I've noticed that there's something that scares most marketers.
We love our data.
Most marketers find it fun to review their traffic, engagement, and subscriber numbers. It allows them to test new things and measure their effect.
Data is logical.
But when it comes to content marketing, there's a component that doesn't always seem logical: storytelling.
I'm not talking about writing a fiction novel. I am talking about having the ability to write about even the most boring topics in a fun-to-read way.
It's something that many marketers, even good ones, struggle to do.
Do you also have trouble with this part of creating content?
I see you nodding.
I'll be honest: that's a problem. If you can't write persuasively, you'll struggle to get subscribers, traffic, etc.
The good news is that it's a skill that can be improved.
And if do it well, you can create content that sparks conversations across your niche. You'll find that dozens of blogs start mentioning and linking to your content with very little effort on your part.
Although this skill might seem like something abstract and impossible to improve upon, it can be translated into a proven process that you can follow. This makes developing it a lot easier.
In this post, I'm going to show you that process, step by step.
If you implement it, your content should produce more traffic, referrals, backlinks, and subscribers.
Step 1: Identify and describe the problem (3 parts)
A story can be really interesting to you but completely uninteresting to someone else, depending on how it's told. That's because we care about different things and enjoy things in different ways.
When you're creating content, there are two places you can start:
- The problem (that you intend to solve for your readers)
- Your readers
Either can work, but starting with your readers is the most logical place to begin.
The more you understand your audience, the more you can tailor your content to them. Ideally, you want to be able to answer questions such as:
- What are their passions?
- What are their biggest problems?
- Whom do they care about most?
- What do they do for entertainment?
You can figure out some of this by doing some basic demographic and psychographic research.
The ideal way to figure out these answers is to talk face-to-face with some of your readers.
There are three ways to do this:
- Know some people in your target audience in your daily offline life. Offer to take them out to lunch and talk to them.
- Ask email subscribers to answer a survey, or have a quick chat with them. Offer a small reward if they agree (even a $5 gift card could be enough).
- Host webinars. Not only are webinars great because they convert subscribers into customers, but they are also great because they give you a chance to actually talk with your most engaged readers.
Once you're having a conversation, you can ask most of those questions above although you should try to phrase them in a way relevant to your niche.
For example, since I write about marketing, I could ask questions such as:
- Why are you learning marketing?
- What do you hope to accomplish as a marketer?
- How will marketing affect other areas of your life?
Analyze the answers from 10-20 different people, and you'll start to see patterns.
Next, identify the problem and the pain: Each piece of content should solve one specific problem. And all problems produce pain, which is where the emotion behind storytelling factors in.
If you understand the pain, you can explain the problem better than most readers can themselves. If a reader sees that you can do that, they'll believe that you have the solution.
All content and stories should start with the pain because that's how you draw in the reader.
Before you start writing, you should be able to fill in the blanks:
The problem I solve for my reader is ______________________.
The reason my reader is motivated to solve this problem is because _______________(the pain).
Finally, you need to put that pain in the context of your reader.
For example, say you write about fitness. You identify that many gym-goers get wrist pain while bench-pressing. The pain is a clear physical one, and your reader wants to solve this problem.
But think of the difference in the pain for:
- A casual gym-goer
- A high level athlete
For the casual gym-goer, the pain is annoying because it makes it harder to get into shape.
However, for a high level athlete, the pain isn't just physical-it's preventing them from improving and achieving important goals in their life.
You can't write a story to appeal to both audiences at the same time. That's why the first part of this section was so important.
With all this identified, you can move onto the next step, which is where you can actually start the story.
Step 2: Drive the pain home
Now you're beginning your content.
While you might want to remind your readers of the pain throughout your story, the intro is where you need to drive it home.
You want to use everything you've learned from step 1 and describe the pain your reader is facing in great detail.
Copywriters often call this “amplifying” the pain.
Let's look at an example. Here's the intro from an article on Smart Blogger.
I've highlighted a few different things here:
- A common fear the readers of that blog have.
- Illustrating the pain and frustration his readers feel (describing why).
- Amplifying the pain by connecting this specific pain (little traffic from each piece of content) to a bigger pain (failing to get traffic and subscribers on the overall blog).
So, how do you do this for your own content?
There's no set formula, but to start, make a list of:
- The problem
- The pains specific to that problem
- The bigger pains related to the problem
Remember earlier, our example problem was that our athlete was getting wrist pain in the gym.
At this point, you'd have some notes on your outline, like this:
- The problem – You can't work out effectively and can't make progress in the gym.
- The specific pains – Sharp wrist pain every time you try to bench-press a decent weight.
- The bigger pains – If you can't work out, you can't achieve the level of play that you want. If you can't get rid of this pain, you'll see your teammates and opponents surpass you because they aren't limited by it.
Those three points come together really naturally from there.
After pain, offer relief: You've effectively “broken down” your reader. They're feeling the pain and worried about what happens if they can't solve the problem.
But now, you turn it around and offer an answer. You're the only one who understands their pain, and you know how to solve it. Why wouldn't they be interested in what you have to say?
Make your transition, just like in the example post from above:
There are two parts to this:
- State your solution
- Give an optimistic example
In the case above, the author's solution to traffic problems was to leverage Slideshare. Then, he gave an example of Michael Hyatt getting 70,000 views on his content on Slideshare.
In our example, the solution might be to fix our athlete's bench-pressing technique. You could give a personal example or an example of a student who was able to get past their pain and add 50 pounds to their bench press within three months of implementing the solution.
Essentially, you're saying that you understand their end goal and now want to show them how to connect the dots.
Step 3: Craft a narrative
Now we're into the meat of the story.
It's time to not only give your solution but explain why it works. The more context you can give, the better.
For example, Alex Turnbull (Groove HQ blogger) wanted to write a post about improving conversion rates through design.
But to make it more compelling, he crafted a narrative-a before and after story. He went through the steps that Groove used to increase their conversion rates by 100%.
If you can give detailed examples throughout your solution, you'll make the story much more interesting.
However, it's not always possible, so focus mainly on providing the best possible solution for your reader and then add examples if possible.
Step 4: You can only be compelled if you believe in the story
Here's a part that many marketers miss.
If you did the first few steps right, your readers will read your content with an open mind. After all, you seem to really understand their problem and pain and claim to have a solution that works.
If you want your readers to be ready to take action at the end of your content or landing page, you need to give proof.
On landing pages, this is typically done with testimonials and case studies.
For blog posts, you do this with data and research throughout your story.
The more evidence you can provide to show that your solution should work for your reader, the more likely they are to take action.
For example, I wrote a post about “How I Generated $332,640 in 3 Months From Instagram.”
In this post, I outlined the strategy I took, but I also provided proof-a screenshot of the sales I made:
When you include proof like that, your reader will believe that your solution worked for you and thus might work for them too.
Want to make your story bulletproof? The key factor above is that the data and personal examples show that your story is true and that it worked in the main scenario you're writing about.
Sometimes, that leaves some readers with the question: “But will it work for me?”
That's where you need to pile on the evidence.
In that same article about using Instagram, I shared multiple examples (case studies) of other businesses using the exact same model to achieve great results:
The point is to remove as much doubt from readers' minds as possible.
Step 5: Inspire action and bring it home
Your story (content) is essentially complete at this point.
You've done the following so far:
- Described the pain
- Offered hope of a solution
- Detailed your solution
- Backed it up with examples and data
As you know, simply reading a blog post alone is almost always useless.
The real value for the readers is in applying the information they learned from your posts.
Some readers are self-motivated and will figure out how to do that. However, many of your readers won't know what to do unless you tell them (or at least give them a hint).
You've probably noticed I end all my posts with some sort of a conclusion. In that conclusion, I include a call to action.
It's your chance to remind your readers of the main steps that they should take to apply whatever solution you showed them.
This is also an opportunity to include a call to action for anything further that might help them.
You might tell readers to try some strategy you laid out. And you can also include a call to action to sign up for a course you offer, subscribe for an email list, or download a content upgrade.
Truly compelling content inspires readers to act on your advice.
Making a big impact in your readers' lives will help you get more traffic and turn more of those readers into subscribers and customers.
While creative storytelling isn't the strength of most marketers, we're not trying to write a fiction masterpiece here.
Instead, you should aim to tell stories to intrigue readers so that they keep reading and then take action. If you follow the 5-step process I've shown you, you'll be able to do exactly that.
If you've read or written any great pieces of content lately, share them below so that we can all see more examples of compelling stories.