We’re all caught up in this commodity trap.
A decade ago, marketing software with more features gave you an edge. Today prospects have tens, if not hundreds, of freemium options. There’s stifling competition in even the tiniest of SaaS niches. As if that wasn’t enough, the no-code revolution’s lower barrier of entry is easing the building of more new software.
I mean, look how crowded just the Martech landscape is:
So, as a B2B Marketer, what can you do to:
- Standout in this software commodity trap era,
- Cut through the noise to earn prospects’ mindshare,
- And most importantly, still create and capture demand?
B2B Marketing Leader, Peep Laja, gave a clue:
The keyword from Peep’s quote is to “choose your customers strategically.” If you agree with Peep (and you should), banking on regular B2B buyer personas won’t help. Indeed, choosing customers strategically and delivering contextual narratives (or stories) needs more than imaginary ‘Sales Sarahs’ or ‘Marketing Marys.’
Sam Grover thinks so, too:
And this is why we ditched them for ICP StoryScripts.
What are ICP StoryScripts?
ICP StoryScripts fuses bland buyer personas and jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) theories into scripts that guide the creation of contextual, story-driven marketing content.
I must point one thing out.
ICP StoryScript isn’t another this one is dead; let’s do that. Or that one is old; let’s go for this buzzword. No! It is a fusion of the well-known buyer personas AND jobs to be done (JTBD):
I’ll walk you through how to research, develop, and use ICP StoryScripts in crafting story-driven content more likely to convert. First, a little on how it emerged from my many random thoughts.
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How ICP StoryScripts Emerged
The idea first came while reading Donald Miller’s famous book, StoryBrand. I had just conceptualized Product-Led Storytelling, our studio’s unique approach to SaaS content marketing execution.
Product-Led Storytelling won eyeballs, landing me speaking engagements, one of which was the ProductLed Podcast:
Ramli John, then podcast host, asked me:
“People talk a lot about storytelling. But there’s no guide on creating relevant stories at the B2B SaaS content marketing level. How do you solve this with your Product-Led Storytelling approach?”
It didn’t have a clear-cut answer at the time.
But while trying to respond, Donald Miller’s BrandScript framework, the underlying guide for clarifying a brand’s message with his StoryBrand concept, sprung to heart.
Donald’s framework has eight steps:
I summarized them into four:
- A character has a problem,
- They meet a guide who gives them a plan,
- And calls them to action that ends in success,
- It helps them avoid failure and transforms their life.
This concept led to two main thoughts.
- Isn’t this what all decision-makers desire when they invest 5-15+ minutes reading SaaS content pieces?
- Don’t we all crave content in the form of relatable stories that show us how to overcome problems and call us to action, so we can avoid failure and transform our lives?
We all do.
So, could we adopt it for creating B2B articles?
Unfortunately, Donald’s BrandScript helped clarify marketing messages at the overarching brand level. It didn’t cater to creating content marketing pieces with storytelling.
So I thought:
What if we modeled what we were already using (buyer personas and JTBD) against Donald’s concept to develop scripts that guide the crafting of B2B content pieces with storytelling?
This thought led to…
Fusing B2B Buyer Personas & JTBD for ICP StoryScripts
Our studio was already using buyer personas and JTBD to create content. Here’s why none provided enough guidance as we went full-swing on adopting a story-driven approach.
I’ll start with B2B buyer personas.
Personas are generalized descriptions.
The demographic info you get, like age range, location, etc., has its place. But you can’t use them as a guide for crafting personalized stories because people with identical demographics can have varying interests and desires.
Take King Charles and Ozzy Osbourne:
Enter the jobs to be done (JTBD) theory.
JTBD doesn’t concern itself so much with demographics.
Instead, as the name goes, the focus is on the jobs a prospect wants to do. But to craft relatable stories for specific ICPs, you can’t focus solely on the jobs they want to do without factoring in who wants to get that job done.
To illustrate, let’s stay with our example.
Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne may occasionally want to do the same jobs. While the JTBD framework may help you articulate that job, it’s not helpful in crafting stories that’ll resonate with both on their individual journeys to making a buying decision.
It’s why Page Laubheimer, a Senior User Experience Specialist at the Global Consultancy, NN Group, advised against discarding personas:
From these wise words, I thought: Why not fuse both?
The result of doing so gave us ICP StoryScripts:
How to Research & Create ICP StoryScripts
- Divide your customer base into segments,
- Examine, research, and observe patterns,
- Identify & interview product champions,
- Outline who your product champions are, their beliefs, pains, struggles, desired transformations, etc.
- Build your StoryScript Docs per ICP.
Here’s an illustrated sample:
By combining buyer personas and JTBD, ICP StoryScripts, as illustrated above, goes beyond surface-level info, helping you capture:
- The WHO: Who exactly is your target ICP and customer (their demographics, beliefs, job titles, etc)?
- The WHAT: What are the pain points of that target ICP (and are they internal pains they can influence or external ones they don’t influence, etc)?
- The WHY: Why will that target reader consume your content marketing pieces amidst other things they have to do? Ans: Because your content will show (not just tell) them how to achieve their desired transformations, the StoryScript framework helps you articulate.
This exercise aims to align with Peep’s recommendation, which I agree with, for navigating today’s cutthroat competition:
So, in the end, we’ll narrow down to choosing ideal customer personas (ICPs) from your customer base. Then build StoryScripts to guide the ongoing crafting of narrative-driven content more likely to resonate with them.
Think of it this way:
You may be wondering: Does it even work?
Well, using ICP StoryScripts is how we’re crafting story-driven, product-led content and getting satisfied testimonials from executives and marketing leaders.
And it’s not just testimonials.
They even ask us to teach them how we do it:
To follow along as I go through the steps of creating ICP StoryScripts, you can access the worksheets and templates in my newly-launched, self-paced online video course.
Here’s a sneak peek:
1. Divide Your Customer Base Into Segments
Segmenting your existing (or would-be) customer base is the first step toward choosing ICPs and creating StoryScripts. Clearbit’s Head of Content, Jenny Thai, explained why this is so crucial.
In her words:
Jenny went on to discuss different customer segment types —firmographics, demographics, behavioral, technographic, etc.
All these have their place.
But for our purpose, job titles and willingness to pay will do.
First, ICP StoryScripts fuse demographics and JTBD, meaning it captures most things theorized across those segmentation types. Second, the Pricing Consultant, Per Sjofors, explained why creating customer segments based on willingness to pay is vital.
In a Forbes article, he wrote:
So go through your customer base, newsletter subscribers, social media followers, community member list, sales call inquiries, etc. From these places, create segments based on job titles who eventually became paying customers.
For instance, in our case, from booked sales calls and newsletter subscribers, people with job titles who became paying customers are:
- Segment 1: Tech Founders
- Segment 2: CMOs
- Segment 3: VCs, and
- Segment 4: SaaS Content Marketers.
People with other titles do start sales conversations with our B2B content studio. But from experience, these titles are the ones that usually end in closed-won deals, so we focus mostly on them.
Do the same.
2. Research & Observe Patterns
Now is the time to zoom into each segment.
You want to observe patterns those job titles took from discovering your product to becoming paying customers. Take a sample of 15-30 people in a segment (more, if you will) with similar job titles or job functions, and for each person in the sample, observe things like:
- How did they find your brand and product?
- What blogs, articles, guides, or social posts did they read?
- How long did it take them from newsletter/community subscriber/freemium user to sales inquiry?
- Many more are in the StoryScript creation worksheet.
In the provided ICP StoryScripts Doc, put your answers under each column. There’s more that goes into this, but my video course has everything explained step-by-step.
Now, let’s proceed.
For questions 1-3, you can look at your CRM data. In our case, HubSpot’s attribution of each contact reveals a lot:
Another way to find info relevant to questions 1-3 is by scraping responses from the ‘how did you learn about us?’ field in your sales inquiry form. That means adding it if you haven’t already done so.
We do this, too:
For question four, the goal is to know what features, functions, or benefits endear with certain job titles in each segment. You can find patterns related to these by perusing prospect-provided info when booking sales calls.
For instance, the contact in our HubSpot attribution above provided this info when booking the sales call, and it revealed why they considered our studio’s services:
Other places to research and find answers are review sites (G2, Capterra, etc), your testimonials, customer support calls, sales call recordings, etc. For instance, when building ICP StoryScripts for clients, we scrape all text testimonials or call recording transcripts.
Then we transform it into useful insights using Deep Talk, an AI tool that turns text into qualitative data.
Here’s one we did for our client, WriterZen:
This research also reveals what people in a segment say and feel about specific features of your product. There’s more we do here to uncover rare insights, and I went way deeper in the video course.
But let’s proceed.
Question five uncovers product usage data you can get through your product analytics tools. Questions 1-4 may reveal what features made prospects sign up for your product. But after signing up, what features or functions do they end up using the most?
Question five helps you unravel that.
Populate your findings in the appropriate cells in the spreadsheet:
3. Identify & Interview Product Champions
Who are your product champions?
In the context of building ICP StoryScripts, product champions are loyal customers most likely to also double as brand advocates. They use your product often and are happy to promote and refer your brand and product everywhere they go.
They’re the ones you want the storytelling in your content to resonate most with because you want to attract more of them.
To identify them, dig into the insights from the sample of paying customers researched in the previous step. Ask yourself: Among all these customers with similar job titles in a segment, which 2-3 embody the kind of customers we’d rather attract more of?
Those are your product champions.
The next step is to interview them to get up close and personal, so you can outline who they really are, and know their pains, struggles, etc.
4. Outline who they are, pains, struggles, etc.
This step is the most crucial.
Steps 1-2 were to help you choose your customers, so you can create scripts to guide the crafting of story-driven content that is more likely to resonate with them. These are the product champions you identified and interviewed in step three.
In our experience, using surveys to directly ask customers their beliefs, pains, struggles, desired outcomes, etc., doesn’t yield useful insights. Instead, asking indirect questions (that encourages them to express themselves freely) yields more powerful insights.
That’s why we recommend interviewing 3-5 identified product champions after insights gathered from steps 1-3 above.
Some questions we use, in no particular order, are:
- What role did you play in purchasing our product?
- What other brands, options, or factors did you consider before buying our product?
- Despite having our product, what other obstacles stop you from achieving your goals?
- Many more are in the ICP StoryScript worksheet.
Here’s the section of the worksheet for populating their responses:
5. Build Your Ideal Customer Persona (ICP) StoryScripts
With all insights from the steps above, it’s time to build your ICP StoryScripts, using the worksheet provided.
Use common sense to think about the pain points sourced throughout the research steps and outlined in the doc above.
Then, in the appropriate tabs, fill StoryScript for your product champions according to their:
- Beliefs: What beliefs, per your research and one-on-one interviews, do you think your chosen customers have?
- Internal pains: What are their likely internal pain points? These could be personal or the ones within their organization.
- External struggles: What challenges outside their control stops them from achieving their goal(s) despite using your product?
- Desired transformations: Look beyond immediate outcomes. Based on your interview findings, what do they truly crave to achieve/become?
Need more guidance?
In the ICP StoryScript worksheet, which comes with my course, you’ll see a sample we created and use when crafting content targeted at our B2B SaaS CMO ICP.
How to Use ICP StoryScripts
ICP StoryScripts go hand-in-hand with StoryBriefs & Outlines, another VEC Studio invention. Unlike SEO-focused briefs that prioritize keywords, StoryBriefs ensures that when creating content briefs, you stay focused on using storytelling to address:
- Why a target ICP will read your content,
- Relevant customer beliefs and pain points,
- Show (not just tell) how your product helps a target reader overcome pain points and achieve desired transformations.
The process is straightforward.
In a StoryBrief, there are sections for keywords and the usuals, and for stating exactly who a piece is for (i.e., one ICP per piece). Next is the section for StoryScript. Here, you’ll outline why the piece’s target ICP will read the content, the belief, pain points, and desired transformation your story-driven content will address.
Here it is for this one you’re reading:
My video course goes deep into the creation of ICP StoryScripts and shows you, step-by-step, how to build StoryBriefs & Outlines for actioning them. Buy the course, and you’ll access the worksheets for building both frameworks. I also teach how to combine both for crafting and distributing story-driven, product-led content:
Get your lifetime access to the course here.
Why this is crucial
These days, it’s tough for content to hold people’s attention for a few minutes. So if you’ve read this guide up to this point, how have I managed to pull it off?
Here’s how I increased my chances.
I created a StoryBrief & Outline and used it to action an ICP StoryScript. Essentially, referencing our company’s ICP StoryScript Doc for B2B Marketing Leaders, I picked an external struggle and desired transformation and anchored the storytelling of this draft on them:
That was how I got guidance on introducing this article with a story on today’s overcrowded SaaS space if you recall.
In other words, StoryBriefs go hand in hand with StoryScripts for crafting effective B2B SaaS story-driven content. Do you still remember Donald Miller’s 8-step StoryBrand concept using his BrandScript framework?
It looks like this:
Likewise, combining StoryBriefs & StoryScripts guides using storytelling to craft B2B content for specific ICPs.
Unlike StoryBrand, this one has nine steps.
Still, I’ve summarized them into four:
- A target reader (your ICP) has a problem,
- They find a promising titled-guide (your content),
- The content uses relatable stories to address their pains and shows how to overcome their problem (with your product),
- By showing how ICPs like them overcame the same problem with your product (infusing case studies excerpts), they’re compelled to act and transforms their life, too:
All these take place within the same content.
Across the steps summarized above, the goal is crafting content that attracts & filters target ICPs, uses relatable stories to engage & show how to overcome their problem, and persuades them to convert:
This unique approach is what we call Product-Led Storytelling.
It is the art & science of using storytelling to weave SaaS products into content to show (not just tell) target readers how to overcome their pain points and achieve their desired transformations.
Our clients rave about this approach:
My video course teaches you how to create ICP StoryScript and StoryBrief & Outlines. You’ll also learn how to combine both for crafting story-driven, product-led content more likely to convert because target readers will actually consume (as you’ve read this).
Learn more and get lifetime access here.