Starting with the (prospective) customer story

We begin with the prospective customer’s journey or story. Fundamentally, your company’s product needs to answer a clear customer need or problem.

You should also consider other challenges that your prospective customer may have in solving this need overcoming this problem.  

Always a useful starting point: see for more.

You may consider your customer journey through a marketing purchase funnel, or AIDA, but when it comes to content, I like to consider ‘The Hero’s Journey’ – essentially a classic narrative structure for a significant proportion of the world’s literature and film (it does help to get away from slightly stuffier corporate models when attempting to be creative).

Other posts have done The Hero’s journey great justice, so if you want to find out more about it, here are a couple you might want to check out:

This process enables a few things that just heading straight to market research might miss, by considering:

  • Who the customer really is.
  • The different needs and wants the customer has when coming across your product.
  • Different content needs for different stages of the journey.

Remember: content marketing is not all about selling straight off. It is not a direct response ‘channel’ (it’s not really a channel at all). Content should be fed throughout the cycle to enable the customer to move from one state to the next.

Customer and market research phase

Having mapped out the overall customer journey you should take a deeper dive into your research. This will not only firm up your view of the process, but also should arm you with plenty of smaller scale content ideas that you may be able to place in the process. I would always recommend looking at:

  • Website behaviour – such as where people go / what they buy.
  • Keyword research.
  • Any relevant market research data.

For more, check out yesterday’s post on 24 Ingredients for a Delicious Content Strategy.

Of course, there is potentially a lot to look at, so give yourself a meaningful time limit. One of the best ways to do it is giving multiple stakeholders a particular research goal and make them bring it to a meeting so you can collaborate on it.

 ‘The big honking idea’

Having followed the above two processes, it’s time to come up with some ‘big ideas’. These might be about the entire customer journey, but they can just as easily be about particular phases or stages.

What we are really aiming to do, is have an idea that is translatable across different media (or web content formats). There are few better examples than the American Legacy Foundation’s truth youth smoking prevention campaign, explained like so in Luke Sullivan’s Hey Whipple, Squeeze This A Guide to Creating Great Advertising:

truth wanted to point out to teenagers that cigarettes contain ammonia. Their first idea, the basic platform, was this simple parallelism: “Cigarette contain ammonia. So does dog poop.”

Perfect. It’s an unpleasant idea and a grotesque image. Next, after thinking for a while, they found their first execution: “Hey what if we stuck small signs directly into actual dog poop in city parks? Signs with the message: ‘Cigarettes contain ammonia. So does dog poop.” Boom. There’s the outdoor.

Then they took the same small sign and turned it into a print ad. The ad featured three dog poop signs, die cut and ready for the reader to deploy. Boom. Print’s done.

Then they filmed some truth volunteers at a park sticking these signs as curious passersby look on. Boom. TV’s done. An entire campaign from one idea, expressed seamlessly in several media – boom, boom, boom.

This is a great example of when cross media really works. Of course, it’s an ad and it didn’t go onto any digital platforms, so you might be wondering how it’s relevant to digital content marketing.

Simply put, it’s an idea that is platform agnostic, but a version of it can transcend any media.

I often think video is a great place to start, given it’s so information rich, and you can remix it into a series of static images and other content.

But I’ll go into more detail about formats in the next part of the series: digital content formats and more practical methods of getting your ideas running across them.