Stats about the limitless power of content marketing are becoming increasingly commonplace. Maybe you’ve heard some like these:
- 82% of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content 1
- 60% of people are inspired to seek out a product after reading content about it 1
- Website conversion rate is nearly 6x higher for content marketing adopters than non-adopters 2
But here’s what the numbers aren’t telling us: not all content drives these kinds of results.
There are plenty of content marketers out there churning out article after ebook after infographic without seeing more than a marginal uptick in web traffic or conversions.
If content marketing is the panacea for marketing conundrums of all sorts, what gives?
The answer may lie in the story behind your content.
If you’re creating content for the sake of SEO, CRO, or some other marketing acronym, you’re most likely not connecting with your readers in any meaningful way.
But by incorporating the agile technique of user stories into your content marketing strategy you can keep each and every piece of content focused right where it belongs: on your audience.
Our content team has adopted this technique, and we’ve bumped our pageviews up over 300%. Here’s how.
How to Write a User Story for Content Marketing
Like most agile techniques, user stories have their origin in software development. That means agile marketers need to make some adjustments to the practice to get it right for our purposes.
The most general format for a user story goes like this:
As a [type of user/persona] I would like [something] so that I can [do something].
User stories got their start by helping developers be sure they were creating features to benefit users, not just things the developers thought were cool.
Consequently, a user story for a piece of software might look like this:
As a new user, I would like to understand how to run my first report so I can see my results as quickly as possible.
When we write user stories on our content team, on the other hand, they look something like this:
As a social media marketer, I would like to read an article about how to find the best Twitter followers so I can reach a targeted audience with my tweets.
The 3 Key Components of a Content Marketing User Story
These seem like simple sentences, but when you’re not accustomed to thinking about content strategy in this way they can be tricky to craft. Even after using them every day for six months, our team members still need to remind one another to use them from time to time.
But we keep coming back to the structure of our user stories, because if we neglect them our content starts to lose clarity very quickly.
The exact content of your user stories will depend on your audience and its needs, but each and every content marketing user story must include these three components to be effective.
Component 1: Who’s the User?
To decide who you’re creating content for you need to understand the segments of your audience. This is usually done by creating personas, highly specific snapshots of imaginary people that fit your criteria for different kinds of customers.
If you don’t have any personas to guide your content marketing, it’s far too easy to just create things that your team thinks are cool or interesting. This can be fun for a while, but when your traffic stagnates and your conversions flat line, the fun stops pretty quickly.
Most teams create real names for each of their personas, but you can give them generic titles if that works better for you. Whatever your team decides, these users will make up the first part of your user stories:
As Manager Miguel…
As Social Sally…
Component 2: What Do They Need?
The type of content that each of your personas prefers dictates the middle part of your user story, which will in turn indicate the type of content you’re producing and its subject matter.
Maybe our Manager Miguel persona is a busy marketing manager who doesn’t have a lot of time to read articles, and instead likes to listen to podcasts while he works out or eats lunch. We’re also going to craft higher level strategy pieces for this persona; he’s most likely not doing day-to-day marketing tasks anymore.
We might also have a Social Sally persona that gets the vast majority of her content from social networks. User stories featuring Sally will always include content that shares well on social media, and topics that help her increase her own content’s performance on social media may be very popular with this persona.
As Manager Miguel, I would like to hear a podcast about dealing with high maintenance employees…
As Social Sally, I would like to read an article about efficiently engaging with multiple LinkedIn groups…
Component 3: What Can They Do Now?
For me and my team, this is by far the most important part of the user story. Some agile development experts feel that it’s an optional piece, but for agile content marketers it’s really non-negotiable.
This part of the user story begins with the, “so I can” phrase, and it should clearly outline what new skill, technique, idea, hack, etc. that your reader will be able to use if they consume your content.
Fixating on user stories, and the “so, I can” section in particular, will make sure that you’re actually answering your audience’s questions and providing genuine value instead of creating boring book reports.
Our example user stories might end up like this:
As Manager Miguel, I would like to hear a podcast about dealing with high maintenance employees so I can create more harmony on my team.
As Social Sally, I would like to read an article about efficiently engaging with multiple LinkedIn groups so I can waste less time on LinkedIn every day.
The Power of Repurposing User Stories
It’s important to note that you can create many different user stories by switching out the “so I can” section for a different outcome, or adjusting the “I would like to” section for other content channels.
We could switch up the “so I can” part of our earlier example like this:
As Manager Miguel, I would like to hear a podcast about dealing with high maintenance employees so I can know when it’s time to reprimand an employee.
As Manager Miguel, I would like to hear a podcast about dealing with high maintenance employees so I can give better annual reviews.
And we could adjust the “I would like” section of the other example too:
As Social Sally, I would like to watch a video about efficiently engaging with multiple LinkedIn groups so I can waste less time on LinkedIn every day.
As Social Sally, I would like to download a calendar about efficiently engaging with multiple LinkedIn groups so I can waste less time on LinkedIn every day.
The possibilities are nearly endless, and reuse of user stories like this can help craft a universe of content assets that engages prospects at all points in the buying cycle and beyond.
How User Stories Increased our Page Views 300%
Earlier this year we launched a brand new content-driven site to try and access one of our software’s primary users: marketers. MarketerGizmo.com came into an already crowded field of marketing resources, and we had our work cut out for us to get noticed.
Coincidentally, our marketing department also adopted an agile marketing approach around the same time, and as a part of that process we started writing user stories for all our marketing initiatives.
By forcing each and every piece of content that we created to be driven by a user story, we made sure that those people who engaged with our content were going to come away with useful information.
A few times our authors would bring an article to a review meeting without a user story, and almost without fail this content was noticeably weaker than the others being reviewed that day.
We became addicted to our user stories very quickly, and they’ve served us well so far.
Here’s what we’ve achieved so far by putting our users in the driver’s seat of MarketerGizmo:
|Organic Search Traffic:||+611.94%|
|Average Time on Page:||+36.52% (now 2:34)|
(all stats are comparing one calendar week in March 2015 to one calendar week in July 2015)
There are, of course, lots of factors that influence a new site’s early growth, and we’ve worked hard on promoting MarketerGizmo in a lot of ways. But we’ve never had a moment’s hesitation about sharing the site as a whole or any particular article because we know that each and every one was written for a real person trying to solve a real problem.
This is the power of user stories, and if you’ve never used them in your content marketing before there’s no better time than now to get started.
About the Author:
Andrea Fryrear is a content marketer for MarketerGizmo, where she dissects marketing buzzwords and fads, hoping to find the pearls of wisdom at their core. Her pet topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for businesses. She’s happy to connect on LinkedIn.
- Demand Metric: http://www.demandmetric.com/content/content-marketing-infographic
- Aberdeen Group: http://content.kapost.com/Aberdeen-ContentChaos