Storytelling for Content Marketing

In today’s marketing environment, creators of successful content must factor in many essential elements in the steps from design to delivery.  Content alone is intimidating, as is the sheer volume that must be designed, curated, maintained and refreshed over time. What about the story? Do you need one? Multiple?

Storytelling can be your north star. A powerful content strategy considers your customers’ journey and their experience. You can use the structure of their story as the guard rails to your content. Your customer is the hero, their challenges and success are experiences and you are their guide on the journey. Those who act as mentors, Obi-Wan Kenobis, of this experience will be the chosen ones (no Star Wars pun intended, ok maybe a little).

When mapping out this journey, you will need to architect the various phases as well as the points your customer hears from you early on (awareness) vs. later (decision). It is critical that you share the right detail at the right time - or you run the risk of breaking the experience.

On the other side of the coin, we can utilize marketing automation systems that can both serve up content at the right time and place and support automation of moving someone from prospect to customer. This can require customization of (by persona for scale or individual for Account Based Marketing (ABM)) content. This means you can have many versions of text, image and even video.

Putting the customer at the center

By applying an architectural model to the journey of the persona, you can define the relevant stages. By putting people and their challenges at the center of your content, you are using storytelling as the red line for your strategy. This is sometimes referred to as “story doing”.

Constructing the journey by the phases: Awareness, Research, Consideration and Decision, provides a way to demark the content at each stage. From the prospect’s (i.e. the human being’s) perspective, this is experienced as:

  1.  Capturing interest with emotion
  2.  Retaining attention by staying relevant
  3.  Building trust by demonstrating understanding
  4.  Making the value proposition real
  5.  Demonstrating how you can help
  6.  Showing the product or solution that produces success
  7.  Developing evidence of their success to share with prospects (evangelism)

If you have multiple products, you will have to extend the model across each product or service offering that you are selling. The next step is to consider the personas who are involved in the buying decision.

For each persona you, as the architect of the customer journey, will need to understand and be mindful of the living narrative of your customer as they experience interacting with you.

  •  Context – the landscape, growing pains, challenges, the prospect and who they are
  • Action – how the prospect is dealing with these challenges, what happens when you get involved
  • Results – the outcomes and benefits of the prospect solving their problems – and ideally doing so as your customer

The importance of persona investments is worth noting because the solution you must create for each persona is, "What are the bare minimum of questions I must answer in order to move them from one stage to the next?" Good persona research will have found these questions and suggested how, where and when to reach people of that persona type which will inform both your outbound investments and marketing automation system design.

What you are in effect doing is ‘story making’ – creating an experience that matches with the living narrative of your audience. An experience they will want to share, in a positive way. When they do this, they are storytelling as an evangelist for your brand.

At this point you will now have a series of content blocks (Journey-Phase x Product x Persona) that covers your customer experience from prospect to customer. It should look something like this (for one persona and product):

Design and Build

For each block, start with the persona and how they find and consume content. Then look at the content types, or media, at your disposal: SEM lists, banners, whitepapers, videos, customer testimonials and more. Each media type often has multiple uses. For example, video can be used for Awareness (TV ad) or Research (Demo).

The next step is the time to factor in what you do and identify which of your products, capabilities, solutions and services you are seeking to move the customer to purchase on. Your value proposition and subsequent positioning and messaging framework will inform what you need to say at each stage of the journey and to whom. This will affect the type of media you select to get your message across for each persona.

As you can imagine this relatively simple formula has a massive amount of permutations. Six Lego bricks (2x6 bricks) have upwards of 1.9M potential configurations . There is no one size fits all solution – instead the one size fits all is in the approach we are outlining here and what we customize with our clients.

It is crucial to ruthlessly prioritize at this step because as we move onto the next step you will see we add another factor into our Lego-esque calculation that drives up those permutations.

My advice to you: keep it simple. Because even with simple, it will get complex.

The good news is you now have the framework, the message(s) and the media for each content block.

By putting the customer at the center, respecting their challenges and living narrative, you have successfully connected the redline of storytelling to your customer journey design and content architecture. This story-doing approach will help you stay on target, keep things focused and simple in a world that is suffering from content overload.

How have you approached content architectures – and brought them to life for your brand?