When is the last time you read a really great, enthralling story that went like this: Boy meets girl; they fall in love; they get married; the end. The answer is you probably haven’t. Instead the stories we love go something like: Boy meets girl; they fall in love; but then he is sent away to war/gets sick/is hit by a bus/bit by a poisonous snake (insert major obstacle here); the girl still loves the boy but her family and friends tell her to move on; against all odds, they reunite; they get married; the end. You get the idea. Those are the stories people want to read. Why? Because they have a plot. And they are the kinds of stories that we, as marketers, should be pursuing.
All to often, the stories companies want to tell goes something like: We have an amazing product. Here is a customer who says it is amazing. You should buy it. You’ll think it is amazing, too.
Now I love entrepreneurs and executives who are truly passionate about what their company does – and it is a big part of why I do what I do. And I know that they often think that their companies’ mere existence is a story in itself. On the rare occasion, it is. But that is a very rare occasion. The truth is that good stories in business are much the same as good stories in the literature. Quite simply, they have a plot.
All of this got me thinking about Mrs. Deal, my high school literature teacher, who made us study the “anatomy of a story” with vigor. Marketers should pursue stories with real plots – and that means making sure you keep these criteria in mind.
1) PASSION – Write stories around issues your audience actually cares about – not just because you can get a customer quote.
2) A PROTAGONIST – This one is easy. It is you, your company, your product, your service, or something along those lines. Too often this is where company stories begin and end.
3) AN ANTAGONIST – Our villain! The villain is often the most overlooked part of an organization’s story. But without it, you don't have a story at all. As companies, we need to think beyond the traditional “evil doer.” Instead think enemy! What is the issue or challenge that your company has been built to address? Maybe it is a cultural issue, a major industry problem, or even just the inadequate status quo.
4) THE REVELATION – Please tell us something we don't know. A good story engages the reader who is awaiting some sort of reveal. Share something unexpected with the reader.
5) THE TRANSFORMATION – Think about the impact of your story. What is different as a result of the story you are telling?
If you are missing one of these elements, the truth is, you haven’t got much of a story – so move on and find where the stories do exist within your company.