Narratives Come Before Scenarios

What's the best way to deliver a memorable, persuasive message? Tell a story. Don't believe me? How many copies did Who Moved My Cheese sell? Still remember Aesop's Fables? Look at the elements of a good story-characters, plot, conflict resolution-and you'll see many parallels with Persuasion Architecture.

The essence of Persuasion ArchitectureTM is a story. It involves building the characters, creating a narrative plot and stating the conflict or tension that requires resolving. Your personas are your characters. Your plot is based on what those characters are tying to accomplish. The conflict and tension that require resolving are your customers' unanswered questions, their objections and the friction in the buying and selling processes.

The role of the narrative

Your personas are your protagonists. A Persuasion Architect's job is to role-play every persona's experience, and our comprehensive understanding of this story allows us to move into the construction of actual scenarios.

After we create personas, we conclude Uncovery with the crafting of well-written narratives that describe in detail how each persona buys your product or service. It's a robust story that takes everything into account.

The narrative is filled with descriptions of how the protagonists begin their buying processes: whom they are talking to, what they are thinking and feeling, what they encounter when they visit you and your competitors. It accounts for all possible interactions across all possible channels.

A sample narrative

In Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?, we offered this simplified example of a narrative:

Family vacations can be stressful to plan; there's plenty of room for conflict. Suppose we wanted to reduce conflict and generate enthusiasm? We've recently been working with a well-known theme park. During uncovery, we identified a likely scenario where twelve-year-old Emily and ten-year-old John could identify the attractions they wanted to see. They could make a list to show their parents, "Hey Mom and Dad-let's do this!" Excited by their upcoming vacation, Emily and John visit the Web site repeatedly. They create a wish list to make sure they don't miss a thing.

Their parents are excited by Emily and John's enthusiasm, but they also have their own agendas-Keith wants to play golf; Geri wants to spend time in a spa; they want an evening when they can have time alone together to enjoy the resort's nightlife. Because they all plan their trip together, they become increasingly confident this trip will be one that everyone enjoys. They're eager to make their reservations.

Family and theme park get what they want. As we told this narrative during Uncovery, it was easy to imagine a Web-based collaboration tool and agenda-planner as important pieces in the buying process - tools the client had previously not considered.

The structure of a narrative

These are all the elements that go into making a useful narrative, some of which narratives share with scenarios.  The more of these elements you address, the more valuable you will find your narrative.

  • Angle of Approach. What causes the persona to realize they have a need/problem/opportunity? How do they describe that need/solution? (I just bought a house and I need to mow my lawn)

  • Alternative Options. What options does the persona identify to try to fill that need/problem/opportunity? (I could hire someone to mow my lawn; I could try to borrow my neighbor's lawn mower; I could buy a lawn mower; I could just let the weeds grow and call it "natural landscaping")

  • Driving Points. How does the persona learn about the company/product as an option? This can include prior knowledge of the company/product (I've used Toro lawnmowers before) or word of mouth (I hear Toro mowers are good or My neighbor loves his Toro). Then again, the persona may have no prior knowledge of the product/company (This search result/consumer report/radio ad about Toro lawnmowers is interesting - I think I'll investigate)

  • Stage of the Buying Process. Where is the persona in the buying process? This can be early (knows nothing about the product or brand), middle (narrowing down choices and comparing options, may have some brand knowledge) or late (knows about the brand and exactly what he/she wants).

  • Buying Process/Needs. What questions is the persona asking? What are the personas needs, motivations and objections? What are the competitive comparisons?

  • Selling Process/Presentation. How you address the needs, motivations, objections and competitive comparisons? What does the company know that the customer does not know, but needs to? What questions should the persona be asking?

  • Conversion Goal. What does the persona want to accomplish? What does the company want to accomplish?

Our narrative confirms whether we've really hit the mark in Uncovery. Through persona-specific narratives, we predict what actions a persona will take and why. We identify pathways that align the buying process with the selling process. We begin to establish a structure of measurable conversion points - the definable places we can reference when analyzing whether our predictive models were correct.

In other words, we create plots that start with personas achieving their goals and end with businesses achieving their goals.

Are you ready to start telling your customers' stories?

Volume 138: 9/6/06


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