Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tell It Better: Who's the hero when storytelling your customer's journey?

Corporate marketers have learned by now that storytelling's a key skill in communicating the value added by your company or organization. And in many companies, they describe that story as "the customer journey," an apt metaphor. But one part of the story remains a mystery--or at least a struggle in understanding. Who's the hero of the story?

I've come to that conclusion after leading many storytelling workshops in which I teach the workings of the dramatic arc, and ask the participant "who's the hero?" in the story they're trying to tell. All too often, corporate marketers think the hero of the story, the one who saves the day, is their product or service. That's what solves the problem and brings the conflict to resolution, right?

I see it differently. To me, the protagonist or hero of your corporate story is always the person on the journey: The customer. And you don't need to work in corporate circles for this to work. Nonprofits, government agencies, universities, small businesses, consultants all have customers – even though you may call them donors, employees, volunteers, members, students, faculty, board members, or supporters.

Yes, your product or service plays a role, just like the magic beans or the goose that laid the golden eggs do in the fairy tales. But it's the person who makes use of your product or service who is the real hero of the story. If you can make your customers feel like the heroes of the story, you've got a much better chance of making a sale.

Why? Good storytelling involves conflict and problems to solve. The protagonist or hero faces an uphill struggle, and in classic dramatic storytelling, often tries one or several approaches that don't work, creating setbacks and discouragement, before finding the thing that saves the day. That makes your story relatable and realistic. Help your customer see, through storytelling, how your product or service helps them be that hero, and your sale is closer to closed.

Marketers often struggle, too, with boiling down the arc of the story in a way the lets them share it with others on the team who will interpret that story in various media. To solve that problem, you need to act like an author in search of a publisher. Author Natasha Lester offers this formula for writing a six-sentence synopsis of a novel's plot, a useful tool for authors pitching publishers--and a critical outline for corporate marketers hoping to plot out that customer journey. Just substitute "customer" for "protagonist" or "main character" in the list below to clarify that story:
  1. What is life like for my main character/customer at the start of the book/story? In marketing, this establishes that you understand your customer's underlying conditions and challenges. It also offers the chance to contrast current conditions with what the world will look like later, when you've helped them solve the problem. 
  2. What is the thing that sets the protagonist/customer off on their journey? Lester also describes this as "the inciting incident, told in a compelling way." What propelled your customer on the journey?
  3. What is the journey or the goal of your character/customer and why is it so important to them? You've got to be able to articulate their goal and its importance to understand what makes your customer tick, and how best to approach them.
  4. What are a couple of obstacles that get in the way? Aside from being a critical part of a dramatic narrative, showing that you understand obstacles means you understand what your customer's reality is like. It's the opposite of magical marketing speak, and a real opportunity to connect.
  5. What is the biggest obstacle of all? This is your hero's--customer's--priority.
  6. End with a question/hook. Lester writes, "It’s a question that hints at the drama that will unfold, that makes your story sound compelling, that lures the to wanting to know more about the book." It sums up the dramatic challenge in the story.
If you really were a novelist, the six-sentence synopsis is something you'd write after writing the story, but in marketing, I think these questions, asked in advance, can help you shape the story.

The six-sentence synopsis also helps with brevity, a must in the corporate world. You're aiming for six sentences, and no more than 200 to 300 words in this summary. Many people struggle with keeping the story short, particularly when you're using it to help others on the team--from social-media managers and speechwriters to marketing copywriters and strategists--understand the core of the story.

Storytelling's the big buzz word in communications and marketing. But we've forgotten how this ancient art works. This "Tell it better" series hopes to revive and hone your storytelling skills for any format, from public speaking in the style of TED to social media. Want a storytelling workshop? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Staci Myers)

Join me in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 20 for a new workshop, Add Meaning with Metaphor: Improve your Speeches with the Most Powerful Figure of Speech. It's a pre-conference workshop at the Edinburgh Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference, designed to help both speakers and speechwriters use this powerful tool. You can register here for just the workshop, the conference, or both, and you'll get the best discount if you sign up by August 1.

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