We know that to lift our audience members out of their ordinary worlds we need to tell a compelling story. But how do we do it? You’ll find out on this week’s episode of The Lede.
Articulating the goal of content marketing, a wise man once wrote:
You lift prospects out of their ordinary worlds and invite them to consider a journey that ultimately leads to a transaction.
Easy to say. Not so easy to do.
We know that to lift our audience members out of their ordinary worlds we need to tell a compelling story — a story in which the audience member sees himself or herself in the role of hero while we play the role of mentor.
But how do we get from Point A (the concept) to Point B (the actual story that takes an audience on a transformative journey that results in a transaction)?
You’ll find out on this week’s episode of The Lede.
That wise man I mentioned above? He’s here to explain how.
It’s a technique you’re surely familiar with … but are you using it?
In this episode, Demian Farnworth and I discuss:
- How to use storyboarding to create engaging content
- Why storytelling makes you stand out from your competition
- The single most important part of a good story (that many people forget)
- How to uncover a narrative
- Why it’s important to stay open-minded about your hypothesis
- What the storyboarding process actually looks like, step by step
We’ll also provide videos about storyboarding for you to check out next.
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The Show Notes
- The Lede: Are You Overlooking This Cornerstone of a Smart Content Strategy?
- New Rainmaker content library — free education series by Brian Clark
- Master This Storytelling Technique to Create an Irresistible Content Series — by Demian Farnworth
- The 5 Things Every (Great) Marketing Story Needs — by Sonia Simone
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces — by Joseph Campbell
- Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy — by Mark Schaefer
- The Rock and Roll Approach to Your Winning Difference — by Brian Clark
- Copyblogger’s 2014 State of Native Advertising Report — by Demian Farnworth
- How to Make Winning Infographics Without Risk — by Demian Farnworth
- Video: The Purpose of Storyboarding
- Video: Storyboarding for People Who Can’t Draw
- Video: Storyboarding!
- Video: How to Create a Storyboard for Your Video Shoot
Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.
The Lede Podcast: How to Ignite a Feeling in Your Audience
Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris.
At the end of our last episode, I suggested that you grab the free New Rainmaker content library while it’s still free. It’s seven lessons and three webinars by Brian Clark that teach you how to generate a flood of new business with the power of your digital media platform.
Let me give you that link again: It’s newrainmaker.com/register. Don’t procrastinate, because at some point this won’t be free anymore.
And speaking of generating business with a digital media platform, it all starts by having the right content strategy in place. Which is what Demian Farnworth and I are in the midst of talking about here on The Lede.
Here is part two of our three-part series on content strategy.
In our last episode, we discussed the importance of identifying and understanding the worldviews of your audience. What does your audience believe about the world? And more importantly, why? And what can you do with this information?
Today we take the next step. Once you are able to empathize with your audience, you are ready to connect with your audience. And within the context of content marketing, that means connecting in a way that gets your audience to know you, to like you, to trust you, and ultimately to buy from you.
In other words, in the words of Demian Farnworth in fact, you want to ignite a feeling that inspires a commercial transaction. You want to, as Demian wrote on Copyblogger, “lift your prospects out of their ordinary world and invite them to consider a journey that ultimately leads to a transaction.”
But I suppose I can stop quoting Demian now, since he’s on the other end of the line, and let him speak for himself. So Mr. Farnworth, it all sounds great, but how do you do it? How do you bridge the gap between understanding your audience and igniting a feeling within them?
Create engaging content with storyboarding
Demian Farnworth: Igniting a feeling that inspires a commercial transaction. That’s content marketing at its best. You have a prospect who’s hell-bent on finding what she wants and she has an agenda, and that agenda probably doesn’t include you, so you have to create content which engages her.
You have to create a series, a blog series, that answers her most pressing needs or satisfies her curiosity, and you have to do it in a manner that appeals to the way she thinks, feels, and acts.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about today, ultimately: storyboarding.
It’s 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, and then she eventually, ultimately, views spending money with you as a sound investment.
So we talk about storyboarding. We talked about the worldview. We talked about the idea of understanding who your audience is, understanding your customer, and how she thinks about the world. That’s the big picture. And so with this, we’re going to create a narrative which relates to her, which resonates with her.
And a lot of times, probably any fan, any reader of Copyblogger, has heard us use the term “Hero’s Journey” before. It’s a framework that we use that basically says every great marketing story has a hero, has a goal, has an obstacle, has a mentor, and ultimately has a moral.
And The Hero’s Journey, that framework, is really an abbreviated version of Joseph Campbell’s idea of The Hero’s Journey that he wrote about in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. So the question you have to ask is why is this important? Why use this framework and not another one?
Jerod: Can I back up for one second, Demian?
Demian: Yeah, go ahead.
Jerod: The Hero’s Journey, which you’re right, that’s something that we’ve used so often on Copyblogger. And in that framework it’s very important to understand who the hero is.
Within that framework, and within this context of content marketing that we’re talking about, who is the hero in that journey?
Demian: The hero is the customer, right? The idea with The Hero’s Journey is your customer is the hero. She has a goal. She wants to see a better version of herself, but there is some obstacle that is keeping her back from that goal.
You, as the business, then have to come in as the mentor and guide her towards that. Help her to overcome or teach her to overcome those obstacles to reach her goal, as Sonia so elegantly positions in her article on this topic.
She says that it’s important that you don’t do it for her. It’s important that she struggles through the obstacle herself. You just give her the tools.
Obi-Wan Kenobi did not defeat the dark side; he just introduced Luke Skywalker to his goal, what he needed to do. So the business is the mentor, and you teach them, and the moral is basically telling them what they need to do next.
Why storytelling makes you stand out from your competition
Jerod: So if I may play devil’s advocate here for a second: Why do we have to go through all of this? We’re selling widgets, or we’re selling some kind of course, or we’re selling this, that, or the other. Why can’t we just give people the features? What they’ll learn? Kind of tell them the facts.
Why do we have to go through all of this storytelling and all of the defining heroes, and doing all this stuff to, like you said, ignite that feeling?
Demian: Here’s what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with an idea called content shock. It was Mark Schaefer who kind of framed that idea, but it’s not a new idea. He didn’t come up with this, and it’s not something that’s new to content marketing.
All this idea of content shock is that we have so much information coming at us it’s become a cliché, almost. But this has been true throughout history: We always have more information than we can consume, and so we’re kind of flooded with all of this information.
So your job is to stand out within that content shock, within that information, and so you have to create a narrative. You have to create your marketing story that people recognize, because the thing is, people can — there are so many smart people out there who have pretty much already presented the facts in a pretty straightforward manner.
They said, “This is what you need to know, and here’s how you do it.” So if you’re coming in behind that, the market’s already saturated — you have a commodity. Well, you have to build a story around that commodity in order to rise above the noise and get noticed.
For example, I wrote a series on native advertising, and I noticed as I went through all my research that there were a lot of very smart people who already kind of covered the topic, but they simply just presented the facts.
I needed to figure out a way to present the information we were going to give to our readers through a story, some sort of narrative, so that they saw themselves as the hero, they saw the goal, they recognized the obstacle, and we helped them overcome that obstacle.
Then we told them what to do next. And so that’s why it’s important to have some sort of framework.
If you don’t use The Hero’s Journey, and there are lots of storytelling arcs out there that you can get a hold of and use — as long as you have some sort of scaffolding, that’s important. As long as you’re telling some sort of story, and the scaffolding helps you tell that particular story.
Jerod: So you’re saying that even though there is so much content out there — it seems like 10 billion blog posts published every day — there is still a way to be heard above the noise if you do something new, something compelling, something that has some kind of narrative arc or something that grabs an audience member.
You’re saying you can still make a difference and get your content seen and read and respected if you do that?
The single most important part of a good story (that many people forget)
Demian: Absolutely. I mean, think about Copyblogger. Brian Clark kind of entered this field back in 2006. He didn’t share anything original. What he was teaching wasn’t original. It had been taught before. He just took it and presented it in a different format, in a story that the audience he wanted to attract recognized and that resonated with them.
For example, that audience was those who were both direct-response copywriting killers, but plus the poetic misfit side of things. That’s why he used a lot of references to Depeche Mode, to punk rock, to Nirvana, to Boston, all these cultural references, which brought what he was doing above what had already been said.
And we can all do this, and it’s the same thing. A lot of what really happens, how this happens naturally for people, is presenting their personality, and presenting their own story.
And people hear that story, and then they say, “That’s a lot like my story,” and so they come around, and they get very interested in what you’re doing.
Jerod: Storytelling to me is interesting because I think it’s actually more simple than a lot of people think, but it’s not as easy, necessarily, as people may think. So talk about this process of telling the story, and how you organize it to tell it in a compelling way.
Demian: Right. Storytelling is difficult because really, we think that we have a character, and then the common mistake people have is they forget the conflict part of it. The princess who becomes the great ballerina is not a story; it’s an observation.
What you have to do, though, is create a story in which there is a conflict that is meaningful to your customer, to your audience. So the process that I use, and I try to teach other people to use, is this idea of storyboarding. But what it really begins with is this idea of who is your ideal audience. And it always begins with that.
Discover your ideal audience
You will hear us probably sound like a broken record. It’s the only song we will ever sing. But you have to know your audience before you do anything, and in the next episode we’ll talk about some ways to understand this audience, including using what we call the empathy map.
But first, discover your ideal audience. Then form your hunch. As you’re sort of picking up and learning about your audience, you’ll begin to know them. You’ll begin to think about them. You’ll start to sort of make predictions about who they are and how they respond to certain things, and then what you need to do is then form your hunch.
Sort of create a theory about who these people are. Then you need to go do some research, right, and figure out if your hunch is true.
For example, when I was doing the native advertising series, I had a hunch that most people in the marketing world — even in the marketing world — didn’t know what native advertising was. So I had to do some research, and I searched in search engines, did topical keyword research. I conducted a few interviews.
But ultimately, the main source of all that information came from a survey that we did in which we had over 2,100 respondents telling us, basically, what I figured was true — that not a lot of people knew about it.
So you gather that information about your audience, form your hunch, then you pull all your resources together, and then you create a narrative.
Uncover a narrative through storyboarding
So this process looks like this: This is where the storyboarding idea comes in. You pull your resources together, you make Post-it notes. If you have a large whiteboard, put those on the whiteboard, or use a dry-erase marker. Create this list of categories.
Start to systematically work through your notes, putting all this information on the board. And then from that, you need to create a narrative. Now, the interesting thing is, and this is where the storyboarding idea comes from. The storyboarding is basically creating the movie before you actually even create the movie.
This was a technique actually developed by Disney in their animation films, and Andrew Adamson, who is the director of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Shrek 2, said that storyboarding is an expensive writing tool because you are going through every single scene and creating the movie, right?
You’re creating the animation. Creating the short video. But really, ultimately, what it is — it’s a really inexpensive production tool. Because when you storyboard something, this comes all down to preparation. If you storyboard something, you’ll learn whether it’s a viable idea before you ever actually put any real, heavy-duty money into it.
So you create the storyboard, and you don’t have to be a great artist to do this, either. Just simple sketches to help you work through that. The idea of storyboarding really, in our sense if you’re creating, say, a blog series, is just saying: “Okay. How is all of this information going to fit in the long run?”
Because when I was doing that native advertising, and that Google+ authorship series last year, I had a ton of information and I had to sort through it and make it meaningful.
It had to have some sort of meaningful sequence work through it so people could relate to it, and people could view it and recognize it as something that’s been repackaged and repurposed in a new way, and a more interesting way, hopefully, too, ultimately. Because that’s what you’re after — that story.
And so you create this narrative, and then you ultimately find the hook. And I’ve said this before: The hook for the native advertising series was this idea of the old guard journalist fighting against this new advertising revenue, but it’s actually an old story.
And in the Google+ series, it was this idea of Hunter S. Thompson: The idea of not wanting to fall into obscurity, but using writing to put a stamp on the world. To put your own little dent in the universe, and Google authorship could have helped do that. They’ve since pulled that, so it’s a moot point.
But find the hook, and then you can repurpose this content ultimately, and we’ll talk about this later in future podcasts too. But we’ll ultimately repurpose that content, so you’re creating this narrative, and once you have this narrative and you figure out how, say, this blog series is going to roll out, then you can think about what’s next.
How am I going to create that infographic? All right. How about a podcast series? How would that look? And almost all the work for those other formats is done for you. So it’s really easy.
People might think there’s a lot of preparation behind doing this storyboarding thing, but the thing is, once you do the early work, you can kind of relax after that because a lot of the work is already done for you for those other formats, for which you can then roll off the content.
Stay open-minded about your hypothesis
Jerod: So a couple of quick comments here. Number one, I want to go back to what you said about forming your hunch, because I think it’s very important.
You start out with this hunch, this hypothesis, but as you go through you also have to be open-minded to the fact that you may be wrong, and it’s okay. You, and your post on this, which we’ll link in the show notes, quote Brian Clark when you 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.
So I just want to underscore that point — how important it is to be open-minded and to let the research tell the story, as opposed to just trying to tell the story you want to tell, even if what you’re finding out is suggesting something else.
The storyboarding process, step by step
And then the other thing that I want to ask, Demian, as we start to wrap this up, is about your process when it comes to storyboarding. You know, I’ve seen the picture of your big whiteboard, kind of just the mad scientist writing everywhere, and all that.
So what exactly is your process, and maybe what can you suggest to other folks who are listening, about how to actually go about doing this actual process of storyboarding?
Demian: For the online research, I save a lot of my notes on Evernote. I’ll be reading articles, and I will copy selections from those articles, save those to Evernote, and just do that over as much research as I possibly can.
If I’m reading a book, I’ve got into the habit of making notes in the book. I’ll put little ticklers there to show me where to go back, and then I’ll actually go back to that book and then copy those lines out into Evernote so I have a list of the quotes out of that book.
Then I take all that information and I sit down at my laptop in front of my blank whiteboard, and then I just start systematically writing out these notes, trying to piece them together.
Because you’ll come across, with the native advertising series for example, there were several themes that kept coming up, but there were some things that would lead me astray. So I had to see the patterns and create categories on the board, and then take that information.
From one article, if they were saying “X,” I would take “X” and put that underneath “Category A.” But in the same article they were saying “B and Y,” and I’d take that and put that under “Category B.” To systematically do that, and to try to fit things into categories.
And then after I have all that information, and I’ve double-checked and gone through all my sources, I will then look at the board and think about how this is going to flow.
What’s the narrative flow? What’s the story behind this? What’s the obstacle? I try to think of what the hero is thinking. What is the goal behind the native advertising? What’s the goal behind Google+? Why should anybody — why should our customer care — for that matter?
So I start asking these questions and thinking about how I, as a mentor, how us, Copyblogger, as a mentor, can then help walk people through this new information and help them navigate this new information.
And then from there, on the board, I will start moving things around, and I’ll either erase things, or put arrows, or sometimes there’ll be sticky notes that I can just move — whatever process.
I like to draw. I’m a tactile learner, so I like to use my hands. I like the feeling of having a dry-erase marker in my hand and marking things on the board, and sometimes drawing, sort of picturing what I’m doing.
So I have this flow, I have this picture, this sort of blossoming story that’s unfolding before me, and it’s a big mess at first. But then slowly, over time, I can kind of move that and sculpt it into a single, flowing outline — that’s what this eventually becomes.
From this case, it was a blog series. You can do this for individual articles, you can do this for a podcast, you can do this for a video. The storyboarding helps in any of those formats.
Additional resources: storyboarding videos
Jerod: You know, doing a podcast about storyboarding is kind of an ironic choice, because it’s such a visual activity. And we have three or four videos here that we’re going to link in the show notes that people can watch about storyboarding.
Any final thoughts about those videos to guide the listeners as they watch them?
Demian: Yeah. I would just say I found the purpose of storyboarding, the history of it, interesting, but the thing to take note is — this is, again — that this idea of storyboarding helps you in whatever you’re creating — whether it is a video shoot, whether it’s a podcast series, or an infographic.
It can help you outline how that looks. A lot of these are short. They’re anywhere from two to 13 minutes. So take your time, look through them. It’s just helpful.
And I think the other thing, too, that’s helped me in the past is I’ve read a number of books on the act of actually writing a novel, or writing a screenplay, and there are a number of books out there on doing that you can pick up.
The point is trying to develop a sense of how a story works. What makes a story work are the conflicts, the emotions, and finding out what those building blocks are and working from there to form your own marketing story.
Jerod: Well, thank you as always for your insight, Demian, and we will talk in a couple of weeks for part three of the series on content strategy.
Demian: Looking forward to it, man. Thank you.
Jerod: Thank you very much for tuning in to this episode of The Lede. We sure hope that you enjoyed the episode, and that you’re enjoying this series. And if you did, and if you are, we hope that you’ll consider leaving us a rating or a review on iTunes.
And don’t forget, you can listen to The Lede on Stitcher as well. Just go to copyblogger.com/stitcher, and it will redirect you to The Lede page on Stitcher.
We’ll be back in two weeks with the third and final installment in our series on content strategy, and we’re actually going to be taking a step back, because we’re not done learning about our audiences yet.
In fact, there is one specific strategy for getting to know our audience that we haven’t even covered yet, but that is invaluable. What is it? Tune in to our next episode to find out.
*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.