Rethinking Strategy through Storyboards and Cognitive Maps

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story board idea
Image by Wild Olive

In today’s networked media environment, marketing strategists find weaknesses in linear approaches to selecting campaign tactics. Break that strategy planning process by integrating best practices from web site user experience (UX) design with storyboards and cognitive maps.

Today, most marketers end strategies with media choices and tactics (and hopefully associated measurement choices). This linear process represents a common inside-out perspective, and fails to embrace the customer/stakeholder experience.

UX design seeks to keep people engaged in a great online experience. Similarly, instead of treating customers and stakeholders like cattle, we should build marketing campaigns that inform and entertain in a comprehensive experience.

Approaching a marketing campaign from a holistic UX mindset feeds your marketing program beyond the transaction. Enraptured customers become long-term customer relationships for brands, and, in the best cases, word of mouth brand evangelists.

Ultimately, marketers can improve their campaign planning processes by thinking through the customer experience from first touch points through to final calls-to-action and transactions.

Yesterday, we talked about the difficulties of creating sophisticated cause marketing strategies, and the need for better frameworks and processes. Let’s use yesterday’s cause marketing campaign conundrum, and work through a campaign from the UX perspective together. I’m interested to see how you can improve on my strategy!

From Objectives to Storyboard

Driving strategy begins with understanding measurable objectives, preferably ones built with SMART goals. Let’s outline some objectives for a would-be cause marketing campaign.

Let’s say a national, high-end seafood chain decides to engage in environmental activism to minimize its carbon footprint and better its community. It decides to work with five causes that address water, carbon emissions, and sustainable fishing. The company has several goals it would like to achieve with its three month cause marketing program:


  • Increase return visits from customers who spend more than $200 with company by 10%

  • Enhance brand perception by 15% with increased understanding of company’s global and community concerns (benchmark study performed beforehand to provide barometer)

  • Increase customer awareness about citizen impact on the environment (same benchmark study)

  • Raise $100,000 over three months for said causes

  • Generate 100 volunteers for said causes


Notice these are very specific campaign goals. None of them are social media metrics, all of them are tangible business or change outcomes.

Social media outcomes are not bad, but in the end, successful social engagement is a KPI for attention and interest. That could occur in restaurant, too. We need stronger outcomes for this investment.

Social success represents the beginning of the ladder of engagement, and we want customers to do more than engage in slacktivism with likes/reshares. We also want to get beyond advocacy with comments. The below chart shows a series of actions from beginning to end that customers could take.

Desired Actions

Now, this is when most companies select the tactics, draft a message, and deploy. Shall we?

Let’s say the restaurant chain uses table top tents, signage at the maitre d station, its web site, email lists, a decent sized Facebook page, a crappy Twitter account (can’t all be roses, can it?), and a growing well engaged Instagram account to activate existing customers. In addition, the company includes both a short link and QR Code on table tents to engage customers on smartphones at their table.

Awesome, so what’s the story? The customer experience is multifaceted with the company with diverse entry points for the cause marketing campaign. The restaurant chain needs to have a compelling story that begins with the assumption that their stakeholder — a current or prior customer — has a base knowledge and familiarity with the brand, and a positive experience.


Let me stress storyboarding demands more than delivering messages!

It assumes a narrative experience that compels customers. We want them to be interested in doing more. The below chart shows one way this campaign could work.

Cause Marketing Story Board

The restaurant chain founder begins the conversation with a personal authentic story about why the environment matters and mindful food harvesting and consumption is important to the company. The first touch is not donate or like/share. It’s relationship building, and that gets right to the customer’s and brand’s interests. This story happens first regardless of entry point to the campaign.

Although we have multiple calls to action, there are levels of engagement. The customer can like, share and even tell at any point during the story. They can go further and take the next step and donate. All donors get a bonus coupon of up to $50 for their next dining experience with the chain.

Notice that even though there are three main components to the program, bridges are built from the story to the end experience. There is the consideration of a match to incentivize customers to donate. Favorite cause can win donation prizes (say $20,000 or more to make it interesting). Afterwards, leader boards show how the causes are faring, and of course, the very necessary thank you and messages from the five nonprofits.

Let’s say the customer is super thrilled, donated, and then told their friends. They want to do more. The restaurant chain and its partners offer volunteering opportunities. Customers can tell the restaurant what they think should be done next with the short benchmark survey.

A continuing series of engagement levels provides a clear map to achieve all of the company’s objectives. At the same time, the experience never overloads the customer with too many options. They can go as deep into the experience as they want.

From Storyboard to Cognitive Process

While the campaign looks good on paper, it’s important to consider the many touch-points a customer could have. This is where building a cognitive map comes into play.

The customer should have a seamless experience from restaurant to email to Facebook to Web, no matter where they are in the cause marketing story or the medium from which they choose to interact. Consider that many people don’t think or act in a linear fashion.

Cause Marketing Cognitive Process

Looking at all of the different ways a customer can interact with the campaign elements shows you holes in the effort. Based on the above chart, I added a few new components:


  • First I added search. It’s only logical that interested parties will look for the campaign online. Deploying SEO/SEM just makes sense.

  • Point of Sale is a huge missing component. Why wouldn’t someone make a donation at the restaurant? It shouldn’t be pushed, but it should certainly be available.

  • After the sale, a custom thank you email should be sent to patrons who donate. This provides their coupon, and can send them to the web site to see the leader board, share with their friends, and possibly engage further.

  • Similarly, given the strength of mobile in this campaign and general, it makes sense to add a text to give components.

    • I am sure the chart shows other weaknesses, such as how sloppy my hand writing is, but, you get the point. The combination of a storyboard and cognitive process map significantly strengthened my campaign. This is why some of the best creative agencies in the world storyboard, and top-tier interactive firms build cognitive maps.

      The next step would be to build and test it with a core group of loyal customers, and then deployment.

      What do you think of adding storyboards and cognitive maps to the larger marketing strategy development process?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501456842 Ken Mueller

    I love this, Geoff! Has me thinking about some of the stuff I’m doing with both non-profit and for-profit clients. Thanks for getting the gears turning. 

    I particularly love the emphasis on end results and KPIs and not just the typical social media metrics. That’s a battle I have to fight every day. I know that deep down small business owners want that end result, but they hold fast to that temptation to obsess over social media numbers, without connecting the dots. 

    This post will help. 

    • http://twitter.com/geoffliving Geoff Livingston

      Thanks, Ken!  Delivering actionable posts means something to me.  I’m glad to hear I met the goal!

      KPIs versus the Like/RT is a big deal!

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  • http://lauraorban.com/ Laura Orban

    This is really helpful. Walking us through an example really makes the ideas of storyboarding and cognitive mapping clear. I know I will refer back to this post. Thanks.

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