Storytelling and Content Strategy
Does Your Content Strategy Tell Your Customer’s Story?
Does Your Content Strategy Tell Your Customer’s Story?

I bet you thought I was going to write about analytics and content strategy again, didn’t you? Or possibly a further discussion of data supported content decisions. Nope! This week, we’re going a different direction. Ultimately, my goal here isn’t to get content specialists to stop worrying and learn to love spreadsheets. It’s to get you to step back and look at your content from a big-picture perspective. Sometimes that means looking at objective data sources like Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. But sometimes, it means looking at more subjective tools. Like for instance, storyboards and plot outline diagrams.

When you’re responsible for the endless loop that is content marketing, it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds. Yes, you need an editorial calendar. Yes, you need to allocate responsibility for consistent content creation. Yes, you need to understand channel, tone, and that “content” is inclusive of multimedia. But you also need context and a larger frame of reference. In other words, you need to step back from the camera and look at the script from time to time, instead of just rushing to the next location and the next shoot.

Successful marketing makes the customer the hero of a story. There are only so many basic plots out there. Twenty, if you’re listening to Ronald Tobias. Seven, if you prefer Christopher Booker. Three, if you follow Robert McKee. And just one if you’re a Joseph Campbell fan.

For now, we’re going to discuss two basic plots, and how the principles of storytelling and storyboarding can help you develop an editorial narrative with your customer as the Hero, and spot any “holes” in the plot that your current strategy might have.

It’s Your Customer’s Journey

First, we’re going to look at The Quest, which is reasonably similar to Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.” It’s the classic adventure plot. Hero is faced with a challenge. He/She attempts to overcome the challenge a number of ways, each ending in failure. Finally, the Hero is successful and receives his/her reward. I’ve seen this plot applied to storyboarding customer experience. The basic idea is to take a customer persona, and walk them from the problem, through different possible solutions, to finally success and their benefit. Notice the similarities?

In a storyboard, the plot plays out in six panels. The first two state the customer’s problem (the Hero’s challenge). The next three show different options for a solution (attempts to overcome). The final panel shows the benefits, from the customer’s perspective (our Hero receives the reward). One nice aspect of plotting out your customer experience this way is that it’s less tempting to switch to your POV instead of your customer’s. If you’ve ever read a list of benefits that actually read like a sales sheet and had little to do with the actual emotional or practical payoff for the user, you know what I mean. The storyboard format forces you to orient the story around the customer.

This technique can be a helpful diagnostic tool for checking the tone of your content against the customer narrative you’re trying to create. If your content isn’t telling that story, it’s time to make an adjustment.

Taking that idea a step further, you could use a similar template to plot your content strategy. If the “customer experience storyboard” is a classic adventure plot , then the “content strategy storyboard” follows a classic romance plot.

A Tale of Boy Meets Blog (or Email, or Tweet…)

Your content strategy is really more like a Love Story than a tale of epic Adventure. A content marketing plan is about sparking and developing a relationship to the point of commitment, and then continuing to keep that relationship strong. If you’ve ever watched a romantic comedy, you know how this plot works.

A person’s first encounter is with your content. That blog post he found through search, or the fun graphic she discovered on social media, is your company’s “across a crowded room” meet-cute. Their fears, concerns, or areas of resistance are the obstacles your content will need to overcome to win them over.  Your conversion or landing page is basically you, on bended knee, asking for a commitment. And your welcome emails, transactional emails and other post-purchase content are the little love notes in their lunchbox, keeping those fires burning.

You can really have fun with this narrative. Who’s your ideal hero/heroine–the person most likely to fall in love with your company ? What kind of content will catch his or her eye? How have they been burned in relationships with other companies like yours before? Who are your rivals (and what’s the best way to thwart them)?

You could even go so far as to outline this like an epistolary novel. Diagram the expected back-and-forth. Map it against your current content plan:

  • Is your content at the edge of the funnel adequately attractive to strangers?
  • How are you building trust with your returning visitors?
  • Where are the holes in the story?
  • Where would the guy lose the girl in your current plot?
A few other blog posts that might help you clarify your thinking around this idea:

Have you run across any good examples of organizations using storytelling and narrative tools to develop their content plans? Good tools or approaches for visualizing the customer story, so that it can be applied to your content marketing? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.


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About the Author

Kat French
Kat French is the Client Services and Content Manager at SME Digital. An exceptional writer, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in content strategy, copywriting, community management and social media marketing. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, CafePress and more.

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