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Imagine knowing exactly what your target audience needs are and when they need them. Delivering exactly the right value at the right time. What would this mean for your marketing?
Today, we’re talking to Kyle Gray, an entrepreneur, bestselling author, and savvy content marketer. He has helped startups reach $1M in revenue, and his work is featured in some of the largest online marketing publications. Kyle breaks down two fundamental frameworks that content marketers can use to be persuasive and maximize helpfulness – making their target audience know, like, and trust them.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
Quotes by Kyle:
Jordan: Imagine knowing exactly what your target audience needs and when they need it. What would delivering exactly the right value at just the right time mean for your marketing? That’s exactly what we’re talking about with today’s guest, Kyle Gray. Kyle is an entrepreneur, he’s a bestselling author, and an incredibly savvy content marketer. He’s helped startups press that $1 million revenue per year mark. His work has been featured in some of the biggest marketing publications online.
In this show, Kyle’s gonna break down two fundamental frameworks that we content marketers can use to be incredibly persuasive and maximize our helpfulness all with our content. It’s to the end of inviting our audience to know, like, and trust us. Welcome to this episode of the Actionable Marketing podcast. Glad to have you. This is a fantastic conversation. Here’s Kyle.
Kyle, thanks so much for being on the show today.
Kyle: Thank you so much for having me, Jordan. I’m really excited to be here.
Jordan: Yeah. I’ve really looked forward to this episode since we started talking a bit. I think you have some really unique things that you can bring to us as content marketers and some pretty cools angles. I’m pumped to hear about it. I think our listeners are gonna dig this as well. But to kick it off, can you just tell us more about what you’re doing and sort of what your marketing life looks like right now?
Kyle: Oh, man. My marketing life. It’s all over the place but I love it. The boiled down version of what I do is I help entrepreneurs create powerful storyline for their business that drive sales, growth, and engagement. How I do that is through a process. I’m a very process oriented person. I love to take people through the same process over, and over, and refine it, and improve it over time. I developed something I call the scalable story time process which is just three simple steps.
The first is discover, where we find the most interesting aspects of your story, then we go to define. Once we discover what’s great about your story, we get written down and defined and clear so that everybody is on the same page with what the story is and what your voice is and how it should come across.
Finally, I help people delegate that story. Once you’ve kind of crystallized it into, “This is the story we wanna tell.” You wanna bring in people to help you tell your story. Whether it’s social media marketers, freelance writers, or any other kind of person. You wanna make sure that they’re putting out the same message. I help you delegate and really have a scalable story.
Over the past few years, I’ve been learning this process and developing these scales working for startups like WP Curve or Self Publishing School, helping them put together a content strategy, as well as doing a lot of writing for bigger sites like Digital Marketer and AdEspresso.
Jordan: That’s sweet. We’re absolutely vibing with you on the process stuff. I think that’s one of the things that really has, in my marketing life, that’s really helped me go next level just as a professional content marketer. When you start figuring out those things that work, I’m really looking forward to hearing about the scalable storytelling process because that’s the other thing. When you have a sweet name like that, I’m like, “Oooh, do tell.” Why don’t you go a little bit deeper into that? Because I know you talk a lot about, in your book for instance too, using storytelling frameworks to create more persuasive content. Can you start digging into that for us and unpacking it?
Kyle: Yeah. I think I forgot to mention, the book you’re talking about is called The Story Engine. This is just the book I wish I could’ve given myself. Actually, starting out with WP Curve, the first startup I really did some content marketing with. Really kind of the story behind this book is I jumped in, both feet first, into the deep end with this content marketing. My boss, Dan Norris, has built up a really powerful brand, a really powerful business using only content for a long time. But I just kind of dove in head first and felt like the first day of work was like Kyle takes over all content marketing, which kind of felt like Kyle gets to diffuse a bomb with a pair of tweezers and some bubble gum.
Jordan: Absolutely. MacGyver marketing.
Kyle: Yeah. I’m smart, I’m a good writer, I’m a decent person but this guy, Dan, that I was working for, he’s the kind of guy that can write 13 blog posts in a day. I’m just like, “Woah, how am I gonna be able to keep up with this guy? I’m supposed to take over this whole voice of this business from 13-blog-posts-in-a-day-guy. How am I gonna do this?” At first, it was really, really hard. I couldn’t create all the content on my own so I needed to hire writers.
A lot of the time, you probably understand this, my first approach, and this is how a lot of us approach this with writers. It’s kind of like you’re walking down the street towards the grocery store and you see somebody on the street and you’re like, “Here’s some money. Go into the store and get me my groceries.” And they go into the store and then they come back with some food and you’re like, “What? You didn’t get gluten-free bread? What’s wrong with you, man? I told you about it.” But you didn’t tell them, you didn’t give them a list, you didn’t give them anything. You just gave them money and told them go into the store.
That’s just how I worked with a lot of writers which created all this back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. I was trying to really reach the levels of quality that Dan really wanted from me and I couldn’t do it on my own. I kind of used this beginner’s mind. I knew like, “Okay, I really don’t know what I’m doing. I need to be very observant. I need take things very slow.” Everytime I get feedback from Dan or every time I ran into a problem or every time there’s a little snag here, I’m gonna start updating different documents, different processes to make sure that the problems never happen again.
This slowly started to transform the process of working with writers, creating content from feeling like it was herding cats with a sandstorm approaching to a nice, scalable machine-driven process where the writers stopped being mad at me for making them rewrite all their content, to thanking me for like, “Wow, this is so detailed and easy to follow. Thank you so much. This is the easiest work I’ve done for someone.” That’s kind of the whole thing I’ve been taking through that. You mentioned a couple of frameworks with storytelling. Once we get this process clear, I love to use frameworks to really help us organize our ideas.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been putting together a framework I really like which combines something called the hero’s journey which is a classic storytelling formula. Almost every great novel, every great movie, most of the great stories in your life fit into this formula. I also combined that hero’s journey with something called the buyer’s journey which is something marketers use to kind of map out what their customer is thinking and what are the key questions that you need to answer in your customer’s mind before they make a purchase from you.
Looking at these two frameworks and being a very process oriented person, I discovered that they’re actually very, very similar. What somebody does when they’re going through their hero’s journey of discovering something, going on an adventure, facing their fear and their enemy, and overcoming big challenges, is almost the same process that somebody goes through when they’re deciding to make a decision. They realize they have a problem and they set out on some kind of adventure to discover the solution to the problem. Sometimes they find that the problem’s a bit bigger than they actually realized. They find somebody like, if it’s a content marketing problem, like you or me, to help them solve it.
Eventually, they line up really nicely and I’ve been able to combine these two to really make it so you can tell a clean story, it’ll help you always like, “Here’s what story you need to tell next.” Because we all have thousands of stories. It lines it up with the exact question that the buyer is thinking or needs to know about as you are telling the story. You actually end up answering the buyer’s questions within your story without becoming intimidating or salesy or annoying and you can weave this right into your blog post, to your copywriting, and to any kind of speaking journey.
Jordan: Can you zoom out for us now and give us a snapshot. What’s the nuts and bolts of the hero’s journey? What does that look like? Maybe an example? I’m just picturing Frodo Baggins and Sam just running around in the woods.
Kyle: He’s my favorite.
Jordan: Break that down for us and then pivot and break the buyer’s journey down for us.
Kyle: Easy. Love that. Let’s do Frodo because I always think of Frodo too. He’s hanging out in the shire, there’s a birthday party, things are really good. Then some old guy, Gandalf, usually some older, wiser person shows up in the story and kind of nudges our hero along on an adventure. He’s saying, “You need to get out of here. There’s this ring. You gotta go. You’re going for a long win.” So they depart.
This is departure and we see Frodo leave. They start to see a couple of trials. They get attacked by some orcs, it’s not gonna be as easy as they thought. And then, they start to approach the really big boss, the really big enemy. They realize that maybe, as I am right now, I’m not gonna be able to overcome this. Towards the end of the first movie in the trilogy maybe, they went through the big mines and Gandalf the Wizard dies, and they’re like, “What are we gonna do? This is so tough.”
But right in this darkest moment is usually when your hero finds a treasure, they discover a secret, they find a new tool, a new weapon, something that can help them solve this problem that once seemed insurmountable. As soon as they get the treasure, they get the result, they slay the dragon or whatever it maybe, and they return home wiser and stronger than before. Let’s take a look at how that that would work in the buyer’s journey.
Jordan: Well, first of all, I’m understanding that number one, I need to go get a sword immediately. I think that’s what I’m hearing from you, Kyle. Continue.
Kyle: We all get our own swords. Maybe it could be forged out of blog posts and podcast interviews.
Kyle: The buyer’s journey is very similar. I’ll do my own story, I recently realized I got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in my thyroid. I didn’t know I had this for a long time. There’s probably four or five years where I was kind of like, “Ahh, I’m kind of achy. I kind of feel anxious and fatigued. I really shouldn’t be feeling like this for a long time.” But I finally kind of found, “Oh, is there a problem?” “Yeah.” I started to discover, “Okay, this is the problem. I’ve got some thyroid, I gotta make some changes.” Is this a problem I wanna solve? Yes, it is. This is my long term health. Then I start out on my journey learning more about functional medicine. Okay, it seems like I need to make some changes to my diet to do this. How do I do that? “Oh, man. This is actually kind of hard. I’m gonna need a little bit more help.”
I end up doing more research and finding out more about this and I find some functional medicine doctors that might be able to help me. As I start working with them, I’m open to making a purchase now, because I’ve been maybe working on this, I’ve been trying to figure this out on my own for a year or two, and I’m just not making the progress I really want. I’m now feeling really overwhelmed and I just really want some help. Now I’m in my crisis point and I find my treasure.
Actually, a couple of months ago, while I was at a workshop helping people with copywriting, I sit down next to a doctor. She says, “Okay, my name is Grace. I ran something called The Gut Institute. I help people recover from autoimmune diseases…”
Kyle: “… just helping them in their guts.” I was like, “Oh, your customers are like this and that and this and they are thinking all these things,” and she’s like, “Oh, my gosh. How do you know all this?” I was like, “Well, I have Hashimoto’s disease. I suffer from all of the stuff your customer’s are dealing with.” She’s like, “You need to come work for me.” We ended-up making a deal where I was working with her, helping her with her copywriting because over my journey, I’d learn how to speak the language of a functional medicine professional.
Through this, the treasure was not only that I got to discover a professional that wanted me to work with them and help me, but I also discovered that I do really good storytelling particularly for health and wellness professionals and functional medicine entrepreneurs. It brought me to this new place where I actually discovered a better segment of audience that I could serve really well.
It also had a lot more purpose to me. I can work with a lot of different companies but when working with these functional medicine doctors, since I’ve gone through this journey, I’ve felt the pain of this. I really understand them and I really love what they’re doing. That is kind of how this whole story can come together.
Jordan: Wow, man. First of all, I’m really happy for you, you had that serendipitous kind of meeting. I’m really glad just personally for you but the other thing that’s really getting my gears turning is it sounds like this is really, at the heart of it, it’s this intense focus on your customer or your target audience. It’s not about you as a marketer, it’s finding where they’re at, what they need, and how you can help them and add as much value to them as possible in the moment when they really need it. Would you say that’s sort of the nucleus of this?
Kyle: That’s so true. Yeah. I could not have put it better or crisper than that. That’s a beautiful way to see it.
Jordan: How do you get there? How do you figure this out? You are the target audience that you’re trying to help, Grace I believe, the doctor, so that makes total sense. I’m like, “Wow, that’s cool.” But what about for the marketer who isn’t the exact blueprint, who doesn’t have that advantage, how do they figure out that detailed level of who their customer is, what they need, where they’re at, how to add value to them strategically?
Kyle: There’s a lot of different ways that we can really understand our customer and speak to their language. This was, again, very serendipitous the way I encountered them, but within this buyer’s journey, there’s a couple of different sub-stages but there’s three main stages that are really important to understand when understanding our customer. It’s know, like, and trust. Three simple steps. They need to know who you are, they need to like you compared to your competition, and they need to trust that you can get the result.
A lot of us make the mistake of just focusing on demographics when we are imagining our customer. They make $60,000 a year. They live in San Diego, California, and they run a veterinary clinic or something like that. We get all those things really easily. The common kind of customer avatar philosophy only covers demographics. But what I like to cover is actual mindset. Let’s go back to my own story for a second.
Again, I had Hashimoto’s disease for probably several years before it was properly diagnosed. If a doctor tried to reach out to me before then and say, “Hey, do you need some help with functional medicine?” I would’ve looked at them and then like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why would you…?” Even if it was the best thing that somebody could’ve ever offered me, I would’ve just been staring at them blankly.
There’s a lot of things that we can glean from this little insight right here. We not only need to understand the demographics of our customers but we need to make sure that we create content for each of these different stages of the buyer’s journey. For example, for this part of the buyer’s journey, we need to show them they may not know that you exist, and they may not even know that the problem exists. If they don’t know the problem exists, they definitely don’t know they have the problem.
You need to cover these three things in the buyer’s journey. You need to be able to show that. You need to create content for this specific stage of the buyer’s journey. You’re not gonna be able to create one blog post that’s gonna walk people through all these steps.
The next stage is like. We need to understand their mindset. Now, I’m aware that I have Hashimoto’s disease, I’m doing research, I’m looking at all of the different blogs online, and all the different suggestions, and I’m talking to people. I’m finding hundreds and hundreds of different options but which one am I going to choose? There’s a couple of ways that we end up choosing that’s really relevant.
One of them it might be the person that we resonate with the most, it might be the person who really can explain our pain the best, but another thing that’s really important that I think anybody needs to consider here is we also take action on the problems that we feel most empowered to solve. This is something that a lot of people don’t think about, really. Again, every entrepreneur has about 100 problems to solve in a given day. If I have a little bit of education on how to do problem x, maybe it’s accounting, if I do a little bit of work understanding accounting, then I’m gonna feel better diving into accounting rather than trying to set up some weird technical something on my website.
Jordan: For sure. For sure.
Kyle: This is another thing that you wanna consider when telling stories, when creating content, when speaking to your audience. What’s great about content marketing is you can give them that education to help them take a few steps to feel empowered to solve the problem that you are specializing. That’s really what you wanna create in the second stage.
Finally, trust. The third stage, they not only need to trust that you can get the results for them, and there’s lots of ways that you can prove that. But another more subtle element of it, that again, a lot of us don’t anticipate when we’re doing copywriting or content marketing is, they need to trust themselves that they can get the result.
It would be one thing for me to see a great doctor and be like, “Wow, that doctor. They’re so amazing. They know how to fix these problems. But maybe I won’t be able to keep to my diet that well or I’m not very disciplined so I don’t know if I’m actually gonna be able to do this.” You need to be able to empower them so that they feel they can take action on this and really get a good result. You not only need to build trust and rapport with them but you need to empower them.
Jordan: Wow. I really wanna draw that out because I think that’s a pretty profound insight for us is the idea that it’s not just presenting, “Hey, here’s the solution to your problem.” It’s helping them believe that I can actually accomplish this, not just that you have the best solution but that I can actually do this. Can you talk more about that aha moment? How do you get them there?
Kyle: I think that this is again, where the crossroads formula comes into great play. I’ve been talking about hero’s journey and buyer’s journey the whole time and really what we wanna start doing is creating content for each of these different stages of the buyer’s journey. For example, with no content, if they don’t know you very well, you’re not going to be able to have a lot of their attention.
This is where really good, short content, social media posts, inspirational video, little quick tips, just catch their attention for a sec and just give them the tiniest amount of value that you can to capture their attention and to get them aware of it. When you’re in like, again, you wanna create different kinds of content. This is where you’re gonna create your big, epic posts. This is where you’re create your detailed guides to get certain solutions.
Again, this is where you educate and empower them and start helping them build the confidence in themselves that they can solve this problem and that it’s a valuable problem to solve. Through your education, you’re warming them up to this.
Finally, when you want to really build up the trust, this is where the kind of content like a long form webinar that they get to see you face to face and really hear you talk for a long time or using customer success stories. Something a lot of people do with customer success stories that doesn’t work great in my opinion is they try to make themselves the hero. They are like, “We found this customer and we revised all their systems, and now, we made it rain for them.”
Jordan: Right. Right. Right.
Kyle: Where you really wanna focus on then is the hero, this person, was having this problem and they discovered this, and maybe, just kind of mention yourself. You’re kind of like Gandalf on the side, just kind of whispering in their ear like, “Hey, you should go this way.” And kind of frame up the story like that. But let them be the hero because your audience, when they’re listening to the stories, their experience will be in the shoes of the person. By making your audience the hero, they’re going to really feel and immerse themselves in exactly the world and the message and the story that you want them to be in.
Jordan: Storytelling, and I’m sure you’ve encountered this, storytelling can feel a bit like a buzzword these days. Just something someone throws out and they’re like, “Yeah, storytelling, content marketing.” But it’s a bit nebulus, and it’s kind of buzzy, and doesn’t necessarily have this clear path to ROI. But what I’m hearing you talk about sounds a lot like conversion rate optimization kind of stuff. We’re going to be able to increase leads. It sounds very tactical. Can you share maybe something with some numbers attached to it? What kind of ROI have you seen from this to bring this to like the boots on the ground, you should embrace this because there is business value to be had here?
Kyle: There’s a lot of very tangible and intangible ways to perceive this. I think that storytelling, and in your copywriting, and in your talks, and on your video, there’s actually a great example of this is we can look at Groove by Alex Turnbull, a Software as a Service startup.
Jordan: Yes, we love Groove HQ.
Kyle: Yeah. Because obviously, they make the best content. Hands down, nobody’s better than Alex. He wrote a blog post a couple of years back, he kind of had this gun-to-the-head moment where he was like we did this customer service blog for a long time and nobody’s engaging with it. He went around and he started asking his colleagues, his target audience, his current audience like, “What do you need? What’s going on out there?” He discovered that there were a lot of people that wanted to know more about how startups were managing themselves and what they were doing and nobody was really talking about that.
He unleashed this blog called the 100k Startup Journey Blog where he was going to say, “Okay, we’re at this number right now. I’m gonna take us to 100k a month. Then I’m gonna tell you every step of the journey within that.” If you go back to the site or–let’s put this link in the show notes but there’s a graph. You can imagine what this hockey stick kind of graph looks like where it’s just kind of lame growth, lame growth. And then once he started telling the story 100k blog launch, people really started to engage.
Why storytelling sounds like a buzzword and why people are so interested in this? It’s because there’s so much noise online right now. There’s more and more noise, more ads, and offline too. What storytelling does and why people like them, why it’s effective is because it creates this human connection. A truly authentic connection between you and your audience. People will always be buying from other people that they can trust.
That’s why this is so important is because this helps you cut through the noise in a way that most people aren’t attempting to do and especially the big players who have a lot of money, and will just continue to invest in being noisier, and noisier. Which is what you wanna be like because you wanna zag where everybody’s zigging. Tell an authentic story and really, truly connect with exactly the right people and you’re gonna go a lot farther.
Jordan: This is one of my favorite parts of the show now. As we bring in for a landing, okay, Gandalf, I love to do the sage wisdom time. Gandalf the white, I’m talking to now. This is the nerdiest episode too, by the way.
Kyle: I’m actually Kyle the Gray.
Jordan: Kyle the Gray, okay. Fair enough. We have a [inaudible 00:27:05]. I better pull up here. What I like to do is ask this sage wisdom, if someone is like, “Yes, Kyle. I love this. This makes total sense. I’m totally bought in,” but they haven’t done this before. What’s your best advice for them to start after listening to this?
Kyle: A great place to start is to just study a little bit about the hero’s journey or study a little bit about storytelling. I’ve got a couple of resources and infographics available on my own blog. Start to look at your movies and the stories and see what’s happening. Notice when you feel an emotion and notice why you’re feeling an emotion. Start to investigate these things and be like, What’s really the story here? Why are people telling these things?” If you understand the hero’s journey, study it up, and then watch movies, and see like, “Okay, here’s how this pattern is forming.” Open your eyes to it and you’ll be surprised on how quickly you can pick a lot of these things up. Then you just start practicing with it.
Jordan: Okay everybody. You heard it here from the expert, Kyle. You need to watch more movies to be a better marketer. That’s what I’m taking away from this. No, that is absolutely fantastic advice. Kyle, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show. I learned a ton and I believe our listeners did too. Thanks a lot for being on.
Kyle: Thank you, Jordan. It’s been a pleasure.
Jordan: Our audience takes action on the problems that they feel most empowered to solve. By combining this idea of the hero’s journey, this classic emotional framework that moves us all as people and as target audience members, combining that framework with the buyer’s journey framework is such a perfect content marketing pair. Kyle, thanks so much for breaking that down for us, giving us examples, and helping us all put this into practice so we can get better content marketing results than we ever have before.
You just heard from Kyle Gray. Kyle is a bestselling author, he’s an entrepreneur, and obviously, a very savvy content marketer. You can find out more about Kyle and his work in this episode’s full transcript and show notes. Just go to coschedule.com/podcast to find all of the details, and find some of those awesome takeaways and great quotable moments. You can read the whole transcript there as well as share it. If you found this episode helpful, share it with other people who you think would find it helpful as well. Alright, marketers. Thank you for listening. That’s it for this week. We’ll be back next week for even more.
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