The what and how of Story Mapping


by Tom Buten, Director of Client Services, Cincinnati

Remember those colorful Post-it notes? Yellow, orange and blue packets that once covered the conference tables are now relegated to the back office supply cabinet. Well, it may be a great time to revisit those forgotten mini note pads. Even in today’s digital age complete with hundreds of storytelling applications, there’s still nothing like a good old-fashioned brainstorming session designed to put pen to paper — or in this case, Sharpie to Post-it note.

A few of our larger corporate clients have been showcasing new products in customer meetings and show events for some time. They routinely invite retail customers to their offices and wow them with their innovative, breakthrough products, and demonstrate just how much consumers will love the new products. These interactive shows have grown into bi-annual product demonstrations and key business planning meetings to drive all new products to their customer’s shelves. They are vital fiscal shows that drive partnerships and company revenues fueled by product innovation.

The challenge with concepting each new program is to get this process of engagement started. What is the story, and how does it begin and end? Where is the inspiration? How is our next show going to be an improvement on the prior one? What is the content? How best to engage the client and physically walk a customer through the show and innovation? Kick-start this brainstorming fun through a process called Story Mapping. It’s a very simple idea based on brainstorming techniques you’ve been using and participating in for years.

As with any brainstorming process, we start with the customer or audience and refer to them as the “who.” Who are we engaging, and what is unique or different about this audience? For this story mapping experience, the “who” is our customer.

What comes next? Exactly. The “what” does come next. We start by brainstorming what content we wish to present. What is the product innovation, and how best to present what that is. This “what,” we translate into an activity. What is the activity? Once an activity is written-up — we don’t dive into it just yet — we simply begin to add to the activity line.

A small story map might start to look something like this:


At the top of your story map are “activities” — these are the big stories.

A story for an activity might read “Welcome Customers” or “Showcase Category Growth” or “Jumpstart Food Aisle.” Once you’ve identified a handful of your activities, it’s time to work content.

We call this final sequence of additional content the “how.” How best to engage the customer in the activity you have identified? What content or “task” can we step through in this activity bucket? Write it down. Post it on your timeline. Once you brainstorm a series of tasks (how), it’s a good idea to simply layout the tasks — moving across left to right — imagining time is moving left to right in your show. And after you have brainstormed a series of tasks (how), you can further add “sub-tasks” or “task details” to each idea or demonstration. This detail again translates into storytelling content, and you can begin to lay this out below the task.

So break out those Sharpies and Post-its and start story mapping! You’ll likely realize an immediate impact on process improvement, and have a little fun along the way.


For more information, please contact:
Richelle Antczak McCuen
Marketing Communications, Mills James
P: 614.850.2044 • E: