How to tell stories for each stage of the customer journey

Who is looking at you right now? Over the past few weeks I’ve had clients approach me after seeing social media posts I wrote several months ago. People are not always ready to buy when they first come across you. This article will help you think about stories you can tell which will appeal to customers who are just starting to look for a company like yours, right through to the moment of decision.

When you need to buy something, what do you do? Whether you are buying your weekly food shopping or a larger purchase, you will think about what you need. What will be of use to you? But you will also think beyond what you might consider to be the ‘logical’ aspects of your purpose. After all, my nearest supermarket sells cans of tomatoes for 35p but they also sell a pack of 4 cans for £3.50 – that’s more than 87p per tin. Why not go for the cheapest?

Supermarket shelves. Photo by Daria Volkova on Unsplash

And what about those additional items that end up in your shopping basket? You didn’t plan for those. Why did you suddenly need them? 

What about a larger purchase? What determines your choice of car, washing machine, or holiday? How many different retailers do you visit? What do you search for on the internet? Who do you ask for advice? 

These are steps of what is known as the ‘customer journey’, the process customers go through before they knock on your door. They spend some time researching the solution to the problem they are having and along the way they become aware of your products or services, then they consider what they are going to buy (and you), and finally they make a purchase. If all goes well, they will go on to be repeat customers as you continue to supply what they need in a way they enjoy. 

How stories tie in with the start of the customer journey

When someone becomes aware of the need to buy something, there’s a story involved:
“We have no food in the house.”
“We’re going to have a BBQ.”
“It’s our birthday/anniversary, let’s make something special.”

Alternatively, a big purchase like a car might start out with one of the following plots:
“Our car won’t pass it’s MOT.”
“We can’t fit everything we need in the car boot.”
“An electric car would be better for the environment.”

All of these stories encourage people to take action. They have a belief around what they need and how they should solve the problem. They start to look for solutions which fit with those needs and beliefs.

Your customers might have different reasons for buying from you. Whether they need to do the weekly shop or are planning a special meal, they are still coming to buy food. They will become customers, but they will arrive from different directions.

Thinking about the stories your customers might be telling themselves about their need, and how to meet it, will help you think about the stories you can tell to raise awareness of what you do.

When you’re thinking about people planning their weekly shop, you could tell stories about your ‘regular items’ service which enables you to buy the same things you get every week at the touch of a button or where you source your food from. If you’re an independent store then tell stories about the community people support by shopping with you.

All these different stories paint a rounded picture of you: how you help, who you are, the benefit of shopping with you which goes beyond the basics of ‘I need milk and bread’.

One of my hero businesses during lockdown has been Cambridge Fruit Company. I’ve written about them here. They  produced this video about how they changed their business in response to Coronavirus and to explain their new services and how they support other local businesses.

Stories which help people consider you as the solution

When you’re considering a purchase you’re going to have a list of questions you would like answering:

  • Is the shop going to sell the food I need?
  • Will it be tasty?
  • Will it be easy to buy from?

We often focus on time and money when it comes to thinking about what matters to customers, but it’s important to consider enjoyment too. If you can make doing the weekly food shop something people don’t see as a chore, that’s great. Do you sell the best tasting chicken in the area? Or have a great bakery selection? Is your store laid out so it’s obvious where to find everything and your customers won’t needlessly trail up and down the aisles? Do you deliver to your customer’s door?

What questions will your customers have for you and how can you answer them? How can you get the experience of buying from you, or working with you, across?

Show don’t tell

You might have heard this phrase before: show, don’t tell. What does it mean? You can tell stories without spelling them out. There are times when it is helpful to tell stories about how your business has helped, or the benefits of buying a product, but you can also share stories in a way which enables your customers to fill in the blanks.

Rather than tell a story about how good your food is, show photos or video of it. If your customers’ mouths start to water, they’ve already convinced themselves they need to come to your store and try it for themselves.

For instance, Cambridge Fruit Company can tell you how good the Portuguese custard tarts they sell from Norfolk Street Bakery are, but take a look at the picture and tell me you don’t want to eat the lot!

You can also ask others to tell stories for you. Ask your customers to talk about the experience of doing business with you and share those testimonials. This ‘social proof’ carries a lot of weight when people are considering information and deciding where to buy.

The stories you find yourself telling might surprise you. The Michelin Guide was created because Michelin wanted to sell more tyres. How do you make people need new tyres? By helping them to drive more. The guide encouraged people to get in their car and go exploring by giving motorists useful information. It evolved to become the guide we know today with very different stories attached. We don’t think of cars, we think of restaurants.

Tell stories for people at each stage

There will always be people discovering your business for the first time. Others will have been following you for a while. Some will have already bought from you and now are coming to a point where they need you again. You need to be speaking to people at each stage of the journey.

During the course of a month, think about telling a story for someone at the start of the journey, another story for someone who has become aware of you and what you do, and someone who is considering buying from you.

  • What gets someone interested in your product or service?
  • What will they be typing in a search engine?
  • What might they be asking friends?
  • What will they be telling themselves about their situation?

 

Plan out your stories month by month, and your library of informative, educational and entertaining content will grow  into a valuable resource for attracting and retaining your ideal customers.

Let's start putting your stories together

Would you like help to plot out your stories for each stage of the customer journey? Plot Out Your Stories is a consultation service where we talk about you, your business and your customers and then I create a swipe file of story prompts for you to use. Get in touch with me to book your session.

3 Responses

  1. This is great Rachel. I’ve been doing this stuff for along time but you always give me something to think about!
    I’m off to look at my 100s of blog posts to see how they fit the customer journey – see you in a while … 🙂

  2. I took a content marketing course a couple of years ago that explained how people need different content at different stages of the customer journey, e.g. less in-depth info (photos, tweets…) if they are new and more in-depth before they buy (case studies, reviews…)* , but I hadn’t thought of different stories until now.

    *(obviously dependent on the price and complexity of the product – I don’t need a case study for a can of coke!)

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