video on it for a great description of what it is and why it matters.

The limbic system is in charge of our feelings and emotions, and as you can see in this video, it’s triggered by our senses. Smells, sounds, and sights can all instantly transport our brains back to a time and place. But this part of the brain doesn’t work alone. It pulls and synapses with the neocortex.

The Neocortex

customer cognition the neocortex

In very simple terms, the Neocortex is the outer part of your brain that houses a good chunk of decision making and logical processing. It’s also the most prominent part of our brain, accounting for about 76% of the brain’s volume.

This is the part of the brain that sets us apart from other animals. It’s responsible for higher functions, such as sensory perception, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thought, and in humans, language. It’s also the spot in the brain where creativity comes to life, and our sense of self comes together.

How the Limbic System and Neocortex Work Together

By understanding how the emotional and logical parts of our brain work together, we can get a deeper understanding of why people behave the way they do at work and when making purchase decisions. The way that the limbic system interfaces with the cortex to retrieve information and pull from each other is so complex that we’re still just in the early stages of understanding human behavior by way of understanding brain physiology.

The limbic and neocortex working together

One of the ways researchers have started to uncover insights into this process is by looking specifically at stroke victims. One recent study looked at why post-stroke depression (PSD) is such a serious complication of stroke. The researchers found that there was decreased gray matter (GM) volume in patients in both the neocortex (specifically, the prefrontal cortex and motor cortex) and the limbic system. However, upon further research, the study found that there was significantly decreased functional connectivity with the neocortex, but increased functional connectivity with parts of the limbic system. These findings make sense because PSD is directly related to mood and emotional response.

There’s a healthy amount of neuroscience behind people’s mood and emotional response, which contributes to a better understanding of marketing psychology as a whole. In a 1994 study the neuroscience professor, Antonio Damasio, studied how emotions related to logical thought. In looking at damaged brains, Damasio found that people who could not process feelings also had a harder time making decisions. Although they could rationalize their thoughts logically, they struggled to make simple choices because they couldn’t gauge how it’d make them feel.

I never wished to set emotional against reason, but rather to see emotion as at least assisting reason… nor did I ever oppose emotion to cognition since I view emotion as delivering cognitive information. – Antonio Damasio

This basic understanding of the brain gives a better glimpse into the two core parts of how a person thinks and operates—with logic and with emotion. With studies like Damasio’s, we better understand what’s happening in a person’s brain when making decisions like where to work or what to buy. It’s the connection between the cortex and limbic system that impacts our worldview and our feelings toward that worldview.

If you’re anything like me, you find this stuff fascinating, but might also be wondering why I bring this up. To answer that, I harken back to the situation that kick-started this whole framework—the black BMW catching me off guard pulling up the driveway.

It still gives me goosebumps when I imagine seeing that sleek car pull up the driveway. Those goosebumps come from the memories that are imprinted deeply in my limbic system, but the curiosity about success that stemmed from that memory was logical, centered in my cortex system.

I’m not alone in having ‘life-defining’ memories like this. Everyone has memories so powerful that they transport you back in time. Whether those memories hit like a strike or hover at the edge of everyday actions, they undeniably affect our behavior in ways that are very much tied to these sections of our brain. I knew that the buyer’s journey is also a sophisticated dance of emotional and logical triggers. To dig in deeper to those, I shifted to look at psychology and the role it played in success.

The Importance of Psychology in Success

Just like the human brain has always fascinated me, so has the human psyche. I love figuring out how people think, why people feel the way they do and react the way they do, and the things that drive people to act. In my experience, there’s so much psychology baked into getting people to move through the customer journey that trying to market without understanding consumer psychology is like trying to kayak without a paddle.

When it came to building out a customer-centric business framework for success, I knew psychology had to play a prominent role. Specifically, I knew I had to address how the consumer felt and reacted to a brand. I started by looking at the role cognitive associations and dissonance played in the path-to-purchase.

Do You Know the Cognitive Association of Your Brand?

Before I dig in here, I have a challenge for you. Do you know the cognitive association of your brand? Do you know it with certainty?

What is the cognitive association of your brand? If you don’t know with certainty, you could be missing out on massive opportunity. Buckley Barlow

That’s not a trick question. Many of the businesses we work with cannot say, with confidence, that they know what consumers cognitively associate when they think of their brand. Or, they think they know but are wrong.

Within the context of brand and grossly oversimplifying the connected process, the cognitive association represents the juxtaposition of two items in a person’s memory, which are often seemingly unrelated. For example, when you remember your best friend’s birthday party in second grade, you might also think of the monsoon rainstorm that happened that same day. Or, when you’re reminded of your grandmother’s house, you recall the smell of pancakes that used to greet you when you opened her door. These memories are where your limbic system enters the equation. It’s that emotional storage center that fuses two unrelated attributes together, so the thought of one is directly tied to the thought of the other.

This concept sounds simple, but like many simple things, it’s very powerful in nature. Each and every one of us has cognitive associations we’re not even aware of because of how innate and second nature they’ve become. We see the color green and associate it with “Go” without having a conscious thought about it. Consumers have the same juxtaposition and knee-jerk reaction to a brand name and an attribute in their mind. That fundamental brand connection often gets overlooked or ignored, which is unwise to the extreme considering that consumer’s brand associations affects where they shop, what brands they buy, and what products they need.

Take GoPro as an example. This technology company started off strong, but sales slumped due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the market’s cognitive associations with their brand, and a failure to transformation intelligently within the guardrails of a business framework. The brand was associated with extreme adventure but veered off course when they tried to become a media brand.

This video goes through a comprehensive breakdown of GoPro’s struggles. It’s a good one with a lot of solid takeaways.

Nick Woodman, the founder of GoPro, started the company after noticing a distinct need for cameras that would produce high-quality videos both on land and underwater. After getting funding from his parents, Woodman quickly gained steam with his company, building it into a cult brand.

You’d be hard pressed to find any footage of paddle boarders on clear waters or base jumpers with wingsuits that wasn’t being recorded on a GoPro. The brand held an established cognitive association of extreme adventure and capturing memories.

In the height of their success, the company decided it was time to go public. That was the start of their troubles.

From 2013 – 2014, the year before they went public, they had a 41% growth rate. The following year, that growth rate fell dramatically to only 16%, and the year after that it slumped all the way to -27%.

To try to turn those sales numbers around, GoPro spent millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads but failed to recognize that the initiative to build visibility wasn’t the growth strategy they needed. The ads didn’t do enough to strengthen their message and serve their loyal base of customers.

The more the company struggled, the further they strayed from their core cognitive associations and the needs of the customers. Instead of iterating on their cameras, they deviated from what made their company a success initially—a technology company that captured moments. They then decided to diverge from what the market associated with their brand and instead become a media company. The company brought in a Hulu executive to try to shift gears, but in doing so, they caused confusion along with already catastrophic sales figures. In the end, GoPro underestimated the power of the cognitive associations their loyal consumers had with their brand and failed to utilize those associations to spur growth.

In business, when the market’s thoughts or feelings are positive, you see stellar growth numbers like GoPro had in the beginning of its existence. On the other hand, as consumers thoughts and feelings deviate from what your company is creating, doing, or saying, you face an upward battle, much like GoPro has seen in recent years. This battle is known as cognitive dissonance, and it can drastically decrease your company’s opportunities to sustain momentum.

The Dangers of Cognitive Dissonance

Study after study by consumer and social psychologists have shown that certainty transforms persuasion. Put differently, people with certainty in their ideas are more likely to accept job roles, advocate for causes, or endorse products that share those same beliefs.

In short, certainty is the catalyst that turns attitudes into action, bringing beliefs to life and imbuing them with meaning and consequence. – Zakary L. Tormala and Derek D. Rucker

When someone is sure about what a company offers or stands for, and those values align with their convictions, they naturally relate to a brand and want to support it. However, when the brand deviates from the expected patterns and contradicts what a person believes cognitive dissonance enters the equation.

In 1954 a social psychologist named Leon Festinger developed the social comparison theory known as cognitive dissonance.

The social comparison theory claims that people are driven to search for outside images to evaluate and validate their own opinions and abilities. When their findings contradict or conflict with their beliefs, it causes mental stress. This stress is called cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance puts the brain into a tailspin of turmoil. It causes the brain to fight against itself immediately making a person feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed. When brands create cognitive dissonance, they lose their consumer’s vested interest in the brand. The travel industry is an excellent example of some drastic effects caused by dissonance.

How Cognitive Dissonance Has Harmed the Travel Industry

In the past, travel companies constantly had to find creative ways to differentiate themselves in their market. Airlines offered miles to get passengers in their seats, and hotel chains offered incentives to get people into their suites. Many companies across the travel industry used the common tactic of rewards programs to keep customers coming back.

In the beginning, loyalty programs worked well. They cultivated brand loyalty among their core base, and at their inception they were peppered with positive associations (such as rewards and respect). Those associations have since expired. According to a Colloquy loyalty census:

The average American household is a member of 29 loyalty programs, but is only active in 12.

The fact of the matter is, loyalty programs can’t replace the fundamental need for a quality experience. In fact, in a study by The Harris Poll for Lithium, researchers found that sometimes it only takes one bad experience for most people to choose a competitor in the travel industry.

Experience travel industry

This propensity to churn in travel based industries is connected to the effects of cognitive dissonance. When booking a vacation, a consumer is imagining relaxation first and foremost. They eagerly set their out-of-office reply and hit the road with thoughts of sun-kissed beaches and umbrella drinks. When they’re instead met with the stress of delayed flights, extra baggage costs, and crowded continental breakfasts, they feel the stress even more acutely.

The stress travelers experience goes directly against their expectations for the trip, which would be the ultimate relaxation for any leisure travelers, and ease of convenience for any business travelers. When it comes time to book future trips, they’ll remember that feeling of stress and opt for a competitor.

The fact that airplane food and lost luggage are both classic targets of comedic skits, and flight complications are a common shared experience in our culture, is a testament to the level of dissonance this industry serves up regularly. But believe it or not, derailed travel schedules are only the beginning of the dissonance created in this industry.

You can likely recall at least a couple of the recent stories about cruise line passengers having experienced extreme situations. In 2013, cruise lines made headline after headline with stories about sewage system malfunctions, illness outbreaks on the ship, and passengers passing away en-route. Instances like these were a far cry from what most people associated with cruise vacations, like lotto and karaoke. Instead, cruise ship horror stories, such as norovirus outbreaks, engine failures, and pirate attacks on the open seas, created a havoc of dissonance for this industry.

Cruise liners faced an uphill battle to regain market share and get more people on board their boats. Although they’re recovering, the industry had to address that dissonance head on and patch up the misaligned thoughts and feelings. By revisiting the experience they offered on their ship, they’ve been able to slowly climb out of that hole and see an upward trajectory from that strategic inflection point on the S curve of business growth.

Having a positive cognitive association doesn’t make you immune from creating dissonance with your brand. Like in the travel industry, bad experiences turned positive associations to dissonance over time. Dissonance doesn’t have to happen in a slow progression though. It can happen overnight, as Dove experienced after using poor judgment when releasing a new advertisement for their liquid soap line.

Dove: A Case Study of Positive Cognitive Brand Association Turning Into Dissonance

There are a lot of emotions tied to how a person perceives their outward appearance. They worry about being judged for looking out of place from everyone else. People worry about what a date will think of them when they meet for the first time. They worry about what a potential employer will think of them when they walk in an interview. Physical appearance can play a role in confidence, and one brand that understands that well is Dove.

In 2004 Dove, along with their marketing firm Ogilvy & Mather, launched the Real Beauty Campaign. This campaign was called a “mission strategy” designed to “make women feel comfortable in the skin they are in, to create a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety.” In other words, the goal of this cognitive association strategy was to help customers feel more confident.

The Real Beauty initiative had been their hallmark since its inception 14 years ago. They have run several award-winning ads under this umbrella; here’s my personal favorite.

In this video, you’ll notice that there’s no obvious mention of the product, it’s all about the women and their experience. The result is enabling the women to see themselves through someone else’s eyes in the hopes that this altered perception will empower them to realize the beauty that they overlook in the day to day. The ad’s confidence building approach wasn’t without some healthy return.

dove sales growth

Sales of their liquid soap grew by 30% in a decade, and things were looking like they were on the up and up, until they published their next round of advertising. This time, the message the brand sent caused more controversy than confidence, creating dissonance in the market.

In October 2017, Dove launched another commercial in their Real Beauty series. In this commercial, women continually shifted skin color and clothing to reveal another woman underneath.

dove racist ad

Photo Credit: The Alternative Daily

The controversial body wash ad was meant to encourage women to be comfortable in their skin, but the transition of a black woman into white one caused off a massive chain of cognitive dissonance among consumers.

Although the brand gave a quick and apologetic response, for many people, the damage was done. The racial implications were too significant to ignore and flew in the face of their Real Beauty campaign that was running 10-years strong at the time.

People made the connection between this and other ads that showcased skin tones getting lighter in ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures. The brand’s message flew in the face of their previous messaging that people should feel confident in their skin, regardless of shape or color. The racial undertones were impossible to ignore and the campaign immediately created cognitive dissonance among its consumer base. The tension between what people had associated with the brand, and what people were feeling now, had a detrimental effect on the brand sentiment as the was passed around social media sites.

dove online sentiment drop

Humans naturally shy away from the discomfort caused by dissonance, making it hard to recover a brand’s reputation after an instance such as this one. Dove had loyal customers turn away when they couldn’t imagine buying from a brand that had once made them feel good about themselves, and was now so divisive. Even though Dove apologized for the ad, the brand had a long road to recover from that disastrous move.

How Cognitive Associations Impact Consumer and Employee Behavior

The Dove example is admittedly extreme, but it paints a clear picture of how a brand can be on top one minute and getting tossed in the mud next.

At RocketSource, we go to great lengths to understand the cognitive association of a variety of aspects including our brand, our client’s brands, and even the words we use to describe ourselves. It can be incredibly painstaking but we don’t neglect it because the associations tied to each have a direct impact on both your employee’s behavior and your consumer’s behavior.

How Cognitive Associations Can Affect Employee Behavior

It’s not something people think of often, but there are associations linked to multitudes and minutia all over our lives. Understanding these associations often shapes how you drive organizational buy-in for your transformation initiatives, even if you’re unaware that they exist.

This point was proven by Harvard psychologist, Mahzarin Banaji, who is well-known for her work on the Implicit Association Test. This test has been done over two million times, uncovering cognitive biases many of us don’t realize we carry or don’t want to admit we carry.

One study, in particular, found that, when it comes to gender equality, your unconscious may have other ideas. In this study, her team found that people had a much easier time of associating male names with career-related words and home-related words with female names. That struggle was true for both men and women.

83% of women show an unconscious bias toward men in professional roles, while only 77% of men hold the same unconscious bias.

These implicit associations are critical to remember as you bring transformation initiatives to your team and shape your company culture. Without acknowledging them, you could make headlines—and not in a good way. Remember how the hidden biases at Google were exposed in 2014? A New York Times report put a spotlight on the fact that men made up 83% of the company’s engineering employees and 79% of its managers. As a result, the brand adopted a new strategy to encourage a culture more accepting of diversity.

Gender diversity is only one type of association employees can have that unknowingly impact a business’s operations. The same Implicit Association Test found that 88% of white people had a pro-white or anti-black implicit bias, and 83% of heterosexuals had an implicit bias for straight people over the LGBTQ community. These biases and other implicit biases aren’t ones that a person will often readily and openly admit to. Many times, they don’t want to believe they don’t have it, and yet they still feel a tug with their unconscious mind when they’re forced to make hiring decisions or work with customers or colleagues who might be different than them. This can create significant tension and dissonance because they fight between unconscious associations and logical beliefs.

By being mindful of these cognitive associations, as well as your company’s culture, you can steer away from these problematic behaviors rooted in implicit associations. By focusing on and encouraging beliefs that center your business’s purpose, you can often time offset the dissonant beliefs or behaviors. In doing so, you can improve the consumer’s association with your brand, which could have a direct impact on their purchase behavior.

Better Brand Recall Rates, the Halo Effect, and Better Search Engine Optimization—Yes, You Can Have It All!

If consumer search behavior shows one thing, it’s that we’re living in a research-obsessed society. People are turning to the Internet to research everything from restaurants to retail stores and real estate—and they expect a real-time answer when they type in their query. As proof of this, consider these Google’s findings:

There has been a 120% increase in searches for “wait times” and “same day shipping,” and a 500% increase in “near me” searches from mobile devices between 2015 and 2017.

It’s not that search has become such a fundamental part of how people find businesses. It’s how people use the search function when making purchase decisions that’s critical as you learn more about the behavioral economics of people deciding to buy specifically from you.

One of the ways to garner attention from today’s modern consumer as they use search to make purchase decisions is by increasing your brand recall rates.

Increasing brand awareness can impact organic search rankings letting you rise above the fray and stand out in front of the research obsessed consumers of today. As Tom Coad points out in his article on Moz, Google has patented a way for search engines to gauge the authority of a brand or product by benchmarking it against a keyword. It looks like this:

google algorithm brand recall rate

Photo Credit: Moz

In this formula, you can see that Google pays attention to the number of times people search for a product and combine that search with a product name. Then, the number is divided by the overall number of searches for a product to get a quality score for the keyword associated with the product.

Google’s engineers designed the algorithm this way because they’re smart. They know that people are more likely to search for the name of a business alongside the keyword when the brand is top of mind compared to non-branded searches of the same keyword.

This theory was recently confirmed by scientists who looked at cognitive associations based on word pairs. In this study, researchers presented their test subjects with word pairs, and then analyzed the recall rate using event-related brain potentials (ERPs). What they found was, when two items are juxtaposed in a person’s mind, their ability to pull those items from their memory bank is higher. As I mentioned earlier when I discussed the neuroscience behind marketing, there’s still a lot we don’t know about how the brain works. Regardless, studies like this one show that it does work and that recall rates increase when your brand is juxtaposed with another element. By understanding how to prick those emotional and logical points in your consumer’s brain through very specific images and channel pairs, you’re able to steer the cognitive association of your brand and increase recall rate.

Brand recall rooted in positive experience is known as the halo effect in marketing. Like an angel has a halo, so do brands that appear and feel angelic or heavenly to their customers. Just like scientists use the halo effect in social psychology to make judgments about a person, consumers use it to form biases about a brand. It’s this perception that enables brands to anchor a reputation to a feeling of excitement and delight. When done effectively, brands are then better able to tap into the limbic system and memory banks and simultaneously increase brand awareness.

If you’re tasked with growth, increasing these recall rates is critical, but what you juxtapose your brand with is also critical, especially when it comes to repeat purchases. In another study on cognitive dissonance and consumer behavior, a University of Iowa professor, William H. Cummings, found:

Outside of a consumer’s information-seeking behavior, which happens at the initial stages of their path-to-purchase, there is substantial evidence that attitude impacts a consumer’s tendency to repurchase.

Knowing this attitude and understanding its impact on a consumer’s decision to buy has a direct impact on everything you do within your organization from hiring and DevOps to marketing and sales.

You might be wondering why I’m talking so much about science here. The fact is, when you start treating the business world like a scientist would, by researching and fact-finding, your strategies become exponentially more powerful. These strategies can then be layered to build other strategies, which are eventually executed on by tacticians, which in turn, drives growth.

When you get into the intricacies of consumer psychology and behavioral economics, it’s easy to see the complexities associated with human thought. Although these might feel overwhelming on the surface, they’re critical to understand—especially if you’re at a strategic inflection point right now. That’s why we’ve put together an entire workshop to walk you through how to build these out for your company. There are more details about our LevelNext workshop series at the bottom of this post, which I urge you to explore. In the meantime, let’s get back into how the StoryVesting framework came to life.

Ancient Philosophy Still Rings True—Even In a Modern Experience Framework

As I dug deeper into the importance of cognitive associations and the impact cognitive dissonance could have on a brand’s ability to grow, I knew there needed to be some guardrails put up to avoid companies from steering too far off course. That framework had to answer the way people engage with businesses around them. So, I took what I knew about cognitive psychology and looked pointedly at how to use that to persuade consumers to take action, looking to the unsung master of persuasion: Aristotle.

Aristotle is known for a lot of things, but his theory that I honed in on was the rhetorical triangle. The three elements of the rhetorical triangle—ethos, pathos, and logos— can sum up the base motivations for most human decisions, and overall it’s a core representation of how the psyche works when presented with options.

rhetorical triangle

As its name suggests, these three elements often inform a variety of ‘rhetoric,’ and I challenge you to find any ad, book, or speech that doesn’t appeal to Ethos, Pathos, Logos, or a combination of the three.


ethosDirectly translated into English, ethos means “character.” This term represents what you display to gain trust from the person on the other side of your message—an employee, a job recruit, or a customer. It involves showing that your character, or your company’s character, is responsible, trustworthy, and fair, in order to cultivate credibility.

Organizations have a variety of ways that they subtly present ethos. Executives present ethos to their team members by treating employees professionally. Advertisers regularly establish ethos by getting celebrity endorsements. You can even communicate ethos through something as fundamental as a logo. For example, would you trust BMW if the logo on their cars looked big and yellow like the McDonald’s arches?

Another significant part of credibility for modern companies is the ability to relate to a consumer on a more personal level beyond the immediate transaction.

factors that impact customer loyalty

A brand loyalty study by CustomerThermometer found that 65% of consumers will buy from a brand if they feel like the company cares about people like them. And 55% of consumers buy if they feel like the brand is making a positive difference. People lean their purchase decisions heavily on ethical operations and filter out brands that fail to align with their personal ethics.

Although it’s not flashy, establishing trust can keep a person from bouncing away from your business and to a competitor.

But trust is only one facet of persuasion. A person also needs to know that buying into an organization makes logical sense. That’s where logos comes into the triangular picture.


logosLogos in the rhetorical triangle represents logic. It’s in this part of persuasion that a company uses reason to sway a person to buy in to their mission. Logos is all about showcasing the facts and using them to tell a black-and-white story that’s hard to refute.

Organizations do this often in marketing when they list just-the-facts and features about their products or services. For example, you might see an advertisement that tells you the value of a product but showcases a discounted price. It’s logical, in that situation, to buy because you’re getting more bang for your buck.

Taking those facts a step further and using them to tell a story is even more powerful. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) did this well in their Tips From Former Smokers campaign in 2017. In it, the CDC showed videos like this one.

The woman’s story here lists just the facts. As a result of her smoking, while pregnant, her baby was born two months early and only weighed three pounds. Those facts are indisputable and therefore this story, as heart-wrenching as it is, makes for a logical argument to stop smoking.

In StoryVesting, it’s critical that brands understand the type of logical thinking a person goes through when deciding whether or not to buy. They’re looking at cost vs. benefit, or in the case of the CDC, the cost of continuing to smoke vs. the benefits of stopping. They’re also looking at whether it’s relevant to them. In the CDC example, this particular video would be much more relevant to a pregnant woman than a single man.

Managers and directors often use logos internally too. To get team engagement, many managers will tap into logical thinking to persuade teams to get on board with a project or initiative. When the destination makes sense from a logical standpoint, it’s easier for people to work hard to accomplish the end goal.

While the ad above makes a great example for a logical appeal, it has that much more power because it also utilizes the third branch of the rhetorical triangle: emotion.


pathosThe Pathos portion of the rhetorical triangle appeals directly to the emotional response a person has to a message. This third prong is the part of persuasion that not only elicits a feeling of some kind, but uses that feeling to encourage a person to take action.

It’s important to note here that humans are not purely logical creatures. In fact, we often act illogically and buy things like hot dog water for $28 a bottle or jump out of airplanes 30,000 feet above the ground. When it comes to persuading someone emotional drivers can be more potent than ethos or logos, so understanding pathos and using it to fuel growth is critical.

Toyota understood the power of pathos when it put together their Good Odds commercial ahead of the 2018 Paralympics Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

The product isn’t featured in this commercial. The goal is merely to tell a story about a girl who worked hard to beat all odds and get to where she is today. The takeaway mentioned at the end of the ad is that being free to move makes anything possible. That freedom of movement is the only relation to what the brand provides, which is transportation.

Without a doubt, the message in the Toyota commercial was powerful, but did it persuade people to buy into the brand? Absolutely. Paralympic skier, Lauren Woolstencroft, was amazed by the response to the “Good Odds” commercial—and that’s coming from someone that the ad was based on. The ad tech company, Unruly, gave “Good Odds” the highest EQ score, which is used to measure the emotional, social, and business impact of a commercial. Overall, it’s safe to say that the ad had some powerful emotional appeal.

When it comes to persuading a person to buy into a brand, the rhetorical triangle has it all—ethics rooted in values, logical reasons to choose one company over another, and an emotional response toward the brand. When companies can nail all three of these throughout the customer’s journey, they hit a home run. That was true back in Aristotle’s days, and it’s still true today.

Strategies For Today’s Consumer Behavior

Consumers, specifically those who turn to search engines to find what they need, have become smarter about the persuasion tactics used by companies today. Not only have many consumers caught on to marketing gimmicks, but they have much better access to information now with the increased access to the Internet, and improvements on search engines such as Google.

That access has come quickly, and to keep up businesses have been forced to transform by adapting their strategies.

I’ll never forget when I picked up the book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. When he wrote it in 2006, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Wired magazine. The book quickly became a New York Times bestseller because of its incredible insights into the future of commerce and culture.

In this book, Anderson accurately showcased how the Internet is made up of “endless shelf space,” lending itself to a new retail strategy. In this strategy, businesses sell a lot of products in small quantities and a handful of popular products in larger quantities. Amazon.com is an excellent example of this. They sell a lot of products but only a fraction of those products—the most popular ones—are sold in bulk. This one shift in retail strategy also shifted the way consumers engaged with brands.

Now, they use “long tail” keywords or longer phrases to drill down and find what they need online. This behavior started because consumers knew that retailers were getting increasingly specific with what they sold. The concept presented by Anderson was simple, yet it led to something much more profound. It altered our perception of how to reach people in the superficial digital environment. Businesses quickly realized that consumers were using long tail keywords to find niche products.

the long tail

This graphic shows how the long tale of obscure songs offered by the online site, Rhapsody, was able to compete against the more typical songs selection found at Walmart. Consumers are using a long-tail approach to narrow down their search for more than just songs. A consumer won’t ever search for the term “car” and hoping to find a Ford F-150. They’re much more likely to type or speak a search term like, “Ford F-150, 4-door, 6-cylinder, towing capabilities,” which opens the door for more niche marketing and sales.

Bringing it Back to Center

Let’s revisit the answers I got during my conversations with 1,969 people over the years. If you go through the responses, there’s a common theme tying them all together—customer centrism. This customer-centric approach is critical, but the only way to achieve that is to align your business with what’s happening in your customer’s mind. Without bringing your business together with the consumers emotional and logical thought patterns and subsequent behaviors, you’ll have a hard time delivering meaningful experiences.

I attempted to bring this importance of alignment into focus in the next iteration of the StoryVesting framework.

storyvesting framework third iteration

In this version, alignment is the catalyst for growth opportunities. Companies are empowered to cultivate a new level of loyalty because the business story is in tune with the customer’s story.

Although important, this iteration was lacking depth in each circle. It didn’t do justice to the business’s internal operations and complexities. It didn’t account for the physical and psychological response a person had throughout the path-to-purchase. It didn’t take into account the market’s cognitive associations with the brand name, nor did it account for any kind of dissonance that crept in.

It was the need to account for all of these complexities that finally landed me on the complete StoryVesting framework.

The Business Transformation Framework We Use Today

The modern experience framework that I finally settled on is grounded in values. It’s these values that are inherent in driving companies to go from achieving mediocre success with a few missteps along the way, to escalating growth through intelligent experiences. Or, simply put, it’s a framework that drives business transformation strategy. Here it is in all its glory:

storyvesting framework

StoryVesting is an intelligent framework that is used for essential growth-related business tasks, including recruitment, intelligent data looping, mining insights, improving operations, improving employee morale, and building customer experience (CX) initiatives.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the past decade, chances are you’ve heard me talk about StoryVesting a time or two. You might already be familiar with what the framework looks like piece-by-piece through my post about the intelligent StoryVesting framework that divulges the most important question you need to answer before you try to sell anything, and in my book The Growth Code. If not, I encourage you to check them out, but for now here’s a quick overview.

The Business Framework

  • The Why
    Why is the business in existence?
  • The Business Model
    How will the company fulfill the mission and vision? How will the business lead out a successful operation?
  • People, Processes, Platforms
    Who is working in the business? What processes are in place to make the business function optimally? What platforms make up the tech stack needed to achieve the goals?
  • Products/Services
    What products or services are being sold to the end consumer?
  • Channels
    Where is the buyer receiving information about these products and services? Where is the buyer consuming the product or service after purchase?
  • Experience
    What does the overall experience look and feel like for the end consumer?
The Path-To-Purchase

  • Emotional Triggers
    What triggers the buyer emotionally to take interest in a business or industry? What stimulates the person to take the first step in their customer journey?
  • Logical Decision Making
    Is the product relevant? Does it align with the customer’s initial expectations? Is it worth the time and effort to buy? Can the buyer trust the brand? Does the cost justify the value they receive? What is the buying experience like?
  • Post-Purchase Feelings
    Is the person excited by the purchase after they buy? Are they hopeful for how the product or service will change their life? Do they have continued confidence in the product and the brand? Is there any buyer’s remorse? Are they happy they bought or regretful?

Individually, each of these layers are impressive. They’re rich with potential and steeped with insights. But that’s not what makes this framework so powerful. I purposely designed each of these layers as concentric circles that sit on top of each other. The goal here is to showcase that each component bleeds into another. It’s this constant tug between each layer that makes the framework come to life and drive powerful results for all areas of business including, but not limited to:

  • Improving employee morale and boosting retention numbers
  • Pulling out the root causes of negative customer experiences
  • Bolstering customer engagement through improved UX/UI
  • Building authority among the thought leaders in an organization
  • Obliterating silo walls and democratizing teams
  • Using data to drive action and business transformation

But it’s not just the blend of layers in the business experience framework and the customer experience framework. It’s the alignment between the people within your company and your consumers that makes StoryVesting so impenetrable.

Internal Alignment of the Business Framework

Organizations are complex entities. While there are core departments, including the marketing department, finance, HR, technology, and information, each of those departments contains its own set of teams. As you drill down into the various responsibilities, it’s easy to see the intricacies of a healthy organization. This graphic shows the department structure that a CEO typically oversees.

modern organizational structure

The CEO is responsible for the organization as a whole, playing a part in each of these department’s abilities to function and grow. Then, each C-Suite executive oversees dozens, if not hundreds, of people who each play a different role in growing the company. Aligning these teams takes tremendous effort and without a framework in place to serve as the guardrails, teams can easily go off course, sending the company into a tailspin.

Take the struggle of aligning sales and marketing teams as an example. For years these two teams have been at odds despite working toward a common goal of growing the customer base. That chasm often leads to a healthy amount of finger pointing. The sales team points the finger at the marketing team for not getting enough leads or low-quality leads. The marketing team then points the finger back at them saying that the sales team needs to work harder to close the leads they send their way. The back and forth finger pointing is counterproductive, which is probably why 91% of senior-level agency professionals have taken strategic steps to bridge the gap between marketing and sales—and for good reason.

sales and marketing team alignment

There’s benefit to aligning departments. Not only does it keep teams focused on the primary goal—growth—but it also benefits the business in other areas. The deeper understanding of each other’s areas of business improves processes, and thus generates bigger overall results. In addition, it’ll boost productivity by keeping teams working with the right people at the right time. And, they’ll be better equipped to coordinate which content platforms best move leads through the funnel. Sound familiar? Each of these benefits is directly answered in the StoryVesting framework’s 3 Ps—people, processes, and platforms.

Consider the data science team and the strategy team. Organizations are getting a wealth of big data coming in daily. In order for that influx of information to be used strategically, the data science teams must align with the marketing team to pull out the top insights.

And alignment doesn’t stop internally either. Outside contributors to growth success, such as Data as a Service (DaaS) providers, must also operate in alignment with their client’s framework in order to achieve success.

Yes, there’s good reason for bringing teams together. By eliminating siloed thinking and budgets, decision-making becomes more strategic, which ultimately leads to delivering better results. Companies can focus more holistically on driving the ship forward in tandem and thereby fueling growth. That doesn’t happen linearly, as you might recall from my first iteration of the framework. It takes a more calculated approach based on the brand’s why.

When you look at the StoryVesting framework as it stands today, you’ll notice that the circles get darker the closer you get into the center. That’s by design. By stacking the critical components of the business on top of each other one layer at a time, you’re better able to see how each one relates to the other.

To showcase how these can blend together to effectively grow a business, let’s look at an example of them working in harmony for a common business function—recruiting. Having the StoryVesting framework to serve as a guide helps attract the right talent and guide hiring decisions. Here’s how.

As you might recall from my research, the best employees had to have more than just smarts—they had to have passion and an emotional vestment into the organization. That meant that they had to buy into the company’s why. They had to believe in why the company existed. They had to know why it was beneficial to the market.

This buy-in to the why isn’t enough though. The why must also be validated by the business model. No matter how cool the vision, the brand has to showcase that they to have a sustainable business model and can make money. In other words, it has to make sense.

Once the person is within the company, they have to see that the team they’re working with—the people—are competent and enjoyable to be around. They have to like the processes that are in place, or at least feel empowered to shift the processes when necessary to become more productive. The tech stack, or platforms, they’re using have to be up-to-date and allow for efficient communication. Even top talent won’t be productive if they’re forced to work on outdated or disjointed platforms. The technology used organization-wide must spur productivity and reduce friction, so the only focus is getting the job done well.

All of these components bleed into a passion for what’s being sold. The employee has to believe in the product or service wholeheartedly. It has to be something they’d be proud to use themselves.

Employees must also have an understanding and appreciation for the channels on which it’s being marketed and delivered. For example, if the business is selling a digital product but only promoting it via direct mail, something’s off and the employees will feel that disconnect.

It’s not each individual component of the intelligent StoryVesting framework that makes it so powerful. It’s the sum of its parts. – Buckley Barlow

It’s the sum of all of these parts—the why, business model, people, processes, platforms, products and services, and channels—that make up the employee’s experience. But this is only half of the equation. The customer’s experience is equally powerful as we look at how these layers maneuver together in a predictable pathway to purchase.

storyvesting framework layered customer journey

The way we process information as consumers with purchases is complex, especially for purchases that bend our budget a little more. Despite the complexity, we, as buyers, move methodically through a predictable pathway to purchase to make decisions, each step getting amplified by the one before it.

It starts with an external stimulus. A memory from our past buried deep in the limbic system gets triggered. It’s at this point that we have an emotional, and many times a physical, response to something that enters our worldview. This emotional and physical response is called the Cannon-Bard theory, which causes a physical and psychological response, like trembling in fear or getting butterflies on a first date.

As seductive as the stimulus might’ve been, we’re quickly catapulted into the present, engaging our neocortex in a logical thought process. It’s now that we’re trying to decide if what we think we need is really relevant to our current lifestyle. We weigh the time vs. effort of the purchase to decide if it’s worth our while to pursue.

Upon deciding to move forward, we start to progress more from the present into future consideration as we weigh our expectations. Will the purchase meet our needs? How will our life be different if we buy? Will it be better? Could it be worse?

Once we’ve solidified what we want and need, we start to look specifically at brand trust. It’s in this stage that we’re looking at the cognitive associations buried deep in our brain about a brand to decide whether we can trust them to fulfill on their promises and our expectations.

Finally, we buy! In one glorious experience, we’re filled with an overload of emotions about our purchase. We’re hopeful about the future, confident or anxious in our purchase decision and excited about what life will be like now. This reconciliation of past, present, and future experiences is the answer to each of these layers getting stacked one on top of each other throughout the path-to-purchase.

Where Do You Start Implementing a Growth Framework?

It’s important to note here that, although the Why is at the center of everything, it doesn’t have to be the sole area of the framework where you excel. In fact, the why can oftentimes lead to excellence and euphoria in other parts of the framework as well. Here are a few examples of brands that have succeeded at each stage of the framework.

businesses at every stage of the storyvesting framework

An Example of the BUSINESS STORY in Action: Apple

I had the lucky opportunity to spend time on the Apple campus in 1999 for a consulting gig. Now, I’ll tell you this. I can’t for the life of me remember the names of the people I met with, and I can’t remember exactly what they look like aside from one being a male and the other a female, but I’ll never forget what they both said. As I was blathering on about the nuances of Apple, one of them stopped me and said, “You know Buckley, we appreciate all that you’ve said, but one thing you have to keep in mind is that at Apple, we don’t sell technology. We sell experiences.” That struck me hard. No sooner than I’d thought ‘Well, don’t you sell hardware?’, the other individual chimed in and added, “even down to the product packaging.”

That left an indelible mark on me. What is amazing to me is that looking back, you could almost assume that it was Steve Jobs sitting there telling me this, but it wasn’t. Still, the people I met with were so passionate and vested in the company’s why that you could feel it in their message as if it was being spoken from Steve Jobs’ mouth. It left such an impact on me over the years. I took that lesson and used it to drive the very essence of StoryVesting and how to make a company successful.

An Example of the BUSINESS MODEL in Action: Costco

Costco changed the way people shop for groceries through their subscription-style business model. Members pay for a service and in doing so, get lower prices on bulk groceries. With renewal rates consistently over 90%, this model has proven to be successful and desired by its member base.

An Example of the 3Ps in Action: Lululemon

Lululemon has differentiated themselves from the competition by turning their employees into brand advocates and advertisers through the benefits they offer. In addition to the discounts on this otherwise high priced attire, team members get paid to work out.

An Example of the PRODUCTS AND SERVICES in Action: Airbnb

After experiencing quick growth, Airbnb decided to expand their service offering to go beyond giving travelers a bed to sleep in, and instead, give them a way to create memorable experiences wherever they went. They even went as far as naming their new product, Experiences. Now, travelers can book a place to rest while also booking concert tickets, day spa passes, classes, and more.

An Example of the CHANNELS in Action: Boll & Branch

It’s hard to imagine disrupting an industry that’s been around for centuries, but that’s what Boll & Branch did by differentiating the channels where they sold their luxury sheets. Instead of going the traditional route through retailers and middlemen, Boll & Branch started out exclusively online and now sells click-to-brick.

An Example of the EXPERIENCE in Action: Disney

Disney has made its guests experiences the focal point of all they do. Offering fun vacation plans is just the beginning. Disney representatives also meet travelers in the airport to help with their luggage before they get to the hotel. The special effects, awe, and wonder at every turn within their park, are evidence that Disney continually strives to amaze the people who engage with their brand.

Remember that taking a customer-centric approach requires that your people believe in what you’re creating and have the tools and support to get the job done to the best of their abilities. That doesn’t always mean that you have to focus exclusively on your why. There are many ways in which you can achieve growth at every layer of the StoryVesting framework, but this only accounts for one side of the equation. You must also have a solid understanding of the customer’s path-to-purchase.

Growth is Spurred by Understanding the Customer’s Path-to-Purchase

In StoryVesting, alignment goes deeper than bringing teams together internally. Although that’s a start, StoryVesting brings consumers together with the business’s ‘why’ also. This type of alignment with the brand’s purpose is what the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has dubbed the rise of the 21st century brand economy.

In a recent study, IAB found that growth has slowed or stopped in much of the U.S. consumer economy, which has caused leading global brands to get hit with some steep profit pressures.

low retail growth

As a result of these declining figures, 6,752 brick-and-mortar stores have closed as more consumers opt to buy products online. The companies that are succeeding are the ones that are aligning themselves with the type of experience consumers demand—a direct-to-consumer experience.

IAB has found that we’re experiencing more companies that are selling their products directly to the consumer as opposed to direct-to-retail, where a retailer becomes the licensee and sells the product. The reason why is that cutting out the middleman allows brands to tell a stronger story and connect on a deeper level with their consumer. It’s that connection that buyers are taking notice of, and it’s why boutique brands are picking up steam as they take bite-sized chunks out of leading players. Take a look at these growth numbers, cited by IAB, from some of today’s most well-known brands from 2017.

Top players in the retail industry suffered in 2017. The only two major companies to hold positive growth numbers were P&G (1%), and Kellogg’s (.06%). Others, including General Mills (-7%), Kraft Heinz (-4%), Coca Cola (-3%), and Pepsico (-10%) saw negative growth numbers.

The brands eating away at the likes of P&G, General Mills, Kellogg’s and others aren’t telling a better story because they rocked their advertising—they’re telling a better story because they built their foundation around a strong business why and business model. In doing so, consumers are more emotionally vested in the brands they use and buy from.

Companies need to make fundamental shifts in order to align their why with their customer’s needs, and then persuade them to stick around by using ethos, pathos, and logos. In doing so, these brands are able to form a new cognitive association of their brand and build brand awareness.

Take the unimposing razor industry as an example. Gillette, the previous market leader, has seen a steep decline in market share, dropping in the U.S. from 70% in 2010 to 54% in 2016. Meanwhile, boutique brand entrants Dollar Shave Club, and Harry’s saw their combined U.S. share rise from 7.2% in 2015 to 12.2% in 2016. David B. Pakman, a partner in Venrock, the VC firm that invested in Dollar Shave Club, had his theory on why the company continues to grow. He attributes this growth to their ability to develop a relationship with customers exclusively through video marketing.

This pilot commercial brought in 12,000 customers for the subscription razor company in two days. Although this was accomplished by one commercial, that commercial was steeped with customer centrism and understanding of the consumer’s cognitive associations of the razor industry. By aligning the brand’s values with what the buyer values, the brand made a strong name for itself using minimal advertising money.

As you can see, this part of StoryVesting goes far beyond developing new products and services that answer a customer’s need. Alignment, instead, is about understanding what the consumer needs at every stage of their journey.

How RocketSource Aligns Brand and Customer Experiences

At RocketSource, we drill into the entire customer journey to find any negative touchpoints and moments that cause friction and result in dissonance between your brand association and the consumer.

We run root-cause analyses to find where in the funnel the problems really lie, uncovering weak areas and analyzing their impact on the conversions at the end of the funnel. It’s by doing this that we’re able to reshape experiences, and thus, move away from dissonance and reform or strengthen the cognitive association of a brand.

There’s a lot to this, and by now your head might be spinning. Before we move on, let me walk you through an example of how this all comes to life, together, rooted in the StoryVesting framework, specifically by analyzing the behavioral economics of the car buying experience.

An Example of Past, Present, and Future Reconciliation During a Car Buying Experience

Buying a car isn’t a small purchase. Facebook found that during a path-to-purchase, people intending to buy a car visited Facebook and Instagram 488 times, spending 52.5 hours on these platforms alone. Social media is just one of the 24 total research touchpoints the average car buyer encounters, according to Google. You can see the complexity involved with this purchase.

But it’s not just number of touch points that make this complex. It’s the reconciliation of past, present, and future experiences in the brain, combined with the behavioral economics and rhetorical triangle throughout that customer journey that make this all come together in a truly profound way.

Take a look at how a person progresses from start to finish when it comes to buying a car.

StoryVesting Car Buying Journey-Full

If you want to download and share this image, we encourage you to do so. It’s available for you at the bottom of the post. In the meantime, I’m going to break down how a buyer progresses from the inside of the circle outward going from an emotional to a logical state, before ending with an emotional/logical hybrid response when making the purchase. Let’s start at the very beginning—a very good place to start.

Like any major purchase, a car buying experience is kickstarted by an external stimulus that triggers a deep-seeded emotion. That emotion, or pathos, is strong enough to send chills up the person’s spine, sending his heart racing and blood pumping so hard he tunes out the world around him, even if for just a split second. This physical and emotional response happens when he sees, hears, or smells something. It’s a memory that pulls from his limbic system that’s strong enough to instantly transported back to a past time and place, pulling out details of those emotions and memories.

He’s not thinking logically. His actions are driven more by this emotional response, which according to UCLA researchers, is normal.

External triggers seduce the brain, inspiring an emotional response over an urge to begin fact-finding.

For the sake of this example, let’s imagine that the person we’re analyzing is a dad, driving down the freeway in his minivan with five children singing at the top of their lungs. He glances out the window while muttering to himself, “we can’t get home soon enough” and sees a beautiful BMW speeding past him. Now, imagine that dad is me. In that moment, I’d be instantly transported back to my high school girlfriend’s front porch where I was kissing her just as her dad pulled up the driveway. The cognitive association I have with BMW’s brand alone would be enough to send goosebumps down my spine.

These emotional triggers are typically strong enough to stick around for an extended period of time—long enough to move from the past and slowly into the present to start exploring cars that trigger those deep-seeded emotions. During this phase, a buyer typically explores 14 brands but considers only six and decides between only two.

emotional triggers in sales

Although brand is a big trigger for many buyers, 60% of buyers are open to considering multiple car options as they progress into the logical phase of their decision making. Still, the most important factors are brand and make, followed closely by model, the model version, and driving performance. Deals, dealers, and finance options rank last when it comes to influencing a car buying decision. This goes to show that emotions tied to the brand are still injected into the start of the shopping experience.

As those feelings slowly fade out, logos commences and the buyer starts to focus on fact-finding than emotional response.

logos in the car buying experience

During this phase, the car buyer starts to passively kick the tires considering whether or not he can actually buy the car he’s longed for his whole life. It’s during this time, while the feelings are still warm, that he tries to decide if this car is still relevant. He’s shifting out of his limbic system and moving into logical mode in his neocortex considering the implications of the new purchase.

As he kicks the tires, he likely turns to the Internet to whet his appetite for a new BMW. According to AutoTrader:

Car buyers typically spend 59% of their journey researching options online. During that time online, 71% of users access websites via a mobile device, and the majority of car buyers even said that they preferred to use a mobile device to book a test drive.

Starting to believe that a new car is relevant to his life, he’s moving fully into the present leaving the past behind. It’s here that he engages in deeper logos research.

car buying research

While conducting logical research, the buyer shifts into exploring specific details and comparing preferred models against each other. What are the features? Will the expectations fit his personal needs? What else is out there now?

It’s in this stage that he’s thinking in the present but starting to speculate on what the future could hold if he bought the car. The brain is being driven by the neocortex as he explores reviews and ratings for the preferred car models. Google found that:

During logical research, a car-buying journey can include over 900 digital touchpoints alone over a 3-month period. For 78% of car buyers, these digital touchpoints happen on 3rd party websites.

Usually, it’s the Millennial car buyers that end up taking longer to maneuver their way through this logical thinking than their Baby Boomer counterparts. That’s because Millennial car shopping habits are different than the generations that came before them. This younger cohort spends an average of 16.9 weeks for Millennials versus 15.7 weeks for the older generation. That’s because almost three-quarters of Millennials indicate that style and car features, especially technology-based features, are critically important.

During this comparison stage, the buyer maintains confidence in the brand. Now, he’s starting to let his cognitive associations creep into the picture as he looks at where to buy.

car buying path to purchase

The buyer’s nearing the end of his journey, so now it’s time to decide where to buy his chosen car. He’s sifting through prices and purchase locations and deciding where to take his test drive. Although he’s still making present-time, logic-based decisions, the buyer is trying to reconcile his past experiences with the dealership and future experiences with the car. One is deeply emotional and positive, while the other is filled with anxiety and mistrust.

Going to a dealership continues to be one of the least enjoyable parts of the car buying experience. Research shows that one of the factors impacting customer satisfaction with the car buying process is locating a dealer. Getting dealer information is the least favorite activity during the car buying experience, preceded by researching the car, finding cars listed for sale, comparing models, and finding out what their current car is worth.

Still, going to the dealer is usually necessary to get the car, so as the search has narrowed, the buyer enters the stage where he’s ready to start discerning his considerations.

cognitive associations of car buying

Once he’s taken mental ownership of the car, the buyer starts envisioning his future with the vehicle. He thinks about what his friends will think, what color will suit him best, and how he’ll be able to use it differently than he can now with his current car. It’s at this stage that he’ll decide to buy, but then get met with another challenge in his journey—stepping foot on a dealer’s lost.

He knows he trusts the brand, but how does he know he can trust the dealership? Incadea learned:

52% of Americans feel anxious or uncomfortable at a dealership, and even more Americans feel taken advantage of at the car dealership.

He’s not alone in his distrust, and it’s now that ethos enters the equation as he decides which seller is most credible. Part of making that decision involves looking at and talking about price. It’s in this negotiation mode that he learns more about the actual cost of the car and starts moving back and forth between present and future thinking. Will the cost today provide the type of value he’s anticipating down the road?

Ultimately, once a deal is reached, he’s worked out the cost of the taxes and title fees, and made his purchase, he’ll drive away feeling emotional overload from the overall experience.

car buying experience

His limbic system is firing off at all cylinders as hormones are shot off in his brain. There was adrenaline leading up to the purchase as he considered whether he’d really go through with the deal. There’s dopamine as he revs his new engine. There’s serotonin lifting his mood and bringing him excitement and happiness. There are endorphins triggering euphoria over the purchase, and more adrenaline as he considers whether he has buyer’s remorse or buyer’s contentment. The past, present, and future he tapped into when making his purchase decision get reconciled as he drives away from this purchase experience.

The emotional to logical responses both psychologically and physiologically in this scenario isn’t uncommon. They can be seen throughout any path-to-purchase. It’s the natural progression that we, as humans, take to just about everything we buy, and it’s why 54% of consumers said they would buy from a dealership that offers a preferred experience, even if they didn’t offer the lowest price. 72% of buyers also said that they’d be more likely to visit the dealership if the buying process was improved.

Now although I have grossly oversimplified a complex brain process, can you start to see why knowing this basic level of emotive and logical processing detail about your buyer is critical? But it’s not just customers that you have to understand. In order to operate out of a place of empathy, you need a 360-degree view of your customers and your employees

Creating Intelligent Experiences Based on a 360-Degree View

In a recent effort to find the best marketing growth strategies, Google learned that:

61% of consumers expect brands to tailor their experiences based on their preferences.

This demand for personalization is where the StoryVesting framework is critical. Fortunately, information from internal data sources and Data as a Service (DaaS) providers have empowered brands to achieve this personalization by getting a 360-degree view of target buyers and their path-to-purchase. Through that clarity, brands can further align their offerings with what the market demands, continually evolving and innovating to deliver exceptional experiences.

360 degree view

A 360-degree view of the buyer’s path-to-purchase is the basis for shaping these new experiences. Take a look at what this perspective is doing for leading retailers. Leading businesses are now using showrooms to save brick and mortar shopping and simultaneously manage the buyer’s experience. Here’s what it looks like in action.

Most brick-and-mortar clothing stores people shop in today have stacks of clothes on the shelves where buyers can pick a color and size, try it on, and hopefully buy. But that’s all changing. Retail stores are now removing products for purchase and instead transforming into showrooms or “guide shops.” Instead of putting all of the products on the store’s shelves, they’ve recreated the shopping experience entirely.

“In 2018, retailers will invest more resources in experiential shopping, with the understanding that the role of stores is shifting away from pure product distribution, to a much more experience-centric model.” Marc Gingras, CEO, Foko Retail.

One retailer living the experience-centric model is MM.LaFleur, a high-end clothing store. The retailer originally set up shop online but has since opened up five brick-and-mortar locations in New York. Instead of putting inventory on shelves, they hide it. When a customer leaves the elevator and enters their Suite they are met with a glass of champagne and a personal shopper who knows their name. The shopper then taps into the customer data available, such as digital reviews, shopping cart activity, and in-store activity, and through a proprietary algorithm, decides which clothes to pull for that specific shopper. While in store, the buyer is then able to try on garments and touch the fabric—something they couldn’t do in the online channel. Once they’ve decided what to buy, the products are shipped to their house a few days later. This specific retail experience is so powerful that it was addressed in Kleiner Perkin’s 2017 Internet Trends Report.

mm lafleur personalized services

Notice here that it’s all about customer engagement, which happens through algorithmic optimization and human touch. It’s humanizing journey analytics and using those insights to create exceptional experiences by weaving together all of the layers of StoryVesting.

Aligning the Concentric Circles to Create a Customer-Centric Business Framework

Consider what a perfectly StoryVested company would look like when everything worked together in harmony. The purpose of the company would tug a deep-rooted emotional heartstring in the customer. As they moved throughout their experience with the brand, the business model would serve their needs, the people would answer the logical concerns of the user with platforms and processes that left them satisfied. The product would be delivered and met with overwhelming confidence and excitement, stirring up hopeful feelings for the future. All in all, this alignment would lead to one thing—euphoria.

In developing the StoryVesting framework, I knew I had to showcase the importance of achieving that euphoria by aligning the emotional and logical triggers of consumers with the business’s framework. To do this visually, I decided to augment the Venn-diagram with concentric layers within the circle and then showcase what I learned through all of my research and active testing in behavioral modelling.

brand alignment storyvesting framework

When the circles drift further apart, you head into what I call No Man’s Land, or where there’s limited to no connection between the market and the business. The brand loses brand equity and starts to become irrelevant. On the other end of the spectrum, when you bring the two circles (i.e. deepen the cognitive associations) closer together, you achieve what I deem Brand Euphoria. It’s here where consumers have deep-rooted cognitive associations, your business “why” aligns to their beliefs and needs and they are not just happy to spread the word about your business because they feel immersed in your company culture, they become a part of your culture. Case in point: If you’ve ever met a die-hard prototypical Harley Davison or Apple fan, you’ll know what I mean.

The middle of the road here is what I deem “Excellent” range and I’d say that most companies should strive to achieve this level of excellence and maintain that core brand position at all costs. Having said this, Excellence is good, but it’s not what will drive the kind of Amazonesque transformative growth that will set you apart from the competition. But that’s okay, most won’t.

As we enter a new era of personalization and hyper-connected customer experiences, brand euphoria style alignment becomes even more critical than before. According to Accenture:

81% of customers want personalized experiences and 77% of businesses believe real-time personalization is crucial, yet 60% of companies still struggle to personalize content in real time.

Despite knowing the importance of personalized experiences, many American companies fail to deliver on what the consumer demands. Check out this staggering find from Forrester’s US Customer Experience Index for 2018 that showed businesses are continuously delivering mediocre experiences. In this report, 287 brands across 19 industries are ranked. This year, the report found that there are no clear CX leaders among US brands for the third year in a row.

cx leaders

To come up with these findings, Forrester measures how well the brand’s CX initiatives strengthen their base of loyal customers. What’s notable in this specific chart is the increase in the number of OK, or Mediocre, business experiences and the decrease in the number of Good business experiences. But perhaps more glaring is the 0% of businesses surveyed that ranked as Excellent in customer experience. There are no leaders in the CX market, which means, there’s an incredible opportunity for businesses to up the ante. How? Forrester claims it’s through emotion.

Remember the rhetorical triangle component, pathos, or emotional appeal? In order for brands to break away and align better with the buyer, they have to tap into that emotion. Forrester found that:

Elite brands provide an average of 22 emotionally positive experiences for each negative experience.

Emotional connections are more powerful than many give credence to but this type of experience deserves recognition. A Harvard Business Review study found that an emotional connection matters more than customer satisfaction. In this study, one retailer they followed increased customer advocacy by 6% and reduced attrition rate by 4% simply by increasing the number of emotionally connected customers. That resulted in an over 50% increase in same-store-sales growth.

Once those emotional needs are addressed, brands must then shift and use logos and ethos to answer the customer’s logical questions and search for credibility in the brand. By layering these critical aspects on top of each other, businesses are able to achieve powerful growth rooted in exceptional experiences both internally and externally.

Putting This Intelligent Framework to Use

A proper framework should be simple to take in on the surface so everyone can understand it with clarity. But, that simplicity shouldn’t steal from its overall depth. With StoryVesting, as you start uncovering the layers, you’ll quickly see it’s a framework strong enough to sustain multiple nuances across organizational growth, teams, and alignment. Let me show you just a few of the ways you can insert the intelligent StoryVesting framework into your business.

Business Transformation Starts With Insights Gained From Data; Not Marketing Spin

I talk to too many smart professionals that point the finger square in the face of the marketing team when it comes to growth, and many are surprised when I shake my head no. That’s because marketing isn’t where you start if you want your business to transform. Contrary to popular belief, marketing essentially tells the “why” of the business in the best possible ways in the best possible places. In other words, everyone in the business is essentially in marketing. Sublime external brand experiences, however, are driven by the interwoven connectedness of the teams and modern growth marketers or experience advocates are usually the ones armed with data to bridge the Customer Experience gaps.

You can’t throw your ideas out into the wild until you have strong leadership and a clear strategic approach for how to implement, operationalize, and deploy your ideas over various methodologies and modalities. The modality you choose, whether it’s lean, agile, or something else, needs to be reflective of the people who are going through it. If you have people who don’t want to operate in that regard, the first thing you need to focus on is either skilling them up or giving them the right resources to grow. This approach requires having the right people on your team. Only then can you refine your processes because those people are going to naturally fine-tune the processes to their own needs.

Regardless of how much executives and directors push, employees have to buy in for the changes to work.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at a brief history of Dropbox, the file storage and collaboration app that’s beaten out so many competitors over the years.

  • Dropbox was founded in 2007 with a goal to give users the ability to sync desktop files with the web, providing easy access to their files anywhere.
  • After getting $1.2 million in seed money from Sequoia, the company went into development mode.
  • By 2009 it had over 1 million users.
  • By 2012, it reached 100 million users and a year later, Dropbox doubled to 200 million users.

This steep and rapid growth didn’t happen with marketing alone.

In the beginning, Dropbox was a minimum viable product, which worked well as an initial solution to test the market and learn specifically what consumers demanded. As they gathered data and learned from customer feedback, they began their process of scaling through steady, strategic iterations.

From day one, the Dropbox founders and their team were in constant communication with their end user, their customer, to engage them in the product development process. When they got a response, they quickly implemented a change and put it into the customer’s hands, earning customer loyalty. But the developers were met with two kinds of feedback—bug fixes and new feature ideas. They had to quickly sift through both types of changes and decide where they were going to spend their valuable time. It was important the founders’ quickly and strategically figured out which levers to push, and which to pull in order to achieve growth and scale.

With a framework rooted in business modeling and outward progression, like StoryVesting, companies have a strategic plan for when to pivot once those strategic inflection points hit, says @BuckleyBarlow

The company was founded 11 years ago, and in March of this year, Dropbox had a valuation of $9 billion. Now that’s growth I can get behind. The founders clearly knew what they were doing.

As you can see from Dropbox’s quick and disruptive growth, the strategic drivers weren’t getting pushed and pulled in only the marketing department—the transformation came deep from internal operations starting with an incredible product, building to an incredible product experience and crescendoing to an innovative and amazing word of mouth referral marketing engine.

The company continually powered through strategic inflection points by using an approach called data looping to uncover the most critical needs in the market and sequential steps to outclass and outperform any competitors.

The Data Looping Process

toryvesting data looping

Data looping consists of eight stages, the first of which is collecting data. That’s the job of the marketing department, along with the customer support department and UX/UI teams. Then, that data gets back to the data science teams to aggregate and mine for insights. Once they have those insights down, they send their findings over to the business intelligence team to model the IRR on the investment and give executives confidence levels and probability success factors to help with decision making. Then, executives map that information and make intelligent decisions on when to do a market rollout, what it’ll cost to code or produce something, and what the market plan looks like. Those plans are then able to be turned into a business impact roadmap and taken to the board to showcase what’s needed to transform, how it will be rolled out, how much it will cost, how long it will take, the departments and people needed to execute on it and when to get started.  If you’re not an enterprise, you still do all of this work it’s just that you’re wearing many hats.

For anyone who’s been involved in a complex initiative, it takes a healthy amount of analytical rigor to understand when and how to transform your business. Having a solid framework steeped in intelligence helps guide that transformation and spur upward growth, but it’s the people on board that make that transformation come to life. Having the right people, a hybrid team of people is the key.

Hybrid Teams Transform Businesses From the Inside Out

The StoryVesting framework is strong enough to take any kind of initiative, including development operations, growth marketing, customer experience initiatives—everything. That’s because it’s rooted in customer centrism and founded on empathy. But before you can even begin to be empathetic, you have to have people who are vested in your company’s story. That starts with having the right team.

Too often, people credit the company itself for success. They credit the product or the channels on which it’s delivered. While it can be true that having a stellar product can transform growth, more often than not, it’s the people who show up every day and pour their heart and soul into the work that spurs growth.

Do you have these people in your business? They are vested in your business’s why and passionate about your story. They are masterful and eager to learn, especially when it comes to collaborating across departments and skill sets.

Take a look at what a modern marketing team looks like as an example. Here, you have a developer, a graphic designer, a strategist, a content writer, a content marketer, a data researcher, and more. These people are all V-Shaped, which means they specialize in one area but also have a healthy amount of knowledge in another. Here’s an example of what it looks like for a team member specializing in SEO.

v shaped marketing team

You can see here that this person still has a healthy amount of knowledge in other core areas, including content, social media, community, advertising, conversion, UX/UI, video, and display. This approach makes a V-shaped team agile. They can shift from one strategy to another as the market deems necessary, enabling the business to pivot more quickly too.

Take a look at another department often found in Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses—development operations. In this department, you have front end, back end, system architects, data architects, a development operations manager who interfaces with a programmatic data architect and looks closely at the front end GUI, UX/UI, a strategist, and executive leadership. The list goes on.

These types of teams are the way companies have to interact today to maintain business speed and momentum. It used to be so different in the fact that everyone was compartmentalized and siloed, but today, you cannot possibly operate in an empathetic and customer-centric viewpoint without speaking a common language. That common language is the StoryVesting framework.

Start to look at how to change up processes and align departments across the organization through the lens of StoryVesting and the entire end-to-end customer journey. In doing so, you’ll quickly become a healthy, competitive business in a very rapidly shifting technological digital world. That strategic, swift ability to pivot is the key, not just to business transformation, but to run an agile operation using StoryVesting.

Running an Agile Operation Takes an Intelligent Framework With Data Visualization to Support It

The very nature and survival of most businesses out there today depend on the ability to deliver a positive experience. Without making quick changes, your business just won’t grow, especially as more big players surge ahead and disruptors enter the market. The challenge is, you have to make these adjustments to the negative experiences at a rapid clip if you want to keep pace with today’s market. That means, you have to run an agile operation, which is hard to do, especially for legacy businesses.

For legacy businesses, inflection points pose a tremendous challenge. If you’re at the helm of this Titanic and want to continue to move forward above water, you must make a swift shift in strategy. Without a framework to follow as you make these quick, strategic decisions, you’ll just end up shuffling chairs hoping you don’t sink.

The dual perspective of the horizontal and vertical view I talked about above is powerful because it enables you to hone in very quickly on specific departments that are contributing to the negative experience. At a glance, you’re able to see who’s involved, so you can dig deeper to uncover what’s going wrong. Is it a platform issue? Is it a process issue? Is it a people issue? With a detailed overview, you can see what’s going on and compare that issue to your convergence divergence bands, your customer and employee empathy map radar graphs (like the ones you see below), and a slew of other data points.

data driven empathy mapping

Those data points are an excellent start, but I’m a data junkie, as you might remember, so I like to go even deeper to help the businesses we work with make smart, strategic decisions very quickly. To do this, my team and I run a digital maturity model to grade whether a business is leading or lagging in the market. The scale looks like this.

Digital Maturity Model - Where does your company fail?

From there, we can start to determine where we’re lagging and where we’re leading. Let’s say, for the sake of an example that the company we’re working with is leading in their story, product, and channel management, but lagging with consistently low scores in the 3 Ps. In this case, we’d work with a third-party company to run an unbiased report and uncover more detail about what’s happening internally and then use dimension scoring to get acute detail about what’s going on.

Dimension scoring is a calculated way to break down the core areas of StoryVesting and hone in on where your business is achieving excellence, and where you’re failing. Each of these areas corresponds with a specific segment of the StoryVesting framework, and then drills down into the various components that correspond with that area. Each component is then graded based on numerous qualifiers.

dimensions graphic for the storyvesting framework

In this sample dimension scoring graphic, you can see that each segment has a corresponding color. As the circles move outward, they have a number alongside it that signals how many qualifiers go into that specific area.

We use this type of data visualization because it allows us to dissect smaller areas of the business to get comprehensive insights. We can see at a glance where we’re struggling and where we need to drill deeper to improve. The further we drill into the qualifiers used to create the score, the better we can hone in on what needs tweaking and adjusting, and where we need to pivot.

Data visualization like this is the easiest and quickest way to present large amounts of data so decision-makers can make informed and insightful strategic decisions. As you get a grip on what’s happening very quickly you can make smarter, faster decisions that are still based on heavy, detailed amounts of data and rooted in this intelligent framework.

How We Use StoryVesting to Make Intelligent Improvements to Our 3 Ps

Let’s take a quick look at what we have done RocketSource and how we quickly found a way to specifically improve on our 3Ps. It was a powerful shift but one that’s helped us move with steam in our engines but without falling off the framework’s tracks. Here’s how we’re running a more agile operation based on what we found by doing our own internal analysis.

At RocketSource, specifically for our growth team, we live in our project management system, Monday.com, on a daily basis. It’s how we’re able to see what each member of our team is working on and the status of the project or task at hand. We get really granular with it so there’s full transparency about what’s happening and what’s progressing. If something needs to pivot to keep in line with an overarching strategy, the entire team can very quickly see why the pivot is happening and move to stay on course for our end goal.

Keeping our DevOps projects on schedule has become leaps and bounds easier and more effective with the StoryVesting framework in place. – Jonathan Greene, @RocketSource

We take this a step further with daily updates to the team and conversations around the clock by using an app we love called Voxer. On Voxer, we’re able to send quick daily recaps with what’s happened, so we know what’s been done, where people are stuck, and where we’re heading going into the next day. It might sound like micromanaging but it’s actually saving us hours upon hours by eliminating the need for many small meetings—and we’re not the only ones who can benefit from hours saved in meetings. Just take a look at this company that spent 300,000 hours in pointless meetings in one year. Daily check-ins save time and they feel good, allowing each team member to give each other a pat on the back for hard work.

We also use Slack for quick updates throughout the day. Slack is basically a chat app that lets us share screens, interface across the office or across state lines, and share files or links. We’re research and data junkies around here, so we’ve created specific channels where we share links and store data points to reference later. We use it to quickly check in with each other and continue moving quickly, with momentum.

The Many Uses of the StoryVesting Framework

I appreciate the fact that you’ve devoted the past 45-minutes to reading this elaborate story about the StoryVesting framework and how it came to life. Kudos to you for wanting to transform, not only your business but also yourself. This stuff isn’t easy. I get it! I’ve devoted 20 years to extract it and I’m excited to be able to share it with you here.

At this point, you’re probably wondering whether you can use it in your career. The answer, without me knowing your role or responsibilities, is yes. Without hesitation, yes.

StoryVesting is designed to bring operational alignment. Here are just nine areas where StoryVesting can make a massive difference.

  • Digital Transformation
    • Customer-centric decision making.
    • Guided business evolution.
    • Intelligent business reform.
  • User Experience (UX)
    • Develop user experiences steeped in behavioral economics.
    • Respond and interact with customers in real-time, reducing churn.
    • Reduce developmental costs through refined usability testing.
  • IT/Infrastructure
    • Adopt platforms that encourage productivity among your team.
    • Transition users from brick-to-click or click-to-brick experiences.
    • Refine cross-department collaboration and streamline processes using technology.
  • Modernization
    • Gain a deeper understanding of modern consumer behavior.
    • Adaptation of relevant platforms for today’s buyer.
    • Build trust by developing more personalized experiences.
  • Customer Experience (CX)
    • Close the gap between the business and customer why.
    • Empower employees to operate with a customer-centric mentality.
    • Democratize data for organizational alignment toward better CX.
  • Employee and Social Satisfaction Initiatives
    • Gain team buy-in for new satisfaction initiatives.
    • Harness cognitive psychology of the social sphere.
    • Use socioeconomics to drive growth internally and externally.
  • Growth
    • Move upward out of strategic inflection points.
    • Become a team of tacticians instead of tactic chasers.
    • Improve customer retention.
  • Agile/Lean
    • Rapid deployment of data actionable processes for fast-movement across departmental silos.
    • Leverage a lean operation through insights-centric strategies.
    • Harness more market share through quick-moving, intelligent operations.
  • Win/Loss Initiatives
    • Uncover the root cause of conversions.
    • Find friction points in the customer’s journey.
    • Intelligent data mapping to uncover areas of opportunity.

Each of these are core areas that see a direct benefit when the StoryVesting framework is put to use. Take a close look. These departments and roles each have a different mission in mind. UX/UI people are focused on creating a sublime experience for the end-user, while those who are tasked with win/loss initiatives are looking more closely at how to get more conversions. There’s distinct overlap, and yet these two departments still struggle to align.

Let’s make this framework actionable by drilling down to how this is used for organizational alignment and CX initiatives.

The Importance of Taking a Vertical and Horizontal View of Your Customer Journey Analytics

StoryVesting is all about creating a well-oiled machine by operationalizing a team of hybrid employees in an agile organization through a customer-centric mindset. It’s not a linear, set-it-and-forget-it approach. It requires that you continually iterate by taking an empathetic stance for both for the customer and for your employees. To do that requires data.

Now, I want to clarify something here that’s often misunderstood. Just because you have data doesn’t mean you’re analyzing it and putting it into motion. An Accenture study found that:

80% of organizations are sitting on unstructured or inaccessible data, such as pictures, videos, social media feeds, and more. And yet, despite having all of this data, 51% of businesses say that an organization’s interest in and ability to make data-driven decisions would have a major impact on the business’s success.

Data is valuable, but it goes far beyond measuring the information that’s coming into your organization.

Measurement is just about measuring what’s working and what isn’t. These metrics offer a black-and-white picture of how your business is faring in the market.

Analytics is where having data transforms the business. Analytics enables companies to uncover opportunities and instances where things can absolutely be changed for the better. For example, many companies buy Qualtrics or Merit CX to gather data to get more metrics about what’s happening in an effort to clear things up and pull out more insights.

Although these tools are valuable for capturing the data, they’re not designed to analyze the findings and convert data into actionable steps within your framework. What happens more often than not is that there is a firehose full of information spraying into the organization and no one knows how to handle it all. There’s no framework around the analytical rigor needed to support these efforts, so instead, businesses end up making decisions based on opinion instead of fact, wasting time without withdrawing new money-making opportunities.

Armed with data, you can chisel away brick-by-brick at silo walls that tend to pop up when people argue based on guesswork alone.

Instead, by using data looping and feedback mechanisms to analyze the information available, you can gain buy-in by democratizing the data. What does democratizing mean exactly? It means visualizing the data in a way that tells a story across all departments, so everyone can speak the same language and move forward together as a cohesive unit driven toward the same goal.

One of the best ways we’ve found to dig into the rich insights data affords us, and develop a stronger brand experience (BX) and customer experience (CX), is by mapping the data to the customer’s journey. We’ve taken the traditional customer journey map a step further with our customer insights map (CIM) by applying data to an otherwise general overview of the buyer’s experience.

Analyzing the Customer Insights Map

The customer journey map is often looked at in the same fashion as we’d read a book—from left to right. You look from the start of the customer’s journey, in the awareness stage, and move through step-by-step as they reach the end of their journey with that particular purchase. In doing this, you ideally can see where things are going smoothly and where there’s friction that could cause people to choose a competitor.

Here’s an example of part of a CIM based on a car buying experience.

customer insights map

In this snippet, you’re looking specifically at the Consideration stage of the customer’s journey. Here, we start by breaking out what the customer is likely thinking, feeling, saying and doing at this stage. Below that, we outline the various touchpoints a customer is going through on their journey, and then apply data to each of those touchpoints by mapping out key metrics like the employee satisfaction scores (ESAT) and the customer’s satisfaction scores (CSAT) along the way. Then, we analyze which departments are playing a role in each touchpoint, and the platforms being used at that specific stage of the journey.

Without mapping ESAT and CSAT, for example, and then running those insights through a framework to guide your analysis, it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed. Opportunities get overlooked and money gets wasted because you’re unable to find insights that solve complex problems or action items to push the business upward.

So, how do you go about extracting data? It involves taking a horizontal and vertical view while analyzing this data.

The Horizontal View

The horizontal view of the CIM brings the buyer’s path-to-purchase into focus across his or her entire journey. It outlines the transition a buyer takes from feeling those emotional triggers which stem from the past and pull from the limbic system to entering the present day with logical thinking and all the way through the future of the emotional-logical triggers that happen as a result of a purchase.

customer insights map horizontal view

It’s important to map these out because everyone, regardless of department, gains a deeper understanding of what’s happening at the customer level. You’re able to see the customer’s journey in one place, and in doing so, you can ultimately help shape how each team player approaches his or her role in the company.

Want to bring your customer journey analytics to a new level? Take a look at our customer insights map. @BuckleyBarlow and I created this map based on the StoryVesting framework, and it’s had a tremendous impact on UX/UI and boosting conversions. – Steve Kiger

At RocketSource, we take every employee through StoryVesting to aid in their understanding of how they influence the customer’s journey. As they get familiar with the customer’s journey and can see the non-refutable data outlining what’s happening, two things happen:

  • They feel more empowered to make recommendations that will improve the overall experience, helping us continually innovate and improve;
  • They become more vested in their work because they can see the value they deliver to the company and to the end customer.

By sharing this CIM and teaching the framework to everyone throughout our organization, we empower each of our employees. If they notice there’s a steep decline in customer satisfaction during the Awareness stage of the journey, they can make suggestions to improve that area, and ultimately fuel growth overall. Granted, I’m simplifying a complex process for the sake of trying to finalize a blog post which is already way too long, but in reality, we track well over 20 datasets and combine them into our Customer Insights Map.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car is one company that experienced the impact of employee empowerment. In the early 1990’s, the “We’ll pick you up” slogan for Enterprise Rent-A-Car came from an employee in their management training program—not a high-level executive or outside advertising agency. This employee noticed that customers were struggling to find a ride into their stores to get their rental vehicles. So, that person made a suggestion to corporate and their entire strategy shifted.

It was right around that same time that their revenue saw the start of a steep increase moving from $3 Billion in 1994 to over $19 Billion 20 years later. That’s because the team at the car rental company felt empowered to make recommendations that would further the growth of the business.

When you and your team adopt a horizontal view of the customer’s journey and look at it from start to finish, you’re able to hone in on instances like these where you can improve the experience. This employee took notice of the hassle to get into the rental car shop up front, and because of the recommendation, the company was able to introduce a service and gain more market share from their competition.

But at RocketSource, we dig deeper than looking at the customer’s journey alone. Our CIM is powerful because it doesn’t just offer insights based on looking at the path-to-purchase, but also in looking vertically at what’s happening internally throughout the experience.

The Vertical View

As an executive, I want to see a snapshot in time on the path-to-purchase and know very quickly who’s responsible for each stage of the journey and which departments are either failing or succeeding. When I’m able to sync those up across the employee and customer satisfaction scores, I’m better able to see how our people are impacting our brand experience (BX) overall. To do this, I shift my gaze at the CIM and look vertically instead of horizontally.

On the CIM, we map out the various stages of the path-to-purchase letting you see very quickly where there are gaps in employee and customer experience, which departments are failing at converting the customer, and where you can make operational shifts to improve the experience overall.

When I compare and contrast these two scores I can see very quickly where we’re hitting the mark and where we’re missing it. What I’m looking for here is convergence and divergence along this line and the subsequent departments and platforms associated with each.

vertical view of the customer insights map

Let’s look again at the example of the CIM for a car buyer but this time look vertically. As you can see here, there’s a convergence of the lines between the Google search and Instagram touch points. Here, both cohorts of people are happy, things are good.

But look at the last touch point in this part of the customer’s journey—the dealer visit. Remember earlier when we showed the inherent distrust in dealerships? That’s apparent here. There’s a wide gap between the ESAT and the CSAT. Employees seem happy when customers arrive on the lot, but customers are clearly not feeling that same sense of delight. Clearly, something’s amiss and deserves our attention if we want to win that sale.

In digging deeper, you can drill down to the departments that are responsible for the sale. In this case, it’s the sales team and the finance team. The platform the dealer uses is DealerCenter, which is a new software they just adopted as their CRM, inventory tracker, and finance manager.

When we look vertically, we can look for wide gaps between the two scores and then quantify those gaps on a scale from 0 to 100. As we quantify these data, we can quickly see where our investments pay off and where we’re missing the mark. For example, we can see here that the DealerCenter software investment is one that the employees love, which could be the reason for such a high ESAT score but we’re still off by 80% from the CSAT score, so we know that something’s wrong. Since that platform is only used by the back-office, you can determine that the low CSAT score is a result of something else, such as sales pressure from your team or the atmosphere of the dealership. This insight allows you to drill down further and make strategic improvements to close that gap.

When we quantify these scores and look at the CIM vertically at how our changes are impacting both our internal and external operations, we are better able to align our business with the customer’s path-to-purchase and push closer to reaching brand euphoria.

Change Agents, This Intelligent Framework Is For You

If you’ve read any of my past work, you know that I talk a lot about the 3 I’s as a means for getting out of an inflection point on the S Curve of Business—invent, innovate, and improve. StoryVesting is a framework rooted in customer-centric data and analytics that can help you identify the 3 I’s and areas of growth opportunity as you drive your organization upward.

But believe me when I say, I understand the complexity that goes along with wanting and needing to transform your business to keep pace with today’s fast market. This isn’t for the faint of heart. That’s why we get hired routinely to help assist in complex initiatives. Along with architecting and operationalizing complex initiatives for forward-thinking clients, we also serve up masterclass workshops that teach teams how to bring this hard work and framework to life. These classes are for the change agents and forward thinkers who can’t wait to dig in their heels and push upward during those inflection points.

  • If you’re a C-Suite executive running a lean operation but want to become more agile to keep pace with today’s market, this is for you.
  • If you’re a forward thinker ready to advance your skill set while growing your organization, this is for you.
  • If you’re a thought leader ready to garner more attention out in the wild, this is for you
  • If you’re a data and analytics specialist looking for ways to better communicate your insights to your executive team and board, this is for you
  • If you’re a growth engineer eager to find new ways to spur your organization out of those strategic inflection points, this is for you.

We’ve gone through industrial revolutions thanks to data and machinery. Now, we’re in a new technical innovation era with artificial intelligence and machine learning taking root. But you cannot harness the power behind these technological advancements without data, and you certainly cannot build humanized experiences without realizing that empathy is present.

It’s so easy to get lost in tactics. The key is to focus on strategic work that tacticians do and ensure those strategies flow. I lightheartedly refer to this as “strategactics” but there’s real power and meaning behind that word. It’s how we transform tactic chasers into tacticians and create more agile teams. StoryVesting is the guardrail as businesses surge forward using data-centric insights to innovate, transform, modernize or even pivot on a dime.

Want to Go to the Next Level? Here’s Your Chance.

The industry is transforming quickly and you deserve to keep up with it. That starts by continuing your learning and deepening your knowledge of the growth opportunities that lie in StoryVesting. We’d love to be your guide as you dig into this and learn more about what’s possible.

Request more information on one of our LevelNext MasterClass Workshops on Modern Business Transformation, where you’ll learn foundational and relevant skills that will empower you to become a leader in your team and organization. Want to get moving right away? Sign up for Digital Dominance, a complimentary monthly primer on modern business transformation and experience initiatives.

Written by Buckley Barlow

Buckley Barlow

Founding partner of RocketSource. Author of The Growth Code and StoryVesting. I live at the digital intersection of strategy, tech, creative and data. I roll up my sleeves with some of the most forward-thinking teams in the world to help them deliver best-in-class brand outcomes.

Downloads and Resources

The StoryVesting Framework

The Importance of Alignment

StoryVesting Research and Methodology

StoryVesting Methodology complete black

The Layers of a Brand Experience Framework

The Layers of a Brand Experience Framework

The Layers of the Path-to-Purchase

The Layers of the Path-to-Purchase

The Buyer's Journey

car buying journey touchpoints

Transformation Within a Framework

car buying journey visits

Rating an Organization's Dimensions

360˚ Cognitive View

360 degree view

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