Companies are very adept at promoting their products and pushing their content, but they’re terrible at asking questions. Curiosity is a lost art in our age of broadcast marketing.
But simply being curious can shift the brand experience. Ask your customers a question or two, and encourage them to share their story.
Karen Flavelle is the CEO of Purdy’s Chocolates, and she encourages her staff to ask questions. She explains, “You can’t tell a client what to do with the chocolates, but you can ask them where the box of chocolates is going.”
The simple act of asking for a story elevates the brand, because stories create meaning and increase awareness.
Find a shared experience
I experienced what Karen was talking about when I visited the Purdy’s store in Toronto’s Union Station. I popped in at 5:30 on a Friday afternoon when I had 20 minutes to spare before my train arrived.
I ordered a small assortment of chocolates, and part way through my order the sales associate, Nora, asked me if I had a favorite. It was an unexpected question in the hustle and bustle of the rush hour crush. I told her I liked them all, but I tended to lean more towards dark chocolates.
Nora took a genuine interest. She asked if I’d tried their dark chocolate bars yet. I hadn’t. She offered me samples of two dark chocolates, one from Peru and another from Ecuador. I was surprised. They were very different.
Nora’s question of preference led to an experience. The Peruvian was bright and fruity, and I thought it tasted a bit like cherries. The Ecuadorian was rich and smooth, and had a coffee note to it.
Again, Nora asked which one I preferred. I said I liked the brightness of the Peruvian. She shared that their customers are almost split in preference. Half prefer the fruity notes of the Peruvian, and half like the rich, smooth flavors of the Ecuadorian. She was partial to the Ecuadorian.
It was a neat experience, and I bought one of each bar to bring home and share with my family. I wanted to introduce them to the tasting experience I just had, and see which one they preferred.
It’s not about you
Authentic curiosity is an anomaly. Consumers aren’t used to a sales clerk taking a moment to ask a personal question and have a genuine conversation. It immediately shifts the relationship.
“What’s your favorite?” or “where is the box of chocolates going?” are open ended questions. They don’t have an agenda. They just want to encourage people to share.
The questions encourage people to give a little of themselves and explain why they are buying a product. It encourages them to share and participate in the product, and take a little pride in their purchase.
Memories and Favourites
Purdy’s anchors their questions on two themes, memories and favourites.
Nora’s questioning focused on favourites. She had no idea how I would respond, but her curiosity led me in an unexpected direction.
Memories are another powerful storyline for Purdy’s. According to Karen Flavelle, 50% of their sales happen in a ten week period—between Christmas, New Years, Valentines and Easter.
Sharing a sweet for a birthday, anniversary or special occasion just makes sense. But asking for a story at the point of purchase shifts the experience. “Where are the chocolates going?” gets the customer to slow down and savor the moment.
Who are the chocolates for? What is the event? Why is it important?
In the rush to get things done, the reason for buying a gift can be lost. By asking a simple question and being genuinely curious in the answer enhances the customer experience. It helps them share why they’re taking time out of their busy day to make a purchase.
You can’t fake curiosity
Curiosity can’t be faked. Asking questions as part of a sales or service process is not curiosity, it’s a process. And customers can sense that behavior immediately.
Authentic curiosity is a gift. It’s refreshing to be asked a question, and know the other person is genuinely interested in your response. When that happens, you become open and willing to share a piece of yourself.
The marketing opportunity is to make space for open-ended questions. Purdy’s Chocolates teaches their staff that their brand is linked with two experiences, memories and favourites. And they foster curiosity by providing their staff the time and space to ask questions and engage their clients in a conversation. And those conversations make their brand sticky.
Asking someone to share their story elevates your brand in their mind. It cuts through the clutter, and creates an experience you cannot achieve with broadcast marketing. And it’s a simple idea that any company can implement.