According to Steve Krub (@skrug), the average person spends only seconds scanning a web-page before deciding to stay or move on. Rather than closely reading all the skillfully written text, visitors scan very quickly, mainly for keywords or phrases that match their current tasks or interests. This is similar to the way human-to-human interactions formulate first impressions of each other. When a potential customer finds their way to your business-page, what kind of messaging will they find there that is most likely to result in the best possible first impression your brand? Does your brand messaging convey a clear and compelling story that is resonant and relatable? Does your call to action leave would-be customers feeling as though they are being pursued respectfully or does your messaging move inappropriately fast for an introductory encounter? Crafting your brand messaging based on storytelling principles while developing your marketing sequence based on well understood stages of relationship-building may provide a predictable and science-based approach for turning visitors into loyal customers.
Many brands choose to invest heavily in the skills of designers, who are in command of the very latest graphic art and design principles. In addition, finely honed SEO skills and viral social media campaigns are sure to entice would-be customers to at least check you out. However, as Donald Miller notes, “the fact is, pretty websites don’t sell things. Words sell things!” Further, the message or “brand-story” reflected on your website and in keynotes and e-mails are the most persuasive elements of marketing available to you to win over potential customers (Building a StoryBrand, p. x?). Without a clear message nobody will pay attention to your offerings no matter how much you invest in elaborate marketing materials. Miller suggests that an effective way to communicate value to customers is through a thoughtful and strategic approach, based on the proven and the near universal sense-making power of storytelling. At its most basic, a story brand framework involves:
a character, usually the hero of the story (your customer), who wants or needs something but encounters some impediment (villain) that blocks the hero from getting it. At the critical moment of hopelessness, a guide (your brand) steps forward and provides them with a plan, and calls them to action. This action helps the hero to avoid failure and typically ends in the hero succeeding.
Significantly, story branding involves representing your brand as a trusted guide who has a plan that can be used by the hero-customer to solve their problem in a transformational happy-ending fashion. This differs significantly from marketing approaches that conceive of the brand, and not the customer, as the hero. Positioning your brand as guide allows you to take on the role of trusted and astute attendant. Customers aren’t looking for a hero. Rather, they’re looking for a guide who has a fool-proof plan they can immediately utilize. This is the guides’ call to action. Miller states that you must believe in your product enough to directly ask for a sale (call to action). If you do not, your potential customer-hero may lose faith in the ability of the guide-brand to lead them to success.
Despite the very brief window that your webpage has in which to convey your company’s story brand, you must strike a balance between being too forward and too aloof. Winning over a new customer, much as attracting a romantic partner, benefits from understanding that all relationships pass through various stages or phases on the way to becoming fully realized. Ryan Diess (@ryandeiss) refers to these stages as The Customer Value Journey (CVJ). Following Diess, you want to sequence your marketing and offerings such that it is neither too forward, as in meeting someone for the first time and blurting, “hi, want to get married?” nor so ambiguous that you never actually ask for that first coffee date. To really understand how prospects become customers, Diess suggests studying the various stages of (human) intimacy and overlaying these insights onto business relationships. Selling your brand to someone new, is similar to traversing the path of human intimacy with the task of marketers being “to move prospects and customers seamlessly and subtly through each phase of the customer value journey.” The CVJ is the sequential movement through the following eight stages: awareness, engagement, subscription, conversion, excitement, ascension, advocation and promotion. (1) Awareness is often realized through advertisements, referrals, or word-of-mouth. (2) Engagement refers to capturing attention through content, usually in the form of information or entertainment. (It is at the engagement phase we should employ the StoryBrand framework.) (3) Subscription relates to obtaining contact information through such activities as registration details gathered for a webinar, mini-class, report/study, or newsletter and the like. (4) Conversion refers to the instance wherein the business relationship changes or escalates from passive to active either through the commitment of time or money, such as when a prospect makes a small purchase. (5) Excitement is when the customer receives genuine value from an initial transaction with your brand. (6) Ascension occurs when the customer purchases the brand’s core offer and may then be receptive to upsells. (7) Advocation happens when customers say nice things about the brand, perhaps on social media. (8) Promotion refers to satisfied customers telling friends and others about your brand. Deiss suggests that the customer may skip past one or even a couple stages of the CVJ; however, the customer should generally move sequentially through most of these stages. The speed through which a person moves through the various stages of the CVJ is not necessarily a determinant of success, rather success is more predictive if a potential customer proceeds systematically from step-to-step.
Sequencing your marketing to strike a balance between coming on too strong or too weak, in combination with scripting a blockbuster story-brand that positions your brand as valued guide and customer-as-hero provides a powerful marketing strategy to increase the likelihood that potential clients become loyal customers.