As the advertising and marketing world begins to understand and deploy content marketing, the “best practices.” You can also argue that there are no hard and fast rules to ANY marketing technique; specific patterns derive more success than others. However, the industry often leans on the term “best practice” more like a moral guideline than something that delivers true ROI.

Let’s take a look at the term “storytelling,” which all marketers are told they should embrace, yet no one seems to know. Secondarily, we should dive into how content marketing falls into this model. And lastly, how content will deliver it.

So instead of wasting time and burning budget to hire some pulp fiction author to align with your client’s initiatives (yes, I’ve done this too), think of storytelling as a simple set of characters:

  • The victim (protagonist): This is your consumer, customer, or engaged audience. You should understand their pain points, challenges, and obstacles, as well as what keeps them up at night.

  • The rescuer (Hero/Heroine, in some cases antihero AKA: the voice of reason): The equalizer in any story. This character, place, or thing arrives on the scene to help your customer overcome the next character.

  • The villain (antagonist): Contrary to Hollywood myth, the villain doesn’t always require a black mustache and a threatening cape. More often than not, you can easily drill into your customer’s fears and create any number of villains they perceive as preventing them from success in their business. There is never one villain in this model. Therefore, take the time to outline all of the potential problems your customers face, and construct a scenario by which you can model a unique evil around that designation.

  • Supporting roles: This overlooked category could very well shape your marketing most of all. What is “word of mouth” marketing? What are ratings and reviews to you? What is sentiment, and engagement if not supporting roles in your storytelling?

With all this in mind, your complete storytelling model from a foundation should look like this:

Your customer is the victim that requires (knowingly or not) a “rescuer” (your product or brand) to overcome the “villain” (the problem or challenge).

“Yes, Justice, this is a very nice metaphor. But how does it apply to my marketing?”

Well, young Will Shakespeare, I’m glad you asked. Because understanding storytelling leads us to our second set of best practices in constructing it.

The modern-day marketer SHOULD break down most of their campaigns in the following “Pre, During & Post” model (pay attention, this is where your social comes into play):

  • Pre-deployment Rollout: This initial phase of the campaign goes by countless names: teaser campaigns, buzz marketing, rabbit holes, etc. All of which is fine and good, but in the end, it is simply introducing the concept of your brand, product, educational initiative, or service to your audience in a way that is unique to previous marketing efforts.For example:

  • Primary Campaign Deployment: If I’m doing my job right with this post, by now, you are thinking of your campaigns almost like a storyboard in a movie. You can also start to think of those frames as potential content and consider how they would distribute across your social graph against your timeline. Your primary campaign would be the bulk of your messaging, delivering your immediate call to action. Remember, content marketing is not simply pushing out a set of linear content. You need to listen to your audience through social engagement and determine if progressive changes need to be made during the campaign. If you’re looking over your campaign data and you see a decrease in interest, the best story in the world won’t save the campaign. Optimize it!

  • Closing Campaign: Sadly, American media has conditioned us to shut the front door on any content regardless of its place in the story. We are accustomed to watching television programs that never get a chance to end and switching campaigns at the whimsy of the client and agency. Nevertheless, if you have a client willing to see through your conceptual directives, it is best to bring your story to a close. It will pay off any real engagement you constructed socially with your audience.

  • Audience Retention Marketing: This measure is almost never executed by advertising agencies. The ironic thing is that retention marketing is probably one of the essential tools to maintain audience trust and loyalty as you migrate into your next campaign or story. This process can be as robust as you wish. Here’s an article I wrote about this subject, Fire Up Your Social @ Campaigns’ End, a while back that might shed further light on how you can think about it.

All may seem desperately trite when compared to a Hollywood Blockbuster willed with lasers, scantily-clad actors, and a metric ton of scientifically inaccurate explosions, but the core foundation, the DNA if you will, can almost always be mapped back to this formula.

From a storytelling perspective, what you constructed above is what we refer to as a “story arc.” So while it may not look like Act One, Act Two, etc., or a chapter index, it will indeed give you a baseline for modeling your campaign. Now take your three fundamental elements of the story we discussed initially, and blend them into this pre-during and post model.

And voila! You have constructed a story that is fundamentally integrated inside your marketing campaign. Trust me – the first one doesn’t always look sexy. But if you use this foundation to explore possibilities in your marketing, more often than not, your audience will take more significant notice and ideally be intrigued to maintain their allegiance with the campaign to find out where it is going.