How to Use the 3-Act Structure To Improve Your Content Marketing

How to Use the 3-Act Structure To Improve Your Content Marketing

Unique… Helpful… Engaging.

These are the words that describe epic content marketingbut too many people are getting it wrong.

We can debate all day long about what makes for good content. But the one thing many would-be content marketers stumble on is coming up with an idea that hasn’t been rehashed or done to death.

There’s no point marketing content, if you can’t make it high quality and unique.

In the rush to have something to say, many businesses latch onto half-brained ideas and try to ride it out. The result is a jumbled mess that doesn’t make any sense, and only serves to frustrate their audience.

Storytelling seems to be a buzzword these days when it comes to content creation, but there’s much more to it than you think.

And I’m not here to tell you how to incorporate storytelling into your content, because that’s a topic that’s been done over and over.

However, what I can do is tell you how to avoid the trap of overdone ideas by using classic storytelling techniques. Helping you consistently create refreshing and amazing pieces of content.

Here’s how some classic storytelling techniques will help improve your content marketing.

Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth

The foremost storytelling technique I always keep in mind is the hero’s journey by Joseph Campbell.

In short, the hero’s journey is a classic sequence of actions that can be found in almost every story. Basically it’s a broad template which contends that every epic myth can be broken down into 12 distinct plot points.

Hero's journey - how to improve your content marketing

As a content marketer you have to ask yourself, who is the hero of this story?

Most of you would have said yourself. Which is understandable, everyone naturally views themselves as the hero of the story.

But the key to creating consistently amazing pieces of content is to remember that you aren’t the hero in this story.

The hero is your audience.

Your role as a content marketer is not to be the hero, but the mentor.

The mentor is the character that every hero meets when they’re stuck. They provide all the necessary wisdom and advice that the hero needs in order to continue on their journey. Think Obi-Wan in Star Wars, Gandalf in Lord Of The Rings, or for a more contemporary example Jeff Bullas and this very article.

Every piece of content you craft has to be framed with the intention that it is the mentor dispensing valuable advice in order to aid the hero along their journey.

If you keep that in mind you’ll always be consistently creating content that is both valuable and useful to your audience.

Three-Act Structure

In screenwriting there is a model that divides a narrative into three distinct parts, or acts: the Setup, the Confrontation, and the Solution.

Like the hero’s journey the three-act structure is a basic template for most fictional narratives. It helps writers structure their narratives in a way that’s easy to understand.

Here’s an example of the three-act Structure in Star Wars.

Star Wars 3 act timeline for how to improve your content marketing

But I don’t use the three-act structure as a way to model my content. Instead I use it as a way to help me generate new ideas.

You can use this to generate new ideas about any topic.

I’ll show you just how I used it to pitch Jeff Bullas a few ideas for a guest post. I personally like writing it all out in my notebook, but you can easily do yours differently.

The Setup

Classically the setup is where all the major characters are introduced, the world they live in, and all the conflict that will move the story forward.

In our case we already know who our characters are and the world they live in: the audience is the hero, and we’re the mentor. The conflict is fairly straightforward, the hero wants to know a piece of information that only the mentor can provide.

A key piece of advice when it comes to storytelling is this: you find the conflict, you find the story.

My process is to find a general topic of information that my hero wants to know more about.

When pitching Jeff I chose the topic of storytelling and content marketing.

Next up is to turn the hero’s problem into a goal, or declarative statement. What do they want to achieve by learning this piece of information?

As you can see the goal of my hero is, “I want to write an epic article about storytelling”.

Setup picture for how to improve your content marketing

There you have your Setup.

The Confrontation

In fiction writing the confrontation is when the stakes are raised because the hero encounters even more problems.

In my process I begin to break down the components of the hero’s goal. This is the most important step, because you have to thoroughly understand what questions your audience want answered.

What are the details they would need to know in order to achieve their goal? What questions would they ask?

I often use Quora as a way to keep in the loop about which questions are being commonly asked in my niche.

Quora image for how to improve your content marketing

Although the easiest way is usually just asking: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Try and break down at least three different questions or problems that the hero will encounter.

Picture of thesis for how to improve your content marketing

As you can see with this other example I already have three different topics to write about. But those topics are just a little too generic, so I’ll break them down even further to generate more ideas!

The Solution

The final act is when all the narrative’s conflicts are resolved. All information and conflicts introduced in the first two acts are resolved in order to, theoretically, create a satisfying ending.

For my process what I do is come up with solutions to the questions raised in the previous section. I always aim for at least two different solutions to every question.

In the end what you’ll end up with is a handful of different topics you can easily write about!

When it came to pitching Jeff I was able to come up with a handful solutions to my hero’s questions. Eventually I settled on three different topics I particularly liked and pitched those to Jeff.

By using this process you’ll be able to consistently generate new ideas for content that are filled with actionable advice. Too many people try to solve every problem in one go, and what you’re usually left with is a very general article that doesn’t answer any specific questions and ends up a boring read.

Instead just focus on one idea and be as in-depth as possible when it comes to that single idea.

What you’ll find is that you’ll never be stumped for ideas again!

Show, Don’t Tell

Every writing student has heard this at one point, to learn how to show, not tell. The principle is that you shouldn’t just spoon-feed information to the audience. Instead writers are encouraged to think of different ways to showcase a piece of information.

The most straightforward way is to pick a topic and write an article about it. But there are so many ways to present a single piece of information.

For example, on this topic of storytelling techniques I could have, just as easily, created an instructional video, or an infographic instead of an article.

Or I could have held an event or workshop and directly taught my method to a group of people.

Using the content multiplier framework in Dan Norris’s book Content Machine I’m able to find different ways to present my information.

List of ideas for how to improve your content marketing

As a content creator you have to think of the different ways your audience absorbs information.

This is a great way to significantly increase the different types of content you can produce, and all from one idea!

Key takeaways

  • Your audience is the hero of the story, you’re the wise mentor helping them on their journey

  • Focus on the challenges your audience faces, and how you can help them overcome them

  • There is always more than one way to present a single piece of information

Often the hardest part of content creation isn’t writing it out, it’s coming up with an original idea in the first place.

But what you’ll find is that by using these classic storytelling techniques, not only will you overcome writer’s block – you’ll also be able to constantly generate an awesome piece of content your audience will love!

Guest Author: Jonathan Chan is the Content Crafter at Foundr Magazine, a magazine for young entrepreneurs. He can often be found writing and reading anything and everything to do with entrepreneurship and the startup world. That or spending too much time pretending to be the next MMA star. Check out more of his writing over at the Foundr Blog.


  • Richard Pearce

    Jonathan, Thanks for sharing this specific storytelling technique. Yes, storytelling does seem to be a quite popular content marketing method these days, and I can see how it works well.

    I have read several posts with this theme recently. They have all been useful, but I
    find the concept of focusing on the audience as the hero of the story, and the
    writer as the mentor, most valuable.

    • Jonathan Chan

      Glad you enjoyed the article @disqus_JjuzRltqZd:disqus :)

      By far I think that being a mentor to your audience is the one of the most important parts of marketing that people tend to forget. It’s all about teaching and guiding your audience.