Tell a Story

Mar 25, 2010 | Marketing, Strategy

Kim Gusta SymantecWhen most companies develop marketing collateral they think in terms of what their product or service will do for their customers – what the features are, what the benefits are.

But when you take it a step further and translate those features and benefits into a story that resonates with prospects, your marketing instantly becomes more understandable and more memorable.

In today’s blog post, I interview a marketing consultant who specializes in developing stories.

Her name is Kim Gusta and she has 13 years of experience doing marketing for Symantec and other software companies.

Judy: I’ve heard you say “Marketing is much more effective when it tells a story.” What kind of a story are you talking about?

Kim: Most software marketers are tasked with “checklist marketing” or marketing that is driven by a list of deliverables to create for different marketing activities such as a product launch. The product launch checklist might tell them to create a standardized set of deliverables like a datasheet, PowerPoint presentation, and an FAQ. The advantage, of course, is that this approach ensures consistent marketing coverage for each product or campaign that is created.

The problem with checklist marketing, though, is that it follows a regimented approach. Your prospects’ unique information requirements aren’t necessarily taken into account. Checklist marketing really institutes a “one-size-fits-all” approach and the messaging for each marketing piece often exists in isolation from other pieces. The pieces often don’t work together to tell a story about how your organization can help solve your prospects’ challenges.

The story approach I’m advocating means all your content marketing activities (collateral, website, blog postings, webcasts, etc.) have strategic content that progressively tell a story about how you can solve your prospects’ challenges.

A great book that lays out this strategy in detail is Ardath Albee’s eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale.

Judy: Why does using a story make the collateral more effective?

Kim: As prospects investigate solutions, they’ll be exposed to many messages in your various marketing activities. If you think about someone who is just starting to explore solutions to their challenge, they probably want high-level, objective information about their issue.

For instance, say you’re a marketing manager at a software company that helps organizations migrate to new operating systems, and you target system administrators investigating Microsoft Windows 7. For prospects at the very beginning of their research phase, they want broad, objective, and useful information about how to migrate Windows 7 but they’re not interested yet in hearing about your product. Useful content examples could be providing analyst reports about Windows 7 migrations, creating a web page with useful industry links about how to do a migration, etc.

As this prospect digests your information, you build a relationship with them. They gradually begin to trust that you’re an expert source on Windows 7 migrations so they look to you to provide more useful information. The key to this approach, though, is recognizing the prospect’s needs for information and to not push your products at them. That’s a turnoff, it doesn’t build trust, and it’s not useful in this information-driven approach.

Judy: How can you use a story to get prospects the right information at each stage of the sales cycle?

Kim: First, you need to understand the stages in your sales cycle. Then you analyze your prospects’ information needs in each of those stages. In the example above, the system administrator who is just starting to learn about Windows 7 migrations is early in the sales cycle and has very broad information requirements. He’s not interested in hearing about your product yet. He wants to learn more about Windows 7’s new features and how a migration process works. It’s not until later stages in the sales cycle that he wants to learn how your solution specifically solves his challenge.

Your goal is to build a set of marketing materials or activities that map the buyer’s information needs to each sales cycle stage. Each of these materials should work together as a story to support the buyer’s information needs.

Judy: How can a company get started telling a story in their marketing materials? What is the easiest way to start using this strategy?

Kim: First is mapping the stages of your sales cycle to your buyer’s information needs. Of course, this requires that you have an in-depth understanding of your buyers, their challenges, and the types of information they need. Next, you create a content plan that outlines the deliverables you’ll create that address the buyer’s information needs and map to the sales cycle stages. It’s a bit like creating an editorial calendar. But, rather doing checklist marketing, which dictates a standardized list of deliverables, your content will be driven by the buyer’s unique information requirements.

Judy: What are other advantages to this approach?

Kim: With this approach, your marketing has the potential to really engage your buyers, because you’re showing them you understand their information needs. That pays off in many ways – they begin to trust information they receive from you, and they’ll continue to come back for more. And because you’ve become a trusted advisor, they’re much more likely to share this information with their friends and colleagues.

For more information about Kim Gusta, check out her website at

Who else should read this? Please share!

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