When I was young, I wanted to be a sitcom writer.
Now that I’m older, wiser, and more mature…I still kinda want to write sitcoms. I love a good sitcom. You get the full scope of a well-diagrammed story in 21 minutes (plus commercials). As a content creator and social media marketer, that is incredibly appealing.
Short and consumable is a core competency when it comes to social marketing, so sitcoms are a natural corollary, but focusing solely on that aspect misses half the picture: Sitcoms – when they’re written well – identify a relatable pain point, showcase the process of solving it, and bring the hero full-circle.
This cyclical journey is one of the most central storytelling devices, but many social media marketers forget to address it (spoiler alert: by telling you that you’re missing some crucial component, I just identified that pain point and gave you a call to action – you just started your hero’s cycle within the microcosm of this post).
The Hero’s Cycle
If you’ve ever taken a literature class, you’ve probably seen the hero’s cycle (you may have heard it described as the “hero’s journey” or “Monomyth”) – developed by writer and philosopher Joseph Campbell in the 1940’s.
A few years ago, “Community” creator Dan Harmon did an interview with WIRED Magazine, where he boiled down Campbell’s hero’s journey to the key components of his own storytelling:
I love his simplification of this. I’m all about simplifying needlessly complex processes, flow charts, and structures, much to the chagrin of the whiteboarding fanatics I work with. Let’s walk through Campbell’s stages and explore how they apply to social media marketing and the buyer’s journey:
1. The reader is in a zone of comfort
Your social audience is just chillin’ out, watching their Twitter feed and feeling pretty good about life. They have no idea they want or need your product right now, and it doesn’t matter what it is: a burrito, software, an ebook, etc. For now, they’re content with the way things are, because their need hasn’t been pointed out to them.
2. But they need something
This is where you come in. Your Tweet, Facebook post, LinkedIn update or YouTube video comes across their screen. So what’s your goal here? To pinpoint what they want or need. You don’t need to lay out your solution just yet; only their problem. Identify with them, and get a little sensational. Your goal isn’t to trick them, but it is to evoke an emotional response. You want them to take action, whether it’s engagement, clicking through, walking into your brick-and-mortar storefront, etc.
Make your call to action clear and purposeful: Your audience needs to fully understand what they need, which means you need to provide details (what they need), data (why they need it), and deadlines (when they need it by).
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation
Once they click through to your content (be it a blog post, an ebook, or your Facebook page), they’re in unfamiliar territory, having moved beyond their social feed and into a domain they’re unfamiliar with. This part of the hero’s journey involves an aspect that Harmon left out because it gives his story telling more wiggle room, but that I think is important from a marketing standpoint: The hero meets a “mystical guide”. While you don’t need to be mystical to find success here, you should take the role of the guide. You help your audience find the solution to a problem, and provide support throughout the journey of discovery.
Fill their gas tank, don’t drive them yourself: Throughout your content, your goal isn’t to shove your end-purpose down their throat. You don’t need to tell them what to buy. Equip readers to get there on their own. Give them the tools to get to their destination, don’t give them a ride.
4. They adapt to it
You don’t need to strong-arm your potential customers (which is a term I use loosely to mean anyone consuming goods, products, services, or even content). If you do your job right, they’ll recognize their own need. Your job is simply to present a potential option or tool (your wares) as a solution.
Be patient: Keep in mind, it could take several pieces of content before folks come around. Just like any hero’s journey, there can be several trials and iterations before the ultimate lesson sinks in. Don’t force it. Keep presenting the call to action, and building your case with additional data and resources each time. Shift your focus based on common responses (or if you have an automation tool, based on specific user actions).
5. They get what they want
Eventually, the buyer will reach a critical mass of information and click that green CTA at the bottom of your blog post, or the “Add To Cart” button on your catalog page. Whatever the action, you’ve provided people with enough data to commit.
Continue to engage: This isn’t the time to stop guiding your audience. You want the desired decision to be permanent so you avoid churn, returns, or even just a lack of return business.
6. Pay a heavy price for it
Let’s be honest; we aren’t “artists”. We’re marketers. While we enjoy being inventive and having the opportunity to flex whichever side of our brains are the creative ones (I was too lazy to look that up), our job is to add value and drive revenue for our companies. The goal is to have the buyer…you know…buy something.
Don’t sugar coat it, but don’t be an ass: People have to exchange money for a product, an email address for an ebook, etc. There will be trolls on this journey – be aware of that, and accept it. That said, you aren’t in sales. You can make this as pleasant and seamless a process as possible. Keep it enjoyable, entertaining, and/or educational. Your job as a content producer doesn’t end at the point of sale or conversion.
7. Then return to their familiar situation
This is when things come full circle. They’ve consumed your content, taken the action you wanted them to, paid the price, and returned to their familiar space (back to their Twitter feed or Facebook page). They’ve completed the journey you wanted them to take.
8. Having changed
They may be back to their Twitter feed, but they learned something new from you, or maybe even bought your product. They’ve “come back home” with this new understanding, and will advocate for you, acting as the trusted guide in their own audience’s journey.
You’ve changed their situation for the better. For the last time? Hopefully not. It’s a cyclical diagram for a reason. They’ll have another problem, or a similar need at some point in the near future, and the goal is for you to help them solve it again. The benefit of this model in the marketing world is that you’ve already helped them change once – the second time through, they’ll be more willing to take the call-to-action, easier to guide, and quicker to adapt.
When your content development is in this context, your programs make more sense. You start building content to address specific pain points, developing it to fill needs, and writing it to educate and inform the buying process. Of course, there are some very different goals for writing a white paper than there are for writing an episode of a sitcom, but structurally, when you’ve done the legwork and analysis to send them down the right path, the journey can follow a very similar structure.