My Marketing Framework: Storytelling Algebra & Enchanting Experiences

Marketing is about creating an experience – an experience that sells. To do this, I organize my thinking into two levels: macro and micro.

On the macro level, researching and planning occur.

On the micro level, the activity occurs. The plan is executed. Feedback is collected.

1. Understand How Your Audience Feels

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I start with the macro. More specifically, I start with the audience. If I’m marketing something, my end game is to convince people to buy my goods. It’s much harder to convince a complete stranger than someone who trusts you.

Everything starts and stops with the who. As in, who is this product for? And as I’m answering that question, I’ve got my eye on these questions:

  • Why do they think they need it?
  • What do they actually need?
  • Why would they like it more than alternatives?

I ultimately need to connect the person to the product, so I need a complete understanding of the person’s motivations and mindset.

Logic doesn’t exclusively guide our thinking. Emotions color a lot of our behavior. You need to think beyond the facts. The product might be superior quality and lower price, but those facts alone won’t convince a person to buy.

So to connect the person to the product, I need to understand:

  • How does this person feel?
  • What are this person’s core values and beliefs?
  • Where is this person in his or her life?
  • What challenges is this person facing?
  • What does this person enjoy?

Once you understand the emotions behind the person’s behavior, it’s easier to explore his or her behavior:

  • What does this person’s day look like?
  • How does this person talk?
  • Where does this person give his or her attention?
  • Who does this person interact with on a daily basis?
  • How much time does this person spend at different places or on different media?

I’m asking a lot of questions at the audience stage. It’s listening and observing. I’m painting a picture by connecting dots. I’ll get started marketing without a complete painting because the empty pieces will fill in as feedback is collected from the micro level.

That said, to start, I need a solid sketch of who I’m talking to. With sketch in hand, I move on to the next stage of the macro level: communication.

2. Communication Is Critical

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Marketing is about creating and building relationships. Communication is the connective tissue in all relationships. If you want to form strong relationships, you need to emphasize communication. What you say and how you say it determines your success.

This is when I’m thinking about my punchlines. What are the messages I want to convey to my audience? I don’t need the exact words. I just need to identify the persuasive ideas. Based on what I know about my audience, what are the ideas that will catch their attention, hold their attention and convince them to buy?

Messages can be hard to identify, and sometimes, the messages will evolve as feedback is collected at the micro level.

Additionally, I need to prioritize the messages for different formats. If I only have a few seconds to deliver a message, what message is first? If I have an hour to share my messages, what order do I deliver them? The messages need to adapt based on context.

Storytelling is one of the best delivery vehicles for messages. People love stories. People remember stories. People share stories. I like to weave stories that can illustrate the messages, and I like to have plenty of these stories on deck depending on the situation. Stories can make an impact by showing people how features of a product can be a benefit to his or her life.

It’s important to understand most communication is nonverbal. I’ve heard of studies that say as much as 80% of our communication is based on our body language. Communication is more than our messages. It’s also the brand image formed by colors, typography, photography and illustrations. These elements will influence the messages we say, so they are important to consider. And since most people are unaware of nonverbal communication, these elements can set the emotional tone.

When the messages and the imagery come together, they need to fit into one of three boxes: amusingly entertaining, uniquely informative or genuinely inspiring. Most of the information we consume fits into one of these three categories, so our communication needs align if we want it to be relevant.

Going Micro

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At this point, I know who I’m talking to, and I know what I want to say. The macro stage is done. It’s time to roll-up the sleeves and put the research and planning to work.

The micro stage is iterative. I’m thinking in terms of tests. I will take the ideas from the macro stage, and I will run tests in a feedback loop to measure how well they work. The feedback will be passed back through the macro stage, and new tests will move forward.

3. Find And Keep Attention

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Micro tests are organized in two steps. The first step is based on attention. And there are two dimensions of attention:

  1. Where will people find us? How can we get people’s attention to be discovered?
  2. Where will people keep their attention? How can we hold people’s attention long enough build a relationship over time?

I call the answers to the first question “Find Attention.” Find Attention is usually in external media that you don’t control. You can influence the experience, but you don’t control the media.

For instance, a magazine advertisement. You can control your advertisement, but you can’t control the magazine. The advertisement will have an influence on the person’s experience reading the magazine, but you can’t control what else is in the magazine. There are distractions to compete with in this space. There is noise. You need to stand out and rise above the noise.

Find Attention is critical – especially at the start. If you don’t get discovered, you can’t build relationships and win. The emphasis out of the gate is Find Attention. Based on my understanding of the audience, I identify the best places to deploy my first messages.

I’m aggressively pursuing Find Attention at first, but as more people discover the brand, I start adding “Keep Attention.”

Keep Attention is the answer to the second question. Once people know about us, where will they go to learn more about us? Keep Attention is media you can completely control. Think of your website, a brochure, an e-book, a webinar, promotional video, emails, text messages or social media channels. You control the experience.

Find Attention needs to feed the Keep Attention. I measure the success of Find Attention based on how much is converted to Keep Attention.

In Keep Attention, I’m sharing stories and deploying more messages. I’m engaging people and building relationships. Keep Attention gives you time for communication, and with time, you build trust.

At some point, Keep Attention can become all the attention you need to thrive as a business. You can take your eye off of Find Attention because the relationships you’ve built with customers create the Find Attention with word of mouth.

Now I start to think about the details of what I want to do with the attention. I move on to the next stage. I start thinking about context.

4. Context Controls Everything

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There are two dimensions of context:

  1. Environment – where is this attention taking place?
  2. Relationship Status – where am I in building a relationship with this person? Are we meeting for the first time? Have we met a couple times before? Are we old pals?

The environment is important to understand for a lot of the nonverbal elements of the communication. I want the advertisement to feel native to the environment. The person’s attention should flow from the media into my advertisement. When your ads aren’t native, you disrupt the person’s attention. This is a way to get recognized, but as soon as the person realizes his or her attention is being hijacked, they get defensive. No one likes to be sold to when they’re enjoying or learning about something. They will skip past your ad before you can deploy any messages. So it’s important to think about how your ad can match the space it will occupy.

I also think about the relationship status when I’m picking the messages to use. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you are not going to start the conversation with where you were born. You don’t dive straight into the details. You talk generally about where you are from. You look for areas of common interest. I want the messages I pick to mimic this in Find Attention.

If the Find Attention successfully becomes Keep Attention, the messages should change. The person is now forming an opinion of my product or service, so I want messages and stories to influence that opinion. Details are more relevant at this point. I can guide people’s decisions by anticipating his or her questions.

The alignment of the attention and context culminates into my experience. Ultimately, every interaction is an experience, so it’s important to think about the experience as a whole. I want people to feel good after each experience – even if the experience is as small as an email exchange. If you’re really hitting it out of the park, people not only feel good but they feel excited after an experience. Excitement is hard to contain. People share excitement and that transforms into Find Attention for your next customer.

The micro level measures these experiences by regularly asking for feedback from people. How would you rate your purchasing experience? Did we answer all your questions and concerns? And my favorite, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or family member? This is important qualitative and quantitative data. I also continue to make observations like I did in the macro stage.

The data and anecdotal observations are then fed back through the audience and communication stages. New insights into who you are talking to can change the messages you use. These discoveries lead to new tests in the micro stage.

While you’re constantly running micro tests, the macro is also tested. The macro test is sales. If my micro tests are looking positive, I check those results against sales to confirm I’m running the right tests to sell more product or drive down the cost of selling product.

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Marketing is all about the experience. The experience is all about aligning your audience, communication, attention and context. My process for creating the perfect alignment is this simple. 😉


Also published on Medium.

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