Today’s marketing is incredibly data-driven. We analyze buyer personas right down to their toenails, scrutinize every step in their buyer’s journey and comb over SEO reports to see what web searches will bring them closer to our doorstep.
In all this data, however, it can be easy to lose sight of something very important: the real people – and real stories – behind the journey from stranger to customer. After all, on the receiving end of our content are real people with real problems.
By focusing on telling a story across the buyer’s journey, marketers get a much better sense of a persona’s motivations, desires and what it is they’re searching for online. And by sharing those stories, marketers appeal to both the head and the heart, capturing attention much more easily than by spouting dry facts.
But what are the elements of a good story? And how do you map these stories to your buyer’s journey? Let’s walk through the process of storytelling 101, from an inbound marketing perspective.
First: Who Is Your Story About?
Ever been on a date or a meeting where the other person only talks about themselves? Most of us would agree that being so self-absorbed is short-sighted and no way to create a connection with people.
And yet, at the same time, how many business blogs do you read where the company only talks about themselves – their products, their successes, their announcements?
If marketers want to create an emotional appeal with their audience, the audience must be able to relate to the story — which means that the reader has to identify with the protagonist and their challenges.
Think about it: If you were an office manager researching new printers for your company, which story from Perfect Printer Company would appeal to you more? An announcement about some C-suite person delivering a keynote at a conference in Phoenix? Or a profile of Debbie, a hard-working office manager who was constantly battling paper jams but now has so much more time and less frustration with her Perfect Printer machine?
Second: Where Does the Story Begin?
This isn’t a time to go all Infinite Jest on us (in other words, don’t try to break all the rules and take an unconventional approach to storytelling). Keep the narrative straight, open with the conflict and make it clear that the story leads to a happy ending.
To tell the story most effectively, you have to start not just at the beginning, but at the beginning that’s underneath by identifying pain points.
Not sure what I mean? Let’s go back to Debbie. You could start by saying that she wants a new commercial printer for her office. And while that’s true, it’s not very compelling. So, we need to keep asking “why?” until we burrow down to the real heart of the matter: Debbie works at a law firm that’s growing rapidly, which means more client contracts need to be printed out. Paper jams are constantly messing up the process and make Debbie look bad – and she’s so frustrated, she’s just about ready to take a baseball bat to the printer.
Now we have the start to a story, as well as a conflict other readers can relate to.
Third: Where Does the Story Lead?
This is where your knowledge of the buyer’s journey comes into play. During the different stages, the buyer’s search habits evolve:
- In the awareness stage, the research is based on the problem
- In the consideration stage, the research is based on solutions
- And in the decision stage, the research is based on specific products or services
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So, let’s go back to Debbie. As we tell her story – possibly across multiple pieces of content – we talk about her problem (keywords: paper jams, jamming printer). Then, we watch her as she decides to research getting a new printer altogether and approaches her boss for approval (keywords: best office printer, best commercial printer). And lastly, we celebrate with her as she finds the precise solution to her needs (keywords: anti-jam sensor, Perfect Printer reviews).
The beauty of this story? By incorporating those keywords into the relevant stages, this one story appeals to Perfect Printer’s target market at all stages of the buyer’s journey, making it a versatile and evergreen piece of content.
Debbie’s story illustrates the buyer’s journey in a way that creates an emotional appeal, is informative and is completely relatable to Perfect Printer’s ideal buyer. And, it has a clear happy ending that shows the reader exactly what they can expect if they buy a Perfect Printer. Plus, as a bonus, if the story is told from Debbie’s point of view, it becomes instantly more trustworthy in the eyes of the reader.
By thinking of the buyer’s journey as chapters in one person’s story, marketers can create those “ah-ha!” moments for their audience as they identify with the protagonist and problem. And by putting themselves in the protagonist’s head while they search for answers, marketers can learn to master the art of SEO through storytelling.
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