The Story Funnel-Matrix: Create Better Content With This Simple Diagram

Tell someone to write a poem, and chances are they’ll freeze up. Tell someone to write a haiku, however, and we bet they’ll bang one out in less than 10 minutes. The reason: Constraints unleash our creativity. But how can you translate that to the complex world of content marketing? The diagram below will help you do just that.

The Story Funnel-Matrix

The funnel-matrix has two dimensions. The first maps loosely to the stages of a typical marketing funnel: awareness, consideration, and acquisition.

What stories you tell depends on your current relationship with your audience—where you are as a couple, to use the obligatory marketing-dating analogy.

When you first meet someone, your conversations tend to focus on what you have in common like shared interests and values. This is why so many people make small talk about the weather. It affects everyone, so it’s something we all have in common.

You probably won’t dive into your health problems the first time you meet someone. You probably won’t share intimate details about the people in your life.

But after you meet, you might start sharing some of those things, especially if the first date goes well. You might paint a picture of your dream life: where you want to live, your ideal career, where you want to travel. Though you shouldn’t hit them with a marriage proposal at this point, you’ll start to develop a deeper connection by explaining what you care about and what you want.

By the third or fourth date, you’ll gradually introduce more personal stories over time. This is the way a relationship progresses. (Notice how storytelling is such a big part of what we do when we’re dating. It’s good for more than just marketing and publishing!)

This brings us back to our funnel-matrix. In the beginning of a relationship, you should tell stories about shared interests and values. As things progress, you can tell stories about the people in your life (like your customers or employees). Finally, as things start getting more serious, you talk about your products and services.

The second dimension of the funnel-matrix adds a bit of planning to aid your content strategy. This comes straight from the playbook newsrooms have used for decades. The idea is to divide your stories into three more categories: timely stories dealing with current events, seasonal stories relevant because of the time of year, and evergreen stories that are valuable no matter when the audience encounters them.

Take American Express, for example. The team behind Amex’s OPEN line of credit cards wants small business owners to know that they care about them. Building that trust is a key part of the company’s B2B branding. Amex tells stories in various places, most notably on OPEN Forum, a content hub and newsletter that attracts millions of small business owners each month. The brand is mostly interested in staying top of mind, not driving conversions or talking about products.

Instead, Amex tell stories about how small business owners handle challenges like hiring and growth. These are examples of evergreen stories.

Sometimes Amex OPEN Forum spots something relevant that happens in the news and writes stories about how it affects small business owners, like new overtime laws and tax policies. These are timely + top-funnel stories.

And one day a year, American Express sponsors a holiday called Small Business Saturday, when it encourages consumers to shop at local businesses instead of big ones. To promote the upcoming holiday, Amex creates videos about small businesses making a difference in their communities around the country. These are seasonal stories.

Shinola, a high-end watch brand, tells awesome stories about its mission: to bring manufacturing jobs back to Detroit by retraining bereaved auto workers and factory employees to make bicycles and watches. These areas of focus both emphasize values (saving American jobs) and people at the company. So they are evergreen + top-/mid- funnel.

GE Reports, which tells stories about meaningful technology and the invention of really cool products (but doesn’t try to get you to buy those products), creates content that we classify as top-/mid-funnel. The stories are often timely—as the company reports on new innovations—but also evergreen because they still entertain after the news is over.

And when Groupon tells hilarious stories about its deals, which helped the company grow exponentially in the late 2000s, that fits the category of timely + bottom-funnel. They’re stories meant to direct you to product deals that Groupon wants you to buy on one specific day.

The smartest brand storytellers are constantly on the lookout for data that tells them what their audiences are interested in during each stage of the funnel. They obsess over it. And that’s because they know it’s their secret advantage.

This is an excerpt from the Amazon #1 New Release, The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming Into the Void, and Make People Love You” by Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow. Order your copy today.

Image by Healthy Mond / Unsplash

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