The journey of what seems like 1,000 steps to acquiring a customer starts with your ability to help them solve a problem.
You need to insert yourself into your customer’s story as the sidekick, not the hero.
Your customer is the hero/heroine. They’re Frodo Baggins; you’re Samwise Gamgee.* Or, since it’s awards season, you want to win the award for best supporting actor, not best actor.
After you place yourself as their critical companion in their journey to fulfilment (whatever that fulfilment is), you walk that journey with them, from helping them learn about what fulfilment could be to helping them make the decision that they need you to get there.
Man, does that sound cynical.
But remember, the underlying goal is to be helpful to your customer (for more on this idea, read H Is for Helpful).
The brass tacks goal is to sell something. You get there by helping them complete their journey.
Journey is forever associated in my mind with Steve Perry as frontman for the band. I can’t recall ever saying “journey” instead of some variation of “trip” or “drive” or “travels.”
I’d never looked up the definition of the word until I started writing this:
“An act of traveling from one place to another.”
Seems simple, but the word now makes sense to me as to why it’s used in the context of inbound marketing (and content marketing).
What you want to do with your content is to travel with your audience from one place to another. In the most selfish sense (from the marketer’s POV), that’s from a place of “who are you?” to “I’m going to give you money now.”
From subscriber to lead to marketing qualified lead to sales qualified lead to opportunity to customer to evangelist to use HubSpot’s customer lifecycle terminology.
To be honest, this is one of the pieces of content marketing that I struggle with the most — identifying content to take folks on that journey from the initial meeting, to learning a little bit more about each other, to helping make a decision, to customer.
I’ve gotten better at identifying awareness, decision, and then customer-focused content; but I do have to think about it more than most of this stuffus.
It also felt inauthentic, like I was trying to fool or trick someone.
The Importance of Story
The missing element for me was story.
Over the last year, I’ve worked to become a better storyteller.
It’s a long, . . . halting process.
The best marketing is often the best story.
The story about how the customer wins, with an assist from your product or service.
Those Mentos commercials still stick out in my mind. Everyone was having a good time, and, then, bam MENTOS! Clenched in a fist and thrust forward.
Beer commercials generally follow the same idea. You’re the smooth guy in a bar, or chilling with your friends, or going crazy at the tailgate before a game, and your trusty beer is there to lead the way with frothy goodness.
Think about any advertising or marketing that has grabbed your attention and held it. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that it placed you at the center of the story with the product as enabler rather than the other way around.
We Are the Hero of Our Stories
Over the coming year, you’ll see a shift in this blog to focus on more of an actual audience away from, basically, shit I want to talk/write about. Well, except for Stream of Consciousness Saturdays, which will continue to be random brain droppings (to rip off a phrase from George Carlin).
It’s a truism, we are each the hero or our story. When you’re in a marketing role — and I’ve said this multiple times in previous posts — it boils down to no one cares about you (you being a seller of something).
Folks might become fans, and even evangelists, for you over time, but the first step to that relationship is providing a product or service that makes their lives better (and then continuing to make their lives better).
As I used to tell Webinar sponsors all the time: No one cares about you. Talk about the issues, because no one cares about your product.
As marketers, we need to put the customer at the center. Your product or service supports the customer on their journey. They don’t give a damn about your journey.
Too much marketing is still focused on “meeeeeeee.” Until you focus on “them,” you’ll be stuck in neutral (or even reverse).
Storybrand, book as well as company, is what made a lot of this gel for me. Not gonna lie, still digesting the Storybrand framework and how it works with content marketing; mostly because I don’t feel like I’m a very good storyteller yet (currently reading Storyworthy to help with that).
Writing and storytelling . . . not the same thing.
I can communicate information via the written word equals I can think of myself as a good writer (most days).
Including story elements is . . . harder. Storybrand presents a framework for placing the customer at the center of your marketing:
- A character
- has a problem
- And meets a guide
- Who gives them a plan
- And calls them to action
- That helps them avoid failure
- And ends in success.
Storybrand’s Ideas Aren’t New (and That’s OK!)
When I first read Storybrand, I was beating myself up — why don’t I do this very well, I wailed to the heavens?!?! (OK, I really just silently pondered, but that’s not as catchy.)
Then I realized: hey, I’ve been doing this for years! It’s also the reason I was initially so strongly attracted to the philosophy of inbound/content marketing. I also realized that the Storybrand framework is built on top of inbound marketing principles.
No one cares about you. Seriously, repeat this until it’s ingrained in your head — especially any IT/software folks reading this. No one gives a shit about your speeds and feeds (oh, man, that’s how the scanner companies would market their latest and greatest scanners; basically, we can ingest paper and scan the content fasterFasterFASTER than the next guy).
Since that’s stuck in my head from my days at AIIM and my many conversations with capture guys, here’s how the me/them split works in real life.
Most of the scanner guys would focus on the details of their product — connectivity, reliability of the mechanism, speed of scanning and recognition, etc.
Honestly, the technology to do that is absolutely incredibly difficult to do. But they all did the same thing. Some slightly faster. Some slightly more dependable. But, they were (and are) much of a muchness.
Over time, the smarter folks marketing this equipment stopped talking speeds and feeds and starting talking customer results — save office space by digitizing records and getting rid of filing cabinets, the ability to service customers by finding their documents in seconds rather than minutes or hours or days, and decreased cost of storage. All of these are still benefits of digitizing documents.
I know that for the scanner vendors who sponsored our webinars and focused on what the technology could do FOR my audience were better received than those sponsors who talked about “this thing is really fast and I’m going to tell you how fast it is in excruciating detail.” (I know this because I did an attendee survey after each webinar.)
In the Storybrand framework, this would go something like:
A customer service manager can’t answer customer questions quickly because customer information is in paper files stored in filing cabinets around the office, leaving customers disgruntled. Visioneer (no idea if they’re still around) has a line of scanners that can turn this paper into a digital copy (and extract the information) so that it’s searchable and easily found. Rather than spending hours or days responding to customers and making them unhappy, now customer inquiries are answered in minutes on the phone (or even self-serve online), with an opportunity for customer service reps to ask customers how they can further help them AND the former file room is now a relaxation area for employees, improving morale.
It’s marketing FOR the customer not throwing facts and stats and fear, uncertainty, and doubt AT the customer.
Take That First Step
Shed your ego like a snake shedding its skin.
What does your product do FOR your customer. Focus on them, not you.
That sounds so basic, but how many of the companies that you interact with daily truly inhabit that ethos? Do you?
Once you decide to make this crucial mental shift, then it’s time to downshift to the nitty gritty of identifying customer desires, goals, and pains and matching your content and offers and emails and website and, you get the idea, to addressing those desires, goals, and pains. Or, you know, the whole content marketing thing.
Cliches are sometimes cliches because they are true. Take your first step to help your customers take theirs with you.
Need help creating your content marketing strategy and/or content? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, reply below, or give me a call (or text, text is better, what with all the phone spam) at 301-275-7496.
About the Cheeky A-Z Guide to Content Marketing.
There are groaning shelves of books and whitepapers you can read about content and inbound marketing. What’s missing from (some) of them is the stuff between the cracks. The dirty, nuts and bolts examples of things that can go wrong and the random things that can go wonderfully well. I decided to run down the alphabet a letter at a time and highlight personal lessons learned from creating content for 25 years and from applying those content creation lessons to content marketing over the past decade-ish. I hope you enjoy.
- A Is for Assume – The Cheeky A-Z Guide for Content Marketing
- Be Is for Believe – The Cheeky A-Z Guide for Content Marketing
- C Is for Customer – The Cheeky A-Z Guide for Content Marketing
- D Is for Difficult – The Cheeky A-Z Guide for Content Marketing
- E Is for Expectations – The Cheeky A-Z Guide for Content Marketing
- F Is for Fear – The Cheeky A-Z Guide for Content Marketing
- G Is for Google – The Cheeky A-Z Guide for Content Marketing
- H Is for Helpful – The Cheeky A-Z Guide for Content Marketing
- I Is for Inbound – The Cheeky A-Z Guide for Content Marketing
*I’ve always thought Sam was every bit as much the hero as Frodo. I’ve never wanted to ruin Tolkien by reading too deeply into analysis of Tolkien’s work, but their dynamic obviously smacks of the royalty/commoner divide in English culture.