The businesses that stand out don’t just state “we are the best” or focus on the ROI of their products. Rather, they tell a story that sparks an emotional connection with prospects. Justin Champion, author of Inbound Content, offers seven tips to help you get started telling yours.
You know you have a great product or service. And you may have lots of facts and figures and benefits to back up why you’re the best. But just throwing data at potential customers (even if it’s truly impressive data) won’t move them to buy. Justin Champion says that’s because people don’t respond to logic. They respond to emotion. That’s why you’d better get good at storytelling—fast.
“Stories create emotion, and emotion is what people remember,” says Champion, author of Inbound Content: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing Content Marketing the Inbound Way and HubSpot Academy’s content marketing professor. “They help you engage and, more importantly, teach your audience. If you don’t tell a good story, your message will be lost in the media jungle.”
Google processes over 3.8 million searches per minute.* That’s a lot of people looking for answers. This is happening because the way people buy has changed. People no longer respond to outbound tactics like spamming and cold calling. Instead they research products and services and find what they’re looking for on their own.
The message for companies is clear: You must provide lots and lots of content that’s engaging and persuasive enough to pull in readers and win their business. This is called inbound marketing, and it’s the way businesses today “get found”—by helping, educating, and entertaining prospects with valuable, relevant, and consistent content.
Champion’s book explains that content pulls customers through the four stages of HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Methodology: Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight. In other words, you create and share content—through blog posts, emails, videos, case studies, guides, etc.—that attracts the right people to your site, converts them into leads, helps close them into customers, and delights them so they’ll become promoters of your brand.
“Your goal is to make a human connection, and storytelling is how you do this,” says Champion. “It’s about resonating with people who need your help and guidance. A well-crafted story helps you create contrast between choices. It helps prospects make sense of the decision they’re about to make, whether it’s deciding on a product or service or making a purchase.”
Read on for Champion’s tips for discovering the story you want to share with the world.
First, know what your story is not. It’s not data and assertions about ROI. It’s not just your business’s history. It’s also not cliché, and it’s not what everyone else is saying. Sure, you may think you provide the best customer service in your industry, but that’s not your story. Storytelling is about standing out, not blending in.
Focus on your why. Champion cites a concept ex-advertising executive and author Simon Sinek is known for: his Golden Circle concept. The Golden Circle is all about starting with why. Sinek says most people communicate by starting with what they do and eventually work their way back to talk about how and why they do what they do. But unique and successful companies like Apple or Google communicate with an “inside-out” type of thinking. They start with the why and only then do they talk about the how and what portions of what they do.
“To really connect with your prospects and customers, you must express the why of your story,” says Champion. “Tap into the emotional side and begin to educate or build awareness from there. Ask yourself: Why do I do what I do? How will this help my audience? And what am I actually offering?”
Know your characters. All stories have characters. With content marketing, the people—or characters—are your readers. Good storytelling can’t happen without valuing and understanding your audience and responding to their wants and needs. When potential customers can get the answers to their questions and see themselves as characters in your story, they’ll be more likely to use your product or service and experience the happy ending you offer.
“Start with your buyer persona, the semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer,” advises Champion. “This can help guide you through understanding the goals and challenges your character will face. No matter who your buyer persona is, the art of storytelling is making sure you empathize with and relate to your audience.”
Choose your point of view. While keeping your buyer persona in mind, you should also determine the point of view your story will have. Will it be first person, second person, or third person? There’s no right or wrong option, Champion says. It will depend on your buyer persona, the story you’re trying to tell, and the format of the story.
In the first-person point of view, the character is yourself. When you say, “I saw this,” or, “I learned that,” you’re speaking in the first person. This type of language is more confessional. It can help you establish a personal connection with the reader or build authority. Try using first person when there’s a known person, an author, behind the content. This could work for a blog post, video, or even an ebook if the author is noted.
In the second-person point of view, the character is your audience. It’s when you say things like, “You’ll see,” or, “You’ll learn.” When using “you” language, it’s important to understand your buyer personas and know their pain points and goals. Tell the story in a way that shows empathy.
The third person is the “he said/she said” type of language. Case studies about your customers are a good example of using the third-person point of view. These stories can be fictional or nonfictional.
Present, and resolve, your conflict. Once you know who the character is for your story, it’s important to understand the conflict they face. If your story lacks conflict, you’re probably not telling a story. Instead, you’re telling a pitch, a tagline, a unique selling point, or a plain statement. This approach won’t resonate with your audience, and from a content marketing perspective, it won’t get you views, shares, conversions, or customers.
“You need to understand the buyer’s journey and the conflicts they might face at each stage,” says Champion. “What problems are your buyer personas facing in the awareness stage? Those are the conflicts that should be in your story.
“Wistia is a brand that provides professional video hosting,” he adds. “Its purpose is to empower everybody to get more out of video, and all of its content and storytelling—which is done through funny, engaging educational videos along with blog posts, guides, help articles, and webinars—circles back to this purpose. One blog post is titled ‘Improve Your Audio: How to Reduce Echo in Your Video.’ In this case, the reader’s battle with ‘echo’ is the conflict, and it’s stated right there in the headline. The rest of the blog post explains how to resolve the conflict.”
Finally, get to the resolution. Where there’s conflict, your audience will naturally want some sort of resolution. It should wrap up the story but should also clearly call your audience to action. It should fulfill the story’s purpose. For content marketing, a resolution could be next steps or even a call to action for more content. Either way, don’t leave the audience hanging.
“In the case of Wistia, the aforementioned blog post provides the resolution to the ‘echo’ conflict—step-by-step instructions for soundproofing a video,” says Champion.
Find a way to connect to your audience on an emotional level. TOMS is a slip-on shoe company that focuses on spreading social good. Here is its powerful story: Everyone needs shoes, but not everyone has the money to pay for them. So, with each product you purchase, TOMS will donate a pair of shoes to a child in need. This strikes an emotional chord with their audience and compels them to buy.
“This is an example of how a shoe retailer created a much bigger story that makes their customers feel like they’re changing the world by simply purchasing a pair of shoes,” notes Champion. “And they’ve sold more than 75 million pairs of shoes, which means they’ve also given over 75 million pairs of shoes to children in need.”
“Find a way to infuse your story into every piece of content you create,” concludes Champion. “Storytelling is the perfect way to help readers begin the journey from stranger to customer, and it can deepen your relationship with your existing clients. Remember, people want and need to feel connected. If you tell the right story, you can capture their attention, connect with them emotionally, and win their loyalty.”
Justin Champion is the author of Inbound Content: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing Content Marketing the Inbound Way. He has been a digital marketer for nine years, working with clients like Majestic Athletic, Wrangler Jeans, and Pendleton Whisky. He has always enjoyed building brands that consumers can relate to by creating compelling content. He now works as HubSpot Academy’s content marketing professor, which has brought this passion full circle, because he is now able to teach anyone how to grow a successful business through content marketing best practices. Justin is the creator of HubSpot Academy’s Content Marketing Certification, which is a globally recognized course.”