In content marketing, it can be tempting to expect customers to follow our preferred and most convenient path of content breadcrumbs to the sale. But while each individual will experience a linear path from their perspective, the question of ‘which’ follows ‘what’ will differ for just about everyone.
Anyone else remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books, hugely popular with kids in the late ’70s/early ’80s? Between the ages of 10 and 13, I was a fan.
Every page or two, the book invited me to choose what came next. Did I want to steal the flaming sword of Eternal Thingywhatsit (Turn to page 36)? Or should I continue on to find the captured Princess Cliche (Turn to page 23)?
Inevitably, some of those decisions would result in my hero being flambeed by a dragon, shot by cowboys, abducted by aliens or some other equally ignoble end. Back to page one to try again until I got the right ending.
You’re the Star of the Story
Instead of reading about some other hero, these books put me in that position. I got to choose how the hero should behave, made the decisions and copped the consequences.
But many businesses make the mistake of assuming their brand is the hero of this story. Far from it. No one wants to read your blog or download your white papers or subscribe to your newsletter to hear what your business is up to unless it is relevant to their own story.
We are all the heroes of our own stories, not passive participants in a self-serving corporate fairy tale. [Tweet this]
Your brand, product or content may be no more than a single chapter in someone else’s much wider quest.
The goal is never web hosting or car insurance or cheese slices. It’s a successful online business, or a new car or delicious food. Even these goals may be just steps in another, broader quest; a steady income, travelling around Australia, or impressing a new date.
So by the time a person starts searching for content on web hosting, car insurance or cheese, they’ve already made a number of choices, turned many pages and may even have been burned by many dragons. Your content should recognise the whole quest.
Otherwise, how do you know enough people will make the choices you hope for instead of any number of alternative routes to their goal?
Therefore, Australian web hosting provider Netregistry published Nett Magazine, full of small business advice with very few pages concerning web hosting or related services. (Disclosure: I worked for Netregistry and wrote for Nett between 2007-2010.)
Shannons Car Insurance has Shannons Club, a community for car enthusiasts and collectors to share their passions, swap advice and even list cars for sale.
Recognising that cheese is not the only route to delicious food, Kraft publishes Food and Family magazine, full of recipes and broader lifestyle tips.
Instead of just promoting their products or brand, each of these companies introduces the relevant concepts into the preceding pages of the customer’s own story.
For me to choose to steal the flaming sword (turn to page 36), it has to be introduced earlier in the narrative.
Choose From Many Possible Endings
Similarly, the reader or customer is in control of the journey through your content.
Each new reader will dive in at a different point. One first touches the brand via a tweet. Another reads a magazine article, a third may watch the YouTube video. They choose where to start and where to go after each piece, jumping backwards and forwards through your entire archive at their own pace.
Not everyone who joins the Facebook page will sign up to the email newsletter and thence to your white paper, and so on.
So, just like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, each piece of content should appear to follow logically from the one before—whichever it may be. Whatever path they take through your content, it should seem like a consistent story with one narrator (or one editor or brand voice).
And this includes offline touches with the brand too. Don’t let your sales and support teams become the plot holes or continuity errors that knocks the reader out of the story and has them questioning what they’ve read.
This need for a consistent story that works from every angle is what content marketing is all about. Not individual pages of content thrown at a reader like confetti but pages that can be bound together in any order to form the perfect next chapter in their own story.