How to Emotionally Engage Your Customers Through Storytelling

Years ago, the late Tony Hsieh (then CEO of Zappos) invited me to present at a Zappos All Hands meeting as part of my book launch for:

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As always, I welcomed the opportunity to work with Tony and present to Zapponians (Zappos team members). Their high-energy culture is infectious. (To see my 14-minute Zappos presentation click here).

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I didn’t expect to meet master brand storyteller and the founder of Betabrand, Chris Lindland at that event. Chris’s origin story of Betabrand epitomizes how telling brand stories can be rocket fuel for customer engagement. I’ll let Chris pick it up from there:

“I have been in the fashion business for years, and it all started with one product Cordarounds – horizontal corduroy pants. Essentially, my company began with a dumb question that went too far. I asked why don’t people turn the corduroy material horizontally. I then decided to take action on that question and designed such a product in my basement. If I were to act like a real clothing company, I would have hired a designer, a quality manufacturer, and a photographer to take pictures of my product for online sales, but I am a communicator – so I just made the pants myself (about 150 pairs of them) and decided to sell them by telling a fascinating story about the pants. For example, I sold them suggesting that horizontal corduroy pants could ‘lower your crotch heat index’ and that you could ‘finally walk silently while wearing corduroy pants.”

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Long story short, Chris’ novel idea and compelling story garnered significant media attention; particularly, from a high-profile New York-based newspaper, and Chris was flooded with orders. In one day, those orders were on the magnitude of 5 times his existing inventory. Unable to fulfill orders over the short term, Chris reverted back to storytelling and launched a daily email campaign to those on a waitlist for delivery. Each day Chris created fictionalized stories about the journey of customers’ pants. These grand fables engaged customers for months while Chris found ways to get the pants manufactured and delivered (resulting in very few customers canceling their orders).

Essentially, Chris’ storytelling ability not only generated overwhelming product demand but also enabled him to engage customers while he hustled to fulfill orders. In fact, Chris’ daily emails were eagerly anticipated and shared with customers’ family and friends

Chris’ example highlights how much people love to hear and share stories. From primitive cave art to modern interactive content, we are hardwired to pay attention to and remember compelling stories. In short,

“Stories are social currency.”

So, what can we learn from Chris’ Lindland’s Cordaround story?

Here are a few of my takeaways:

  1. The Power of Narrative: An engaging story can create an emotional connection between customers and your brand, leading to a stronger relationship and increased loyalty.
  2. Play and Be Willing to Improvise: In times of crisis, fire-up your creativity, whimsy, and flexibility. In Chris’ case, a product delay turned into playfully engaging narrative experiences.
  3. Patience and Engagement: Customers are willing to be patient when they feel entertained, informed, and valued – emphasizing the importance of regular, and meaningful communication.

In light of Chris Lindland’s example,

How are your brand storytelling skills?

Moreover, what stories are you giving your customers to tell about your business in return for the time and money they invest with you?

To learn more about delivering engaging brand stories, please contact me at

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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