As you may or may not know, I was a film major in college.
And while I now lovingly (and only half-jokingly) refer to my film degree as “my $80,000 cocktail party conversation starter,” being a film student taught me an awful lot about storytelling.
If you want to learn how to tell a compelling story? Study movies. I think people tend to discount popular movies as not being “art,” but there is an art to the storytelling of popular cinema that cannot be denied.
Content marketing is about telling your story.
Believe it or not, your business is about storytelling, too. Yeah, I don’t care what you do — you could be an accountant, a handbag designer, a graphic designer, a VA, or a coach — your business is about stories.
And if you understand those stories, you’ll understand your content marketing at a whole new level.
When filmmakers think about their stories, they have to make the leap from words to experiences. They start with a script, words on a page, and end up with a fully realized experience on screen, and to get there, they use storyboards.
Before anyone ever yells, “ACTION!” the director sits down with a storyboard artist and visualizes every shot of the movie.
The first time I heard of this idea being applied to business was from Air BnB founder Joe Gebbia. Apparently he was watching a documentary about Walt Disney, and was inspired by the images of storyboards from Snow White. So he and his team hired an illustrator and storyboarded the entire Air BnB user experience. And then he applied the concept to his team, asking them to storyboard what it would look like if they were doing their best work.
How to storyboard your content marketing.
But how do you relate this back to your business?
Well, as I said before, every business has a story. Your customers have a story, an experience, that they go through on the way to making a purchase, after they make a purchase, etc. And you can storyboard that story to find your content ideas and opportunities.
First, you’re going to want to gather some supplies. You can use good old post-it notes if you want to, or plain paper, or something fancy like StoryboardThat.com — whatever floats your boat. I suggest starting with post-its and moving to something else once you have the basic story worked out. And don’t worry — you can sketch out pictures if you want to, but you can also use words. This isn’t about artistic skill.
- Start with the end in mind. Take a post-it and write down what you want people to do, ie: purchase your product or service.
- What happens right before that? If your story were a movie, would would the scene right before that purchase be? And how about the one before that? And the one before that?
- What happens after? Start looking at what happens right after someone purchases your product. Where are they two minutes after? Sixty minutes after? Sixty days after? Take it out as far as you can. If you sometimes get repeat business, storyboard that as well.
What you should end up with is a bunch of sticky notes that tell your story.
But, again, what does that have to do with content marketing?
Look for the problems to solve.
Chances are, on your first run through, you won’t hit every step. As you look at your preliminary storyboard, ask yourself, “What problem is my customer facing at this stage?” Write it on a new post-it.
Let’s take an example here. An accountant doing this exercise might have a storyboard that says something like this:
- Client collects data (bank statements, receipts, etc.)
- Client sends data to bookkeeper
- Bookkeeper reconciles data
- Bookkeeper sends easy-to-understand reports back to client
- Happy client!
What problems does the client face at each step? Well, to start, maybe collecting all that data is hard. Maybe making the time to sit down and look at their financials is hard. Maybe they have a problem because they’re scared of their financials. Maybe they don’t even understand how to pull their bank statements or which receipts they should be saving.
BOOM. Every single one of those problems is a topic you can blog about, tweet about, share on Facebook. If the accountant can solve any one of those problems with information in a blog post, he is doing his customers a service.
Let’s look at our handbag designer’s story:
- Customer is shopping online for a new purse.
- Customer finds designer’s website.
- Customer browses through the purses and finds one she loves.
- Customer places the order.
- Designer makes the purse.
- Designer ships the purse.
- Happy customer!
So, what problems does a person shopping for a new purse face? You might think, “This is silly; my handbags are a luxury purchase. No one has a problem with a purse…” But that’s just not true.
First, who is shopping for the purse? Is it a woman who wants to look stylish? Is it a mom looking for a utilitarian bag that looks awesome? Is it a befuddled hubby hoping to find the perfect gift? Each of these people has different problems they are looking to solve (and therefore, different blog posts they want to see).
How does she find the website? How does she browse through the purses? How does she pick out the one that’s best for her?
Each of these steps offers an opportunity for education or inspiration in the form of a blog post.
- Each problem the customer faces before they purchase your service is an opportunity for you to help and educate.
- The big wins and satisfaction they feel after they purchase from you are opportunities for you to inspire people who haven’t yet purchased about what life would be like with your product.
- Your part of the story — reconciling the reports, designing the handbag — are opportunities for behind-the-scenes information your reader might be interested in.
You can get dozens of ideas from a single storyboard, and if you have multiple kinds of customers (like the handbag example), multiple reasons people come to you, or multiple avenues they take to reach you, each of those is another storyboard. The possibility for generating ideas becomes practically limitless.
What’s the next step?
When you’re storyboarding, you’re constantly asking yourself, “What’s the next step?”
For my personal business storyboard, the next step after helping you generate ideas is helping you to get them organized. And I do that with a course I call CIA. It’s a powerful, four-part guided brainstorming, strategy, and organizing tool to help you get the next six months of your content out of your head and into a plan. If you’re interested, click here to read more.
And now it’s your turn. Snap a photo of your storyboard and share it with me on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #bizstoryboard. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!