Are you storytelling for your business?

That’s great! See, regardless of the size of your business, whether your service is a tangible or an intangible one, with high value or low value pricing. I hope that by following these five steps, you can build a foundation to create a great storytelling narrative.

These steps will help you reach your target audience at the right place, at the right time and in the right tone. They are steps I’ve practiced and repeated for the past 10+ years of my career. While they can be carried out remotely, I’d advise to complete these with your team as a workshop.

#1. Know your audience.

Every business has diverse audiences, and each person within this audience has a personal relationship with your company. The deeper your insights into your audience are, the richer your storytelling can be.

Here are a few questions that may help you get started:

  • Who are my business audiences?
  • What are their similarities and differences?
  • How could I segment my audiences?
  • Is there anything else my audience would be interested in, if not my business?

Try to create diverse segments within your audience. You may group them by age, or life stage. By interests, or geography. How you group your audiences, and how much you understand them is vital. It will help you understand the stories you can curate and create to inspire.

#2. Understand your audience journey.

Now that you have clear audience segments (or personas), how can you really step into their shoes throughout their audience journey?

The usual journey map doesn’t work for my purpose. I’ve designed a separate journey map for a content strategy perspective. While I’ve recently started using Smaply to create filtered down versions for clients, you can always start with a blank canvas and post-its and a few pens.

Your content journey map may take into consideration:

  • Touchpoint. From the moment they have a need for your business, to the moment they say goodbye. These are the stages that your audiences reach throughout their journey.
  • Emotions. They count. Massively. Try to understand what they’re feeling at each touchpoint. In fact, if you can invite some of your customers to be part of this research, ask them. There’s nothing but value to be gained.
  • Situation. What is going on in their lives at this stage? Who do they interact with (community) and who else do they notice at this stage?
  • Need (from a content perspective). This would be the stage where you ask audience members where they turn to for support or inspiration.
  • Platform. Think of this touchpoint, and think of the customer reaching out to support this touchpoint progressing to the next. Which platforms are involved at this stage? It can be social, offline-local, a publication, or more. This element helps us understand where our audiences live in a digital or offline sense within a touchpoint. It can help you understand what platform to deliver your story through.
  • And a few other extra areas such as business need, and behind-the-scene content capabilities.

Feel free to tweak the journey map to fit your business and goals. Oh, and for the workshop, you have two options:

  • Invite your audiences to carry out a journey mapping exercise with you.
  • Bring in key people that connect with the audience during their journey.

I’d recommend the former option, but I understand this might not be easy for all. It’s key to remember you don’t just have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ audience. They are diverse so, create different journeys for various segments. And again, try not to work from personas — connect with your audience.

By the end of this workshop, you will begin to understand the stages that your audiences travel through. And, it’s within these intricate stages that your business can truly create memorable stories. Sequenced together, these stories can form a complete narrative over their journey.

#3. Choose the right story to tell.

Over the past years of storytelling, the biggest mistake I have seen businesses make is telling a story that they think will be exciting. These have been a combination of:

  • Let it be known that ‘Company X’ has received a profit of X% and other updates.
  • Companies try to follow a trend that isn’t relevant for their audience.
  • Limiting the stories they tell in trying to become ‘known’ for those things.

The journey map gives you ample opportunities to create a narrative for your audiences. For example, earlier in my career while I was storytelling for an SAP campaign, I understood that the main emotion I was trying to reach out to was that of “My business isn’t ready for you yet.” Understanding location, motivations and work-environments helped me design connections through smaller communication campaigns delivered through carefully selected platforms. And that was just one segment within a segment.

On a recent project at the NHS, the journey didn’t just help me uncover emotions to design the assets and communication. It also helped me understand how sensitively they would need to be delivered to its audiences. From helping sports brands, to educational institutions. From fashion labels to museums, tourism boards to local tech startups. I’ve always understood that even though there are so many stories to tell, it’s crucial to choose the ones that will create the right impact.

Oh and two of my favourites? If I’m looking at blog only, then I have a little crush on Buffer’s content, how I get to meet their team and their insights, how it’s transparent and relevant for me in my role, and supports me (and reaches me through different platforms). Also, social bite-sized moments? It has to be innocent. Because, dammit — their updates nearly always make me laugh. Who are your favourites, and why?

When I say choose the right story to tell, it’s not so much a story that will impact your business sales. I ask to focus on the story that will provide the greatest value to your audience, and support them within that touchpoint. Because this will lead to a more engaged and loyal customer. Call it the storytelling ripple effect.

#4. Find the people that talk to the people.

Marc Stickdorn mentions something brilliant in his book, ‘This is Service Design Thinking’ (by the way, if you’ve not read this — go go go) that I’ve used in my consultancy ever since. Each person within your company has their own connection with your audience. They experience a different facet of the audience journey, and have their unique approach in communication.

That’s why in storytelling, I ask my clients to bring the people together that make a part of the overall journey. And, I ask their opinion on how to best interact at these stages. Once you have the story you’d like to create, why not invite these people to co-create it with you. Through storytelling, you can help them in providing better support.

Another thing to remember, the storyteller doesn’t have to be you or your business. Empower your customers to be part of the storytelling, and your stakeholders too. Treat your content strategy as a growing village in which everyone is welcome.

#5. Connect the dots.

Now for the fun part. Let’s connect the dots. There’s a saying, it goes along the lines of “When you see a good friend, you pick up from where you left off.” It’s a little similar for storytelling. It’s not a one off, it’s small batches of carefully crafted ‘hellos’, ‘how’s it goings’ and ‘here, let me help’ packaged in weird and wonderful ways over thoughtfully selected platforms. This is the stage where you connect the dots between the touchpoint, tone, need, business need, and platform. Then find out where it leads to at the next stage.

In short, this is where you can get really creative — and kick ass with your storytelling.

I hope this article helped you understand the basics of what is needed to plan a storytelling narrative. There’s a lot I haven’t gone through, because I believe those things will matter in the next stages. Here and now, I’ve focused on setting the foundations for great storytelling.

If you’d like to reach out with any questions — feel free to ping me @RandomOhSo on Twitter.

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