Master This Storytelling Technique to Create an Irresistible Content Series

man telling a story at a cafe

In this cold, hard, commercial world, everyone is looking for answers online.

We are all “searchers” looking for the best way to solve a problem or satisfy a desire.

And we are ruthless …

We make split-second decisions about clicking a headline.

How does your website look at a glance?

If you try to consummate the fragile exchange of attention and education too quickly with a “buy this” button, you’ll likely lose long-term prospects and lifetime sales.

The reality is — whether you sell garden hoses or reputation management services — you have to master the know-like-trust factor first.

How do you accomplish this vital component of content marketing?

You educate people step-by-step.

And, if you ignite a feeling that inspires a commercial transaction, then you’ve created successful content marketing.

You lift prospects out of their ordinary worlds and invite them to consider a journey that ultimately leads to a transaction.

This article is all about how you create that journey.

Welcome to storyboarding

One idea we are quite fond of around here is the hero’s journey. It’s content marketing that educates your audience through the storytelling arc, and it works best with a blog series.

For example, last year I wrote a series on Google Authorship and Google+. It was a six-post series.

I could have approached the task by simply gathering and presenting the facts. Unfortunately, there were smarter people than me who’d already done that. I needed to give our audience something they couldn’t get elsewhere.

You, as you probably know, have the same problem. Some call it content shock.

It’s just reality.

The same was true this year when I tackled native advertising. I was late to this party, but we wanted to create a resource for our audience that added value to the current conversation. So, among other things, I used a special technique to create that content.

Storyboarding.

Radio commercial advertisers, television directors, animators, and screenwriters all employee this technique. And it’s something that content creators like you can use, too.

Here are six steps to help you storyboard an irresistible content series.

1. Discover your ideal audience

Do you even know what your audience looks like?

Keep in mind, this step is not about drafting a buyer persona. Instead, we want to figure out who your ideal audience is.

Fortunately, you can discover the answer by using an empathy map.

empathy-map

An empathy map is a simple tool that helps you crawl into the shoes of your customers. Here’s how you create an empathy map on your whiteboard or large sheet of paper:

  • Draw a large square.
  • Divide that square into four quadrants.
  • Label the quadrants “Think and Feel,” “See,” “Say and Do,” and “Hear.”
  • Create two boxes below labeled “Pain” and “Gain.”

Ask simple, open-ended questions to your audience:

  • What do you want to know?
  • Why?
  • What keeps you up at night?

On the diagram, fill in the responses, especially the ones that challenge your assumptions about what you thought you knew. Then, you begin to empathize with your ideal audience.

Empathy is really understanding, seeing, and relating to a person’s views. When someone has a certain belief about the world and you confirm it for him, that’s a very powerful psychological connection.

One of the beautiful benefits of the audience-first approach is that when you create content that resonates with people, and it’s well-organized and easily discoverable, then it gets shared and you get the links you want.

2. Inform your hunch

A good blog series starts with a hunch. A theory. An idea about how you think the world works, how certain problems should be solved.

This hunch may be fuzzy. It might just be a word or two. Whatever it is, use it as a stepping stone.

This will get you started in the right direction. Next, do this:

  • Exhaust the search engine: Jump on your favorite search engine and pull up all the articles on your topic. Follow links, take notes, recognize where people are going, trends that are developing. If you don’t find much material, you may be onto something rare. That’s not a bad thing. But it hardly happens. Keep digging.
  • Expose the keywords: Keyword research helps you see where your root idea branches off. Google Keyword Tool or Scribe can help you see how topics are related. You’ll discover new connections. You might want to take a look at Neil Patel’s article on semantic research to learn how to group these keywords.
  • Conduct interviews: Reach out to people who advocate for and against your position. Adding quotes from authorities to your articles adds a depth and freshness that people appreciate. This is good journalism. This is good content direction.
  • Survey: Both readers and Google are looking for original and fresh content. One of the best ways to produce it is to develop an idea out of an original survey. This was the approach I took with the native advertising series. I had a hunch about native advertising — namely, it was a hot topic inside the industry, but everyone else (including many marketers) was clueless. The results from the survey helped inform the direction and content of the series.
  • Eavesdrop on the competition: The next step to understanding topics and language is to get out there and see what else there is. Don’t be intimidated by the level of competition. Find the holes. Find out what you can do differently. Find out what people complain about.

It’s “marketing research tough love.”

As Brian Clark said:

You effectively need to grill yourself on your own assumptions and expectations of how you think this particular idea or industry or content marketing approach is going to go. Then you need to effectively try to disprove yourself. There is no fault or crime in being wrong, as long as you find out you’re wrong before it’s too late.

baked-potato

3. Compile

Next, gather all of your material.

How you compile depends upon your style. I prefer a large whiteboard.

I collect all my notes on Evernote and then list them on the whiteboard. This is where the story of your series starts to take shape.

whiteboard-storytelling

You make categories, and then drop related notes beneath the labels.

At the compilation stage, you will discover holes in your research. More questions will be raised. Make notes about these questions and gaps.

You’ll come across further questions later in the writing process, as well. That’s fine. Repeat Step Two as many times as needed.

4. Create a narrative

This is where you bring it all together. One way to think about this process is episodic education. We are taking a playbook out of cable television, motion pictures, commercials, radio, and animation.

In other words, storyboarding is a technique that visualizes the sequence of a story.

Here’s a classic example of a storyboard. In this scene, Forrest Gump compares scars with Lyndon B. Johnson.

forrestgump-storyboard

According to the DGA Quarterly, “Chris Bonura’s storyboards helped director Robert Zemeckis meld archival footage with new footage.”

As a writer, storyboarding helps you:

  • Define the parameters of a story within available resources and time
  • Organize and focus a story
  • Figure out what medium to use for each part of the story
  • Start and publish the first article without writing the remaining articles

Once you’ve compiled your facts, think about the narrative flow.

How is each individual article going to dovetail into the next? What is the central conflict? The main challenge?

This won’t be as neat as a novel, and you won’t use illustrations (unless you have the talent). You just need to arrange your ideas into a story-like sequence.

See, your story needs a framework, and this is where the idea of scaffolding is helpful. It gives dimension and direction to your series. Scaffolding helps you corral and streamline all of your research into one big idea.

This could be as simple as using the 5 W’s or the copywriting formula Problem-Agitate-Solve.

In addition, a framework builds anticipation into each article. With each article in the series, you program your readers to anticipate the next scene in the story. But you can’t storyboard effectively, however, until you have a hook that unifies the entire series.

5. Find the hook

The hook is the unifying theme. It could be a motif. A worldview. But it always involves conflict.

In the Google Authorship series, the hook was the shared fear of obscurity that most writers suffer. That concern was manifested in the opening article with the introduction of Hunter S. Thompson, an apt mascot for our series and our culture.

In 1959, before his fame, Thompson wrote:

As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says, ‘you are nothing,’ I will be a writer.

He wondered why he had to park his personality at the door. Why can’t he, the journalist, be a central part of the story? Thompson went on to challenge other journalistic conventions, and make history.

And that conflict — the fear of authorial obscurity — became the central motif behind the Google Authorship series. Thompson was the hero we were happy to follow.

His spirit remained throughout the series, but discovering that motif was not instantaneous. Hooks will hide from you. You must dig (see Step Two).

6. Repurpose

Finally, after all that research and note-taking and storyboarding, you’ll write that first article, and before you know it, six weeks have gone by and you are exhausted.

But don’t rest yet. There’s still something else you need to think about: repurposing your content.

Could your series work as a:

  • Podcast series
  • Book
  • SlideShare
  • Sequence of email autoresponder messages
  • Video seminar
  • Landing page

All of the above? Probably so.

You can put your creation in each new medium over a long period of time, always directing traffic to the original posts, giving life to your archives. And even make money from those old posts.

Let’s not forget, your blog series can also become cornerstone content.

Your turn

So, at the end of the day, if you want to capture the attention of a prospect hell-bent on finding what she wants, then create a content series that answers her most pressing needs or satisfies her curiosity — in a manner that appeals to the way she thinks, feels, and acts.

But storyboard it, like you were creating a cable television show or comic book.

This is a gentle, non-threatening way to open up the relationship — one where you respect your prospect, and, ultimately, your prospect recognizes and respects your authority. She views spending money with you as a sound investment.

And for one final example of a content series built like a story, check out our New Rainmaker podcast hosted by Robert Bruce and Brian Clark.

Let us know what you think here.

Flickr Creative Commons Image via Jim Pennucci.

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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