Why Content Marketing Should Be “Choose Your Own Adventure”

Why Content Marketing Should Be “Choose Your Own Adventure”

In content marketing, it can be tempting to expect customers to follow our preferred and most convenient path of content breadcrumbs to the sale. But while each individual will experience a linear path from their perspective, the question of ‘which’ follows ‘what’ will differ for just about everyone.

Anyone else remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books, hugely popular with kids in the  late ’70s/early ’80s? Between the ages of 10 and 13, I was a fan.

Every page or two, the book invited me to choose what came next. Did I want to steal the flaming sword of Eternal Thingywhatsit (Turn to page 36)? Or should I continue on to find the captured Princess Cliche (Turn to page 23)?

Inevitably, some of those decisions would result in my hero being flambeed by a dragon, shot by cowboys, abducted by aliens or some other equally ignoble end. Back to page one to try again until I got the right ending.

You’re the Star of the Story

Choose Your Own Adventure bookInstead of reading about some other hero, these books put me in that position. I got to choose how the hero should behave, made the decisions and copped the consequences.

But many businesses make the mistake of assuming their brand is the hero of this story. Far from it. No one wants to read your blog or download your white papers or subscribe to your newsletter to hear what your business is up to unless it is relevant to their own story.

We are all the heroes of our own stories, not passive participants in a self-serving corporate fairy tale. [Tweet this]

Your brand, product or content may be no more than a single chapter in someone else’s much wider quest.

The goal is never web hosting or car insurance or cheese slices. It’s a successful online business, or a new car or delicious food. Even these goals may be just steps in another, broader quest; a steady income, travelling around Australia, or impressing a new date.

So by the time a person starts searching for content on web hosting, car insurance or cheese, they’ve already made a number of choices, turned many pages and may even have been burned by many dragons. Your content should recognise the whole quest.

Otherwise, how do you know enough people will make the choices you hope for instead of any number of alternative routes to their goal?

Therefore, Australian web hosting provider Netregistry published Nett Magazine, full of small business advice with very few pages concerning web hosting or related services. (Disclosure: I worked for Netregistry and wrote for Nett between 2007-2010.)

Shannons Car Insurance has Shannons Club, a community for car enthusiasts and collectors to share their passions, swap advice and even list cars for sale.

Recognising that cheese is not the only route to delicious food, Kraft publishes Food and Family magazine, full of recipes and broader lifestyle tips.

Instead of just promoting their products or brand, each of these companies introduces the relevant concepts into the preceding pages of the customer’s own story.

For me to choose to steal the flaming sword (turn to page 36), it has to be introduced earlier in the narrative.

Choose From Many Possible Endings

Choose Your Own Adventure bookSimilarly, the reader or customer is in control of the journey through your content.

Each new reader will dive in at a different point. One first touches the brand via a tweet. Another reads a magazine article, a third may watch the YouTube video. They choose where to start and where to go after each piece, jumping backwards and forwards through your entire archive at their own pace.

Not everyone who joins the Facebook page will sign up to the email newsletter and thence to your white paper, and so on.

So, just like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, each piece of content should appear to follow logically from the one before—whichever it may be. Whatever path they take through your content, it should seem like a consistent story with one narrator (or one editor or brand voice).

And this includes offline touches with the brand too. Don’t let your sales and support teams become the plot holes or continuity errors that knocks the reader out of the story and has them questioning what they’ve read.

This need for a consistent story that works from every angle is what content marketing is all about. Not individual pages of content thrown at a reader like confetti but pages that can be bound together in any order to form the perfect next chapter in their own story.


  1. You’re spot on, Jonathan. My son brought home a brochure from a sporting organisation with these instructions: “Registrations and parental permissions can be managed and automated through the Delivery Centre’s online administration platform making the organisational process extremely easy!”. All the many pieces of content in his ‘package’ were the same – corporate speak designed to alienate anyone wanting to do something as crazy as find a phone number or figure out where the business was actually located. What struck me is how this company had already decided what I needed and how I needed to consume it. I haven’t been able to find the information I want to know but am deluged with everything this company wants to tell me.

    If I ever figure out how to contact the Delivery Centre (and, no, it’s not in the business of birthing babies) I’ll share your post with them.

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    Well said “Whatever path they take through your content, it should seem like a consistent story with one narrator”. It’s always better to be brand perspective!


  3. Great post Jonathan! I looooooooved those books too (excuse me while I reminisce for a moment)

    A few points that made me put down my tea to read again are:
    – Your brand/content may be no more than a single chapter in your customers’ wider quest.
    – Your customer has arrived via by any number of paths and because of that, they’ve already made a series of decisions.

    It can be easy to get bogged down in the detail and forget to take a step back and see the whole quest – from your customers’ point of view. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Jonathan Crossfield says

      Thanks Belinda! I was prompted to think about those decisions that lead up to the one you care about by a recent client. All of their marketing was, naturally, about their product. Great if a person was searching for that type of solution. But on quizzing them, they admitted that a large number of people would still use a different, more traditional alternative. Hence they never even make it to the ‘page’ in that quest where the relevant question is asked. It’s just not what they’re typing into Google.

      Forrester released some research last year which was mentioned a couple of times at Content Marketing World Sydney. (Link anyone? I’m running on memory here). They said that 60-65% of B2B customers have already decided which provider to go with before that buying phase when they’re typing products or related concepts into Google. They go with the provider who first educated them to the need, revealing the alternatives to them. And that only happens earlier in their ‘story’.

  4. I remember that research mentioned by Jay Baer. I thought it was that using online research, customers have usually made 60% of the purchase decision before contacting a business. I could be wrong though and will dig out my notes just in case I’m spreading lies!

    Either way, understanding your customers’ actions well before they get to you is clearly the way to get in early and guide their journey. I’m going to put some thought into this as improving the strategic application of my content marketing was one of my goals from CMWorld. Thanks again for the nudge.

  5. Brilliant article. Says everything that’s been in my head, that I couldn’t verbalize in a fluid manner! “Content marketing is a consistent story that works from every angle’ YES!!! and it’s a team of strategic marketers / writers that put that story in place. So many think the ‘technology’ makes it happen. The technology is the channel…the marketer is the brain behind it. “Content marketing success is based on the wizard, not the wand”.

  6. I’m just starting out in Content Marketing and I think this is the #1 issue that traditional marketers don’t get. It’s not about telling your story to a consumer, it’s about telling them part of their story. Once they respect you and like you they’ll be itching to hear (and be part of) your story.

    • Jonathan Crossfield says

      “It’s not about telling your story to a consumer, it’s about telling them part of their story. ”
      I like that. Eloquently put.


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