When was the last time your data analyst told you a story?
I don’t mean a tale about his weekend or some crazy thing that happened during his lunch. I mean, when was the last time your data analyst took the time to tell you a story about your marketing? If you’re like many brands, it may have been a while.
When it comes to our content teams, it’s easy to keep the storytelling external facing. Creativity is saved for blog articles and video clips, not monthly reporting—that’s just common sense to many teams. But operating this way might mean that you’re missing out on key opportunities to expand the usefulness and power of your content.
Imagine for a moment an enterprise-scale SaaS company—we’ll call them Saassy Software, Inc.
Saassy has decided to launch a new content hub on their website that will primarily focus on articles that tackle common issues and obstacles in their target industry, and then walks readers to solutions for the problem in ways that highlight the features of their product. Saassy’s goal is to directly improve sales calls with this content, using it both to drive leads towards their call center and to also serve as useful collateral for their sales reps during calls.
So the content team sets to work to get this hub up and running. A month later, they have a solid pool of initial content, a list of target keywords, and a plan: capture new users.
It’s three months after launch now, and the marketing manager has sat down to review her team’s progress over the past few months. The numbers tell a less than encouraging story. They have improved the organic visibility of Saassy and driven a handful of new clients to the sales team. But overall, the effort seems to be slow starting, and our marketing manager prepares to ask her boss for the most in-demand resource of content marketing: time.
But there is good news. Because while our manager examines the numbers for their new sales conversion goals, a financial analyst in a different office has found something curious: Customer retention has improved noticeably over the last few months, and the number of customers who have purchased add-on modules for their software package has jumped. The analyst calls the sales director to ask what they might be doing differently to drive this trend, and the sales director simply replies that they haven’t really changed their formula in a way that would affect those numbers.
A couple of days of digging and a handful of meetings later, Saassy discovers that their content—which was aimed at bringing in new users—has actually been answering many common questions of their current users. In doing so, the content team has unwittingly been driving retention by keeping customers satisfied and informed, and upselling them by convincing current clients that they should invest in additional software functionality.
When this second narrative—that of the answer-seeking current customer—is measured and taken into account by the content team, the new hub’s short-term effectiveness becomes clear. But because Saassy had tied their analytics to a simple goal, rather than the stories of their audience members, these wins were almost missed.
Saassy Software may be a made up-brand, but it’s representative of the tunnel vision that many businesses can fall into with a narrowly defined sales funnel. By tying your content marketing metrics directly to business-level goals, you can sometimes hone your content strategy to a point where it misses out on broader ROI and opportunities for iteration. Proper storytelling while implementing analytics can help fix this.
To shift your analytical thinking to a story-based approach, it’s important to directly broaden your perspective of what ROI can look like for your team. Sure, where possible, it’s always nice to tie your content back to direct sales or leads. But it is just as valuable for your business to retain customers more cheaply, reveal opportunities for marketing strategy iteration, or to reveal audience segments you were previously unaware of.
The first step in developing a story-driven analytical strategy begins as any good story does: with the hero.
If your content strategy is built around grabbing your audience in aggregate, then you are likely missing out on targeted audience segments that can help hone your strategy. Most marketers know this, and may start out with a handful of assumed or historically observed segments for their strategy. But it’s important to always remember that audiences change, and telling their narratives as a part of your strategic planning is a powerful way to ensure you’re keeping up with shifts that matter to your customers.
Regardless of whether you know your audience segments from the start or if you’re hoping to discover them, well-documented UTM coding will be essential for your analytical strategy. Want to take advantage of a known segment or test one of their interests? Send a relevant email campaign and compare its effectiveness to past sends to confirm or deny segment interests. Looking to discover new audience segments? Promoting an array of content across your social platforms and then analyzing which pieces drove site behavior can be a powerful way to reveal new segments for further testing.
Returning to Saassy for a moment, a combined email and social campaign using this approach may have revealed, for instance, that email recipients who were already customers engaged with the site longer or in more meaningful ways than their comparative social audience.
The next step, as with any good story, is to set up the plot. What questions are your audience segments asking? Where will they go to seek answers? When they arrive on your site, what would you expect them to do?
This step is basically, well, marketing—but more scientific.
In studying narrative structure, we learn that heroes are tested by a series of trials or events (in marketing, actions) which present choices that tell us about the hero. This all leads to a climactic moment, a final choice (in marketing, our conversion).
When we tell the story of our audience analytically, we start with a sort of hypothesis. It’s like reading a novel, hoping for the protagonist to do certain things or for the story to end a particular way. But as with good novels, the story often doesn’t go the way we hope.
By creating a system of KPIs that check the small decisions that lead up to your conversion decision, your narrative-based analytics can reveal to you what your audience is actually thinking or needs—or in some cases, who your real audience even is!
Saassy missed out on three months of tailoring content to their current-client audience because they assumed a story for new customers. Mapping out the story of new customers revealed some lackluster numbers which, for narratively minded content marketers, could point them in the direction of their actual audience members. From there it just becomes a decision to either build out content for both segments or to focus on current clients.
In the same way that scripts, novel manuscripts, and articles go through multiple rounds of revision, your storytelling-oriented analytical setup will constantly need revision. Take the time on a regular basis, whether that’s quarterly or yearly, to evaluate the core of your story—your protagonists and the actions they take—and see if there is space for your team to either tweak an existing journey to meet new behavior, or to construct a new journey that might capture an audience segment you suspect may be lingering in the background.
An easy way to do this is to incorporate your tracking and reporting schema into your regular content audits, which will help keep your tracking and content direction aligned. Assume, tell, test, and repeat: this is the routine that will keep your analytics telling stories in line with your actual audience behavior.
Imagine the stories that analysts can tell if their data stems from a framework based on their protagonists.
Reporting to leadership, advocating for company buy-in to content marketing, or even simply keeping people interested in what you’re saying becomes easier when analysts think from the perspective of their customer’s story. It turns metrics into meaning, data points into desires, benchmarks into behaviors. But perhaps most importantly, matching your analytical design to your audience’s lives helps align your brand at a fundamental level with the needs of your customers. This is an essential—and often missed—foundation for truly personal content marketing.
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Featured image attribution: Serpstat