When my wife and I bought our current home, we knew it wouldn’t be our last. But I was still surprised when she proposed we sell our house and move on to something better.
She broached the subject by sharing her thoughts on our future and how our housing situation didn’t quite mesh with our ambitions. She raised interesting points, but I wasn’t ready to move. I was only at the “top of the funnel,” and I didn’t realize I had a problem that needed a solution.
My wife knows I’m somewhat particular and not inclined to jump without exploring every option, so she pivoted her approach. She showed me a lot in a neighborhood I like where we could potentially build the home of our dreams. By prioritizing my preferences, she led me to imagine living in a home designed for our needs. When we realized the process was going to be more involved than we thought, this newfound dream quickly unraveled.
Persistently, she sought another option that would get me excited about moving while offering a more affordable price and better lot logistics. Several alternatives and story evolutions later, we found a new opportunity. This one allowed us to build on a lot with a view, which she knew was near the top of my wish list. Her story again evolved to highlight how this solution addressed our needs.
This time, however, her story included a different narrative for another stakeholder: my mother-in-law. External validation when making such a big purchase is always nice — particularly in the business world — and my wife shifted her story to account for her mother’s different and more conservative perspective. She told the same story with a different narrative, and my mother-in-law began to come around to the idea.
We began the process of purchasing the lot, and we even found a buyer for our home. Everything was lining up — until my wife’s outlook changed. She’d grown increasingly uncomfortable with the risk and effort involved in a custom build. I acquiesced, and we canceled the sale of our home. We were staying put.
Our story was complete. Or so I thought.
Nurturing a lead shouldn’t be a disjointed series of assets delivered sequentially. It should reflect a progression of narrative, focused on the customer and across channels to create a connected experience. The journey might begin via inbound, and it might bounce back and forth between web, email, and paid channels several times over a long duration. Consistency throughout this progression is vital. If we can do this well, we can generate 50 percent more sales at a 33 percent lower cost — for starters.
Nurturing leads through storytelling can fuel astronomical growth. Swedish demolition equipment manufacturer BROKK Inc. reported 200 percent growth after beginning a campaign dedicated to telling the company’s tale.
Josh Hill of Marketing Rockstar Guides likens the process of nurturing leads to a serialized novel: “At a tactical level, each email, each landing page, each paper is a chapter in the story,” Hill wrote. “Rather than give it all away, each content piece that is shared uses plot elements and storytelling components to keep leads engaged. Calls to action are about continuing the story to find out what happened.”
To help your story resonate with your target audience, don’t thumb through conventional marketing textbooks. Take a page from storytelling experts such as Joseph Campbell and his Hero’s Journey to provide a framework for your narrative.
Another method used by master storytellers like “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone is ABT — and, but, therefore — to propel their story forward and keep audiences engaged. In fact, scientist-turned-storyteller Randy Olson suggests Donald Trump’s presidential election win was largely driven by Trump’s innate storytelling nature and use of the ABT structure: “America was once great. America is no longer great. I will make America great again.”
Olson has created what he calls a "Narrative Index" — a scoring system to measure storytelling efficacy. It's simple, but revealing. He takes the number of "buts" and divides it by the total number of "ands," then multiplies the result by 100, i.e. 10(but)/27(and) x 100=37. As a score, 37 is a pretty high rating.
In this video created before the election, Olson shows the surprising results and Narrative Index of Trump prior to the first debate:
Ardath Albee, author of “Digital Relevance,” suggests the hero of our story is the buyer rather than our product. Our hero might struggle with various problems, which function as the villain. Ultimately, our hero achieves her goal by using our product to solve those problems.
To extend this all a bit further, we can nurture leads by creating serialized, content-driven experiences. Below is an adaptation of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey created by the fine folks at Camp Creative to illustrate how we can use storytelling to nurture leads and create customers.
1. Ordinary World: The hero begins in an unremarkable world of normalcy, although “some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.”
This is the status quo. Our customer might not even know she has a problem that needs to be solved. Our story starts here as we begin to shape our customer’s perspective. It’s our job to help her realize she might have a problem.
2. Call to Adventure: Our hero receives a call to head off into the unknown.
Once our customer understands there is a problem — something that’s causing stress or is standing in the way of improving her situation — we need to show her solutions. This doesn’t mean we should solely offer our product as the solution, but we should introduce her to the landscape that awaits.
3. Refusal of the Call: Frequently, the hero is reluctant to answer the call. This could be due to fear, insecurity, or other reasons.
Change is hard, and it often comes with great risk. Home in on anything that might keep your hero from accepting the challenge of solving her problem now that she knows what it is. Address these concerns, and our reluctant hero will be ready for the next step in the journey: meeting the mentor (hint: that’s you!).
4. Meet the Mentor: The hero meets a supernatural or spiritual guide.
This is where you — not your product or service — become the trusted advisor to our hero. Think of yourself as the fairy godmother to your customer’s Cinderella. You’ll share knowledge, insight, and wisdom to help our hero overcome her challenge.
5. Cross the Threshold: This is the point where the hero crosses from his/her ordinary world into the unknown, taking a leap of faith.
At this stage, you must show how your product specifically solves the hero’s problem. Provide a demo, a walkthrough, a webinar, or another meaningful interaction where you can illustrate exactly how you’re going to help our hero overcome her problem and initiate change.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: The hero must endure a series of tests or challenges to begin her transformation.
In medium- and high-consideration purchases, you’ll likely encounter several other stakeholders for whom you’ll need to pivot your narrative. Arm the hero with the tools she needs to win these stakeholders over by addressing their concerns head-on.
7. Central Ordeal: The hero encounters a major obstacle or hurdle. Think of this as the thrilling climax of our tale.
Our job at this point in the story is to help our customer overcome objections and restore her confidence to move forward with our product or service. It might be an issue that was raised early in the process and never addressed, or it could be a completely new concern. Either way, we must help her clear this final hurdle.
8. Return With the Elixir: The hero returns home and applies her newfound knowledge or power — your product — to great acclaim.
The narrative need not end here. Storytelling can be just as effective as part of the customer experience. It can help you onboard customers, deliver success, and eventually brand subscribers and advocates.
Remember the cliff-hanger to my house-hunting story from earlier? When we last left our heroes, all hope seemed to be lost. Thankfully, it wasn’t the end of our tale.
After we canceled the sale of our home and called everything off, my wife inevitably solved our home-buying woes. She found us a home that combined the affordability of a production home in a setting and style befitting a custom one. She again made the case for why this was the right choice for our family and showed how this particular house checked the numerous boxes of what I was seeking.
As the situation evolved, her story adapted to address the context of each new situation, taking into consideration all of the data gathered as part of our lengthy buying journey. She got me. Hook, line, and sinker. How? She put my concerns, pain points, and desires at the center of her story.
In a couple of months, we’ll move into our new home. I’m confident we’ll live happily ever after. Or at least until she wants to move again.
Original version of this article published at business2community.com.