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Influence is the currency of relationships. And relationships drive business.

Influence is the thing that we try to exchange when we create an ad, talk to a prospect at a trade show, or send an email to a customer list. We give them information— wrapped in an emotional appeal— and they return attention, time, and/or intent.

So even if your audience isn’t ready to respond immediately, at some point we can trade in that influence for a purchase, donation, or registration. Or in marketing speak, we have a better chance of being in the “consideration set” when they’re at the other end of the buyer journey.

This is a completely different way of thinking about our marketing, which traditionally focuses on tracking response. But direct cause-effect reporting adopts a very simplistic view of a really complicated and unpredictable customer journey. So it can be refreshing to know that we don’t always need to get them to click on a link, schedule an appointment, or pick up the phone after every interaction. Instead, we need to make sure that everything we do works together to move them one step closer to a decision–or one level deeper in a relationship with our brand. That’s called influence.

This is where a story framework and customer journey map can help guide our marketing strategy. It can help us decide not only what to say, but how to architect the plan so we’re using each marketing channel appropriately.

If your biggest challenge is getting more people to know you exist (brand awareness), you’re working at the top of the customer journey. And your goal should not be to get them to buy from you, it should be to get them to give you a little bit more of their attention next time you cross paths. They now know you exist and what you provide, so next time they may give you enough attention to learn about your “why”. And once they understand why your business matters, there’s a good chance that they’ll buy into your mission. Then you’ve won.

The first step in this exercise is to map out your messaging as a narrative, starting with the truth and ending with the invitation– feel free to use our story framework if it’s helpful. Map it out in a matrix. This will give you a structured way to evaluate and distribute your message as individual pieces of a coherent story. Next, determine which parts of the story framework you should use across each channel based on the influence you’re pursuing.

For example, you may want to run a social media series focused on the tension your audience feels as a way to convince potential customers that you understand their challenges. In this case, you’ve taken someone who doesn’t know a thing about you and created a positive opinion of your brand. They now know that you’re one of them.

A testimonial series on your website, on the other hand, would assume that the audience knows what you do (awareness) and understands that you have something they want (interest). But your role now is to prove that you can deliver on your promises.

As you put all the pieces together, you’ll start to identify places where the customer journey doesn’t align with your messaging. Or you’ll get some ideas on how you can better measure the relative importance and performance of each piece of your marketing program. And chapter by chapter, you’ll start to tell a much more powerful story, even if a new customer takes a long and winding road to get there.