Personalized Content and Online Assessments as Storytelling

May 27, 2015 | by Jeff Mason

Personalized Content and Online Assessments as Storytelling

Stories inspire, inform and persuade us (and in a content marketing world, usually do so in that order). Every time we communicate with our fellow human beings in anything more than a superficial capacity, we are participating in storytelling. Where then do personalized content and online assessments fit within the realm of storytelling? When done well, personalized content helps demonstrate to your audience that you understand their wants/needs. Online assessments (even if they aren’t from institutions of higher education) equip you to help your audience learn something about their own wants/needs.

Addressing wants/needs with content marketing is a specific type of storytelling. This infographic about storytelling and the brain offers succinct advice to this point: deliver content that is linear and expresses a clear narrative.

After that basic point, though, you might need help in deciding what framework to use for any given story. Christopher Penn addresses this in an article about the “7 Basic Plots” of Christopher Booker as they apply to marketing and storytelling. The help you’ll find on the other side of that link comes in the form of a decision tree to help you determine which of those basic plots are most appropriate to the story you’re trying to tell (and the article itself also contains brief descriptions of each plot).

Next month, I’ll share one article dedicated to storytelling through each, personalized content and online assessments, but for now I’ll just say a few things about storytelling that are true for both.

Both Personalized Content and Online Assessments Tell Two Stories

There are two types of stories you need to concern yourself with when utilizing either personalized content or online assessments: 1) the story you are deliberately telling in each individual piece of content and 2) the story you are creating with your audience member, which happens naturally as a part of their consuming your content and developing a relationship with your organization.

The story you are telling with each piece of content is what most marketers think of when they think of storytelling. At the lower parts of the lead funnel, this is the case study, the company overview, and any content that includes a “where you are” or “where you could be without us” alongside a “where you will be, with our help.” At the upper parts of the lead funnel, this could be anything that comes in a flavor that’s relevant to your audience, regardless of whether it references your value prop or not.

The story you are creating with your audience member, which happens as they consume your content, is what some call “the customer journey” and informs marketing strategy, as you tailor your messaging to personas and those personas’ respective points in the journey (from ‘ignorant of their need’ to ‘evangelizing your solution’). This is particularly relevant for personalized content and online assessments because both of these forms demand engagement from your target audience.

With personalized content, this happens in the background across multiple mediums, through a powerful marketing software that can capture information about what users open, click, etc. and is “smart” enough to dish out the most relevant content based on what that activity indicates.
With online assessments, this is a one-off experience that occurs as they complete the assessment and immediately get their results.

In both instances, your goal is to convey to the audience through their experience of engaging with your content that you understand their wants/needs, that they understand why these wants/needs should be a priority for them/their organization, and that you are the best-equipped to satisfy those wants/needs.