Since the beginning of time, storytelling has shaped the way we humans see our surroundings, from the mind of one child to the culture of an entire corporation to those inspired crowds listening to you from the stands. We naturally use narrative as a way to read our world and create a place for ourselves within the conversation. But how can we construct a meaningful story that rises above today’s flood of fresh content? And how can speakers personalize these stories to reflect both their expertise and their audience’s needs?
In today’s speaker landscape, it’s far too easy to get lost in the white noise and the marketing jargon. That’s why it’s crucial to hone in on the true secret to thought leadership success: the art of personalized storytelling.
THE ROLE OF STORYTELLING IN SPEAKER MARKETING
Storytelling is a current, trendy buzzword in sales and marketing circles—and for good reason. Stories lend a certain soulfulness to what otherwise might seem like a superficial consumer experience. But the real game-changer lies not in storytelling, but in what Ty Montague has coined “storydoing.” While stories do generate personal interest and get people emotionally invested in your message, stories in action often provide that final push toward a speaker’s bottom line.
Understanding, and applying, the art of storydoing can mean the difference between leaving someone merely entertained and sparking meaningful engagement—the kind that makes them purchase tickets to hear you speak, booking a coaching session and buying your paid digital content. And in terms of booking agents and bureaus, the same rule applies: when your story compels action, your audience is more likely to, well, act. With the right well-crafted story, you can chart their course toward the desired buying action.
You already know the big names that have mastered the art of storydoing, companies such as Red Bull and TOMS shoes, and speakers like Tony Robbins. These iconic brands—yes, the word “brand” applies to both companies and thought leaders—create a narrative of broader purpose and then wind it up like a toy soldier, marching to the beat of their audience’s lives and loyalties.
When a message is made and then actually set to task, with follow-through coming from every corner of your content strategy, speakers are perceived as having an invested interest in giving their audiences the type of content they actually want. That’s a crucial first step toward building trust—the kind that sticks.
There’s data to back this up. Montague finds that storydoing companies spend less money than storytelling companies on paid media per dollar of revenue, but still receive more mentions on social media—and a greater percentage of positive mentions, at that. Storydoers resonate with audiences whose desire for a deeper purpose in life influences their decision-making, even on a commercial level. And if that doesn’t convince you that solid content with a story matters, consider this: 78% of customers think that brands who create content value them, and 90% of consumers find content useful.
NAVIGATING THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY
To fully embrace storydoing, a speaker has to walk inside the customer’s shoes, whether that customer is a booking agent or that member of your audience who’s a prime candidate for purchasing your online course. But what, exactly, does the customer journey look like? All customers start at Point A, or the simple place of having a need. If everything goes well, they arrive at Point B, or the state of having that need satisfied. Travel between these two points, though, does not always follow a well-marked route.
In an attempt to streamline the customer journey, brands sometimes fall into the trap of bias toward bigness. In other words, they make grand, sweeping changes that are meant to make business easier for everyone by streamlining every step of the process. But this well-intentioned move doesn’t take into account the sheer unpredictability of people. We might prefer doing business online in one circumstance, but interacting with a real, live human in another. In fact, as of 2016, around 92% of retail sales in the U.S. were face-to-face transactions. And in the realm of thought leadership, the mix of human connection with online experiences is an even more delicate balancing act. (After all, perhaps more than in any other field, your audience is betting on you and your expertise.)
What does all that boil down to? In order to engage and compel action, you need to tailor your storytelling to the needs of each customer. And on top of that, you need to use your storytelling media (aka, your speaker content) to move those customers along the journey, building trust at every stage.
If all this sounds too complicated to implement, feel free to breathe a sigh of relief. In the next section, we’ll help you develop your customer personas and apply a common storytelling framework to chart each segment’s journey with your brand and message.
PERSONALIZATION AND CUSTOMER PERSONAS
To crack the code of the customer journey, more brands than ever are embracing personalization. This is one buzzy marketing trend that you should apply to your strategy today (if you haven’t already). According to comScore, 86%of customers say personally relevant content increases their interest in a brand, and Gartner says that by the end of this year, companies that invest in personalization will be generating 20% more revenue than companies who don’t.
Here’s the bottom line: content needs to be made with your target audience in mind, or your message will simply get lost in the Internet’s white noise. But that’s easier said than done, which makes customer segmenting all the more crucial. Start by creating “big buckets” of your different customer types. For example, an innovation speaker with a healthy consulting business might have segments that look like this:
- Event planners and booking agents seeking an innovation expert for their next event
- Fortune 500s seeking to gain—or maintain—the competitive edge
- C-Level executives looking to refine their own approach to innovation, both within their organization and as a leader
(Hint: if you’re a speaker and don’t have more than one “persona,” you likely aren’t maximizing your marketing and brand-building potential. If you’re having trouble coming up with segments, try brainstorming a list of key challenges that your customers have when they hire you, and create your segments based on those. For instance, the same innovation thought leader above could also have segments such as: Companies that lack organization-wide innovation and are falling behind in market share; companies that invest heavily in innovation and want to maintain the edge they’ve already achieved. The most important thing is to segment your audience in a way that makes sense to you—and helps you craft a story that speaks to each segment’s challenges, goals and aspirations.)
Once you determine your segments, create a simple persona for each. What kind of stories do they value? What are they trying to achieve? What are their objectives, and how can you help them overcome those roadblocks? Try listening to the ethos of your consumer base through a series of carefully-constructed questions, spread out over the course of several interviewing sessions. Posed from a variety of angles, their answers should ultimately reveal what influences the actions of both your current and potential buyers. This can be tedious work and is certainly not an exact science, sort of like studying character motivations in a choose-your-own-adventure novel. But the goal here is just to get your hands on as much raw data as possible.
(If you can’t do hands-on research with potential customers, do as much market research as you can. What are your competitors doing? Which influencers in your space have the most online engagement, and how are they using content to answer their audience’s needs? And in terms of booking agents and event planners, what qualities do they seek in thought leaders? What matters to their audiences, and what are some metrics for measuring progress in those areas?
After collecting buyer data, define each segment as if you’re describing a character in your latest bestselling novel. These buyer persona profiles should include prototypical backgrounds, demographics, identifiers, goals, challenges, possible solutions, quotations and common objections, all in keeping with how they might actually engage during a sale. Each prospect should also inspire a clear marketing message paired with a tailored elevator pitch.
Try answering these questions for each persona:
- What industry does your customer work in?
- How many people work at the customer’s company?
- What is the customer’s job title?
- Is your customer a decision maker or have the power to bring in a speaker or consultant?
- What aspects of the customer’s job align with your area of thought leadership?
- How old is the customer?
- What is the customer’s gender?
- What is the customer’s approximate household income?
- Does the customer live in an urban, suburban or rural area?
- What is the highest level of education the customer received?
- Is the customer married? Does your customer have children?
- What topics does your customer like to learn about outside of work?
- Does your customer invest in professional development (coaching, reading leadership content, etc) outside of work?
- Is your customer a risk taker?
- What social media platforms does your customer use?
- How comfortable is your customer navigating the Internet?
- How often does your customer attend events?
- What kind of online content does your customer prefer to consume? (Videos, blogs, infographics, webinars, podcasts, etc)
- What is the customer’s preferred way to make a purchase? In store, over the phone or online?
- Which websites or blogs does the customer visit regularly?
- Which thought leaders does the customer follow?
- How does the customer conduct research before making a purchase? Check all that apply.
- Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and/or LinkedIn)
- News websites
- Review websites
- Industry publications
- Trade shows or events
- TV/talk shows
- Print publications
- Word of mouth/referral from family, friends or colleagues
- Other (please specify)
- What pain point(s) would compel this customer to seek out your products or services?
- What is your customer trying to achieve through your products or services? Be as specific as possible.
- Is price or quality a bigger purchasing factor?
- What is the customer’s biggest reason for choosing your brand?
- What is the biggest reason the customer wouldn’t choose your brand?
- Why would the customer choose your competitor?
- How often is the customer on the market for your product or service?
The answers to these questions, and others that are relevant to your speaking business, should guide the story—and content—you develop for each segment. It’s also helpful to develop a SMART goal at this stage of the game, which will help you ensure that the end goal of the customer’s trajectory with your brand will support the business goals you want to achieve.
Ready for Part II? Let’s dive deeper into your customer’s experience with your thought leader brand.
THE HERO’S JOURNEY AS A TOOL FOR THOUGHT LEADERS
Creating personas will identify your ideal buyer(s) and also outline the traits of a “bad” prospect, or someone who might use the company’s resources without actually giving anything in return. Either way, you first have to know your main characters before guiding them through the appropriate narrative arc.
Luckily, you aren’t alone in this task. The hero’s journey, or what mythologist Joseph Campbell called the “monomyth,” has helped structure our favorite stories, from Snow White to Star Wars. Every good story meets certain beginning-to-end expectations, and we love its disguised predictability. We all want to be unique, but not unknown—and no one understands this like storytellers. In the modern business world, you can’t afford not to tap into their age-old wisdom. Under Campbell’s much-lauded framework, the hero is your customer, and their journey is how they discover, come to trust and ultimately become an ambassador for your brand.
So, what does the hero’s journey look like? Heroes usually complete a full circuit that starts in the ordinary world. Then they are called to take problem-solving action in some mythical realm, where they battle evil and overcome obstacles. But the journey is never traveled alone. With the help of an archetypal sidekick and a magical talisman, they eventually return to everyday life with some new treasure, ability or insight. In the case of a prospective customer, a conversion marks the completion of their journey.
At first glance, this framework might sound more applicable to Hollywood blockbusters than your speaker prospects. But each customer does indeed go through a journey with your brand, starting with their ordinary life and a call to action that compels them to seek out help in solving a challenge they’re facing. When crafted correctly, their journey features you as the mentor who helps them navigate the rough road ahead as they seek to overcome that initial challenge. And when they finally solve that problem they’re facing, your hero goes back to their daily life armed with powerful knowledge that, in an ideal world, they share with others who also become part of your audience.
THE HERO’S JOURNEY, WITH BUYER PERSONAS
You are the customer’s sidekick and mentor, helping them move forward with the sale. But remember, buying a product or using a service should be easier than extracting Excalibur from its stone. This 4-point exercise will help you accompany customers on every step of their journey, both to offer assistance and to make sure they don’t switch storylines.
Step 1: Craft your personas
While there is no one-size-fits-all customer experience, creating buyer personas helps organizations first identify, and then get in tune with, the people they seek to serve. Just like storydoing allows a company to appear authentic to the public, uniting similar customers under a single name and face helps personalize the sales process for those on the other end. We talked about this in the last section of this guide; if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to develop your customer segments and create a persona document for each.
Step 2: Chart the customer’s journey
Once their journey has begun, where do your buyers usually trip up? It is your job to clear obstacles for the customer, which means following their progress and pinpointing areas that could be simplified and streamlined. Using the hero’s journey framework, create a step-by-step path that customers can follow to go from 1) brand discovery to 2) trusting your brand to 3) purchasing your services and 4) ultimately helping other people find your brand.
You should create a journey map for each customer segment/persona—that’s where that whole “personalization” idea that marketers are raving about comes into play. If it helps, you can also think of the journey as the progress from the TOFU (top of the funnel) through MOFU (the middle of the funnel) to the BOFU (bottom of the funnel).
Step 3: Outline content and platforms for each stage in the journey
What type of content would your customer want to see at each stage of the journey, and where would they go to find it? After you create the stages of the journey, brainstorm what type of content to create in order to help your customer move from one step to the next. This typically takes the form of a “nurture” approach to content. In the early stages, you’ll want to demonstrate your expertise, but leave the hard sell out for now.
Once a customer moves from those early stages of brand discovery to trusting your brand (thanks to the great content you’ve created), you can move on to content that more clearly identifies you as the thought leader to help that customer solve the problem plaguing them. When a customer has gotten to the final stages of the journey, your content has already given them a primer on their challenge and how you can help them solve it. Now is the time for the hard-hitting sales content, such as the much-loved “free intro course” or “free consultation.”
Here are a few quick tips for the type of content to develop at each stage of the journey:
- Early stage (awareness of your brand, also called TOFU): Blog posts, eBooks, social media posts
- Middle stage (evaluation of your brand, also called MOFU): White papers, more in-depth eBooks, quizzes, demo videos, case studies
- Final stage (purchasing from your brand, also called BOFU): Consultations, trials, demos, discount codes
But content is only as valuable as its ability to reach your audience. Make sure to also determine where that content should be posted at each stage, keeping in mind that modern brands need to go where the customers are—whether that’s YouTube, LinkedIn, Forbes or niche industry publications. This likely won’t look the same for every segment, so drill deep into each customer persona to ensure your publishing strategy is as strong as your content development approach. You, and your audience, deserve to make the most of the content you develop.
Step 4: Continuously measure and refine
What gets measured gets done. Yes, it’s something none of us want to do, but gauging the analytics behind your story can help you continually get better at refining it for your audience. (And besides, who wants to spend time and resources creating content and being a storydoer without reaping benefits in the form of increased influence, brand trust and, well, sales?) If your team doesn’t have the in-house capabilities to create—and run analytics for—your marketing content, bring in an expert who can help you ensure there’s a reason for everything created and a way to ensure it translates to quantifiable results.
A few metrics you can track (customize these based on the SMART goals you’ve outlined):
- Website traffic and conversion
- Email list growth
- Engagement on various platforms (LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.)
- Scheduled consultation calls
- Number of paid bookings (and rate per booking)
- Quarterly and annual revenue
- Engagement post-event
- Media mentions and write-ups
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
For speakers, storytelling often comes easily. After all, you’re embracing the spotlight on stage and are, hopefully, using the power of the story in your keynote already. But by applying storytelling and some keen marketing sense to your content development strategy, you can compound the power of storytelling and make 2019 the year when your speaker business takes it to the next level.
One final note: The hero’s journey framework (and the pillars of solid storytelling) should also be applied to each piece of content you create, not just the overall customer journey. In your demo video, for instance, booking agents and bureaus want to take a journey with you, imagining how you will help their audience transform in your area of expertise. Likewise, your testimonial videos should showcase the transformation that person underwent based on your keynote or other service. A seasoned content team can help you navigate this terrain and come out with content that tells a compelling story.