This story has a happy ending, I promise. Over the last several years, we have been working with a marketing team in which every member was at least three levels removed from anyone who had direct contact with customers. To compensate for that, the company and the team were treading water in an ocean of research reports. The team was also investing costly cycles, trying to convince the company’s developers and creative team to prioritize their implementation needs over demands from other departments. Then, once they convinced the team to prioritize a project, even more cycles were invested in a polite and totally well-intentioned tug of war with the creative department about exactly how those changes should be executed. 

Spending so much time between plan and execution was costing the company millions in opportunities lost, and the watered-down execution rarely yielded the positive results that were hoped for. 

You may be thinking that this sounds like a dysfunctional company. I’d respond that this company is anything but; it is one of the largest in the world, a digital industry leader, incredibly profitable, and one known for hiring the best and the brightest people.

You might also think I am exaggerating. I’m not! A typical project would take at least two weeks to get in front of development — then another two weeks, and at least four hours of meetings, ironing out implementation details with the creative team. If a copy change was involved, the project would spend an additional week in legal review awaiting approval. However, if you are thinking this team’s situation sounds even a little familiar, then this post was written for you.

We have read this book before and we knew how it would end. We needed to help this team write a few new end chapters.

As is typical in large companies, consumer and market research were summarized and bulleted and gave the team the illusion of understanding their customers. Some of this data was troubling, and the marketing team didn’t fully understand the cause. To correct this, our team spent time with customer-facing employees, listening in on sales calls and reading chat transcripts, trying to understand the customers in their own words rather than in an executive summary. A handful of common threads started to emerge from customers in terms of pain points and unaddressed (possibly unrealistic) expectations of the product. It should come as no surprise that the quantitative research was simply echoing these problems. 

In other words, the customers and the data were telling the same story, but nobody had connected the dots. It was physiologically impossible for the marketing team to empathize with their customers by studying spreadsheets. And, of course, the development and creative department had their own interpretation of the quantitative data and what to do about it. All the departments were working diligently toward the meta-goal of increased sales, but were all on different pages. They all had a story, but not the same story line. 

How do you get all these moving parts and brilliant minds on the same page?

Introduce them to a legend.

We began by introducing them to specific customers (in the form of personas, the heroes of the legend), and narrating their buying journey and their experience with the company and the product, and then showing their goals, their needs, their motivations, and desires. Then, we showed the data, highlighting how these stories were playing out several thousand times a week. The unified story clicked.

Would it surprise you to know that all these disparate departments began to work with greater synergy, and that implementation became a smoother process? Large-scale initiatives were pushed through faster, and others that didn’t address these urgent customer-centric issues were tabled. By understanding their specific role in the customer experience, each department knew how critical their role was — and, maybe more importantly, that their work had a significant impact.

All because of a few stories. We call them Buyer Legends.

Using narrative in business is not a new concept.  Amazon’s Jeff Bezos requires his executives to write six-page narrative memos in place of PowerPoint decks. From the iDonethis blog: 

“Writing out full sentences enforces clear thinking, but more than that, it’s a compelling method to drive memo authors to write in a narrative structure that reinforces a distinctly Amazon way of thinking — its obsession with the customer. In every memo that could potentially address any issue in the company, the memo author must answer the question, ‘What’s in it for the customer, the company, and how does the answer to the question enable innovation on behalf of the customer?’”

About the Author

FBryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SEMA, SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, Gultaggen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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