"Storytelling" has become such a hot topic that it's almost a buzzword, except that the term still has meaning. The definition of storytelling, though, encompasses much more than text—it's about customer experience, "micro-moments," and the sharing of meaningful stories using all sorts of formats.

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Brand storytelling can present unique challenges. As marketers, we must have a purpose for every piece of content we create, but not every piece of content should overtly sell. Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio urge marketers to prioritize emotional connections with customers, to be in the moment, and to use relevant stories to inspire people to take action.

Ekaterina Walter has led strategic and marketing innovation for brands such as Intel and Accenture, and she co-founded a startup that was acquired by Sprinklr, a customer experience management platform. She is an international speaker and author of the WSJ bestseller Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook's Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Jessica Gioglio has helped to drive growth and customer engagement for leading companies, including Sprinklr, Dunkin' Donuts, and TripAdvisor. She and Ekaterina co-wrote the book The Power of Visual Storytelling: How to Use Visuals, Videos, and Social Media to Market Your Brand.

I invited the dynamic duo back to Marketing Smarts to share insights from their latest book, The Laws of Brand Storytelling:Win―and Keep―Your Customers' Hearts and Minds.

Here are just a few highlights from my conversation with Ekaterina and Jessica:

The term "storytelling" encompasses your entire brand experience  (02:57) [Ekaterina]: "Storytelling is equated a lot of times with a marketing message, with a marketing campaign, with every angle of marketing execution. Jessica and I firmly believe that's the wrong way to look at it. Yes, there's an angle there for marketers to come in and tell the story well, but there's so much more behind storytelling.

"The way we see storytelling evolving is, it used to be just a function of direct communication. We thought 'storytelling' was direct mailing or a commercial that's on TV that's specifically targeting whatever product you're selling. Then storytelling evolved a little bit with the rise of social; we were saying 'storytelling is how you engage with your audiences,' which is correct, but it's not a complete definition.

"What storytelling is now is making sure that the experience with your brand at every single touchpoint is excellent, and that includes everybody—Sales, Customer Care, HR, PR, the list goes on. When people form, in their mind, a perception of your brand, they form it based on all the experiences they have with you. So when we look at the definition of storytelling, we talk about the fact that everything—including your packaging, your online and offline activities, and touchpoints—everything needs to really come up and be consistent with the bigger story you're telling."

Storytelling involves every department (not just Marketing) (05:48) [Jessica]: "I've worked in-house at companies like Dunkin' Donuts, where I sat in the marketing department and the public relations department, but we were thinking across customer touchpoints and how that would provide a better customer experience. Looking at how we can tell our story through different channels, whether it's human resources or our policy on the suppliers that we use, making sure we provide best-in-class ingredients that go into the products.

"That was a key inspiration for writing this book: We've seen this shift personally in the work we've done and with the companies we've advised and with the leaders we've interviewed for this book. That's where storytelling needs to go to really resonate."

To ensure a consistent brand experience, train your team so everyone understands your purpose (12:27) [Ekaterina]: "People think this is the least sexy thing that you can do. Everybody wants to go create something new and interesting, but what we forget in our drive to be innovative and take credit for cool ideas is that you have to bring the company along.

"What I've done at Intel and other companies...is building a structure on how you teach people and how you connect the dots and break the silos. When  you have a certain approach that you want to look at, you start with bringing the company together. That's the biggest issue that large companies have and small businesses don't, because they have silos. They only care about their own stuff,

"What that translates to if you flip it over to a customer perspective is a lot of uncoordinated messaging. Your messaging might be amazing, but your customer service sucks, or there is no connection in between. You really represent your company and your brand in a way that is confusing to your customer. You need to take a backwards approach. A lot of people building their digital transformation and bringing storytelling is bringing in training for the whole company...some of it mandatory, to really scale the understanding and philosophy across the board."

For more information, visit EkaterinaWalter.com, or follow Ekaterina on Twitter: @ekaterina, and check out JessicaGioglio.com and follow her on Twitter at @savvybostonian.

Ekaterina, Jessica, and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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