Think back to your junior high or high school English Literature class when your teacher first introduced and explained a story arc. This graphic representation of a plot is used by authors, television show writers, comic book creators, video game designers and more to set the stage for a compelling story.
The following outlines how the story arc usually plays out:
Start the character in a state of equilibrium.
Then define his goals.
He wants something.
He needs something.
He is denied something, etc.
He starts his journey to solve his problem.
This starts small and escalates toward climax.
The story climaxes.
The character solves his problem.
The character is returned to a new state of equilibrium.
The structure is simple enough, yet some variation of it is used by every story worth mentioning. From Aesop to Shakespeare to Twain to Palahniuk, famous and noteworthy storytellers have utilized this format for generations.
Customer Story Arcs
In the role of a marketer, we must also realize that our prospects and customers mimic this same plot line every day, often several times throughout the day when facing unique challenges and solving problems with varying levels of intensity.
Every one of us has little goals that we must achieve to return to a new state of equilibrium throughout our daily personal journeys. Here are a few of mine just from today.
- I need to eat lunch.
- I want to get my 6-year-old something fun for his birthday.
- My swimming pool vacuum is not working correctly.
- I need to book a flight for a training gig in Louisville.
- I want to get tickets to an upcoming football game.
- I should really surprise my wife with flowers soon.
- I want to dig in to a new book.
While every one of the challenges above may seem inconsequential (and maybe a little boring), a story arc can be written for each one of them. What’s more, each problem can easily be solved with the help of an outside source. Here is that list again. This time I have placed a brand that could help me solve the corresponding issue.
- I need to eat lunch. Cousin’s Subs
- I want to get my 6-year-old something fun for his birthday. Toys “R” Us
- My swimming pool vacuum is not working correctly. A&M Pool Supply
- I need to book a flight for a training gig in Louisville. Southwest Airlines
- I want to get tickets to an upcoming football game. Sun Devil Ticket Office
- I should really surprise my wife with flowers soon. Sophia Floral Design
- I want to dig in to a new book. Phoenix Public Library
Roles Marketers Play
Just as every customer has several challenges every day, the marketer’s responsibility is to identify every potential challenge her brand can solve. Additionally, it is important to determine the best time, place and channel to introduce the brand/product/service as the perfect solution.
Essentially, we must determine how to make our brands known somewhere along the highlighted area of the story arc below.
Marketing Story Arcs in Practice
Now if I could tell you the exact scenarios, messages and channels you should consider or utilize for each of your customer personas, I would. In truth, every brand is unique, and the manner in which you position your brand may differ slightly from customer to customer. Try the following step-by-step approach when designing your marketing mix and enabling your brand to resolve customer challenges.
- Define your customer personas or archetypes.
- For each persona, outline a list of potential challenges for that customer type that could be solved by your brand.
- For each challenge, define the message, channel(s) and timing. The channel piece of this equation can and probably should include a mix of traditional and online disciplines from print advertising and broadcast to paid search and automated email campaigns.
- Execute and measure your ability to reach the right people at the right time with the right message. Make adjustments as needed to messages, channels and timing.
The process outlined above is naturally easier to describe that to execute. However, relying upon the story arc may help you identify common sense opportunities to connect your brand with an audience in need.