Telling Stories (2): How to Put Your Story Together
Businesses everywhere are learning what many cultures have known for millennia: one of the most powerful tools for creating a lasting impression is a simple story. In our Telling Stories series, we’ll explore why stories are such a powerful inclusion even to a B2B marketing strategy, and how you can incorporate them more into your own efforts. In Part 2, the process of creating your story is outlined and explained to help you tell your most impressive and convincing tales.
Understanding What Makes a Story
Whether a story is meant to be entertaining or informative, it requires a few different elements to be present - otherwise, it won’t really be a story, it’ll be more of a statement of fact. In order to be considered a story, especially in the B2B space, your content needs to have a recognizable structure. This structure will have three parts, divided into distinguishable stages:
Exposition - The beginning of any story is where the audience meets the protagonist and is introduced to the basic information that gives the rest of the story context. In marketing, this is often used to introduce either the situation that the target may find themselves in, or occasionally provide a detailed description of the main character (or in this case, your business).
Conflict - As you may have gathered, this is the point where the reason for the story is introduced, typically in the form of some problem that needs to be solved by the protagonist. This gives you the driving force behind your marketing - you want it to resonate with people and business leaders who have experienced this pain point for themselves.
Rising Action - This section of the story is where the majority of the story takes place, building up to the eventual breaking point in the climax. When using a story as a marketing tool, this is where all preparation to approach the source of conflict should go. How was the root cause identified? What solution was decided upon? What needed to be done to make this solution effective?
Climax - This is where everything up to this point has built to - the showdown where the hero faces the overarching challenge. When your marketing efforts reach this point, you need to share the immediate effects that the solution had on the source of conflict. Were the issues that you faced resolved? How did you ultimately tackle the problem, and were there any surprises waiting for you?
Falling Action - Once the battle against the antagonist has been fought, it is time to review the outcomes. When referring to your marketing, the falling action is a good place to go over the benefits that your implementation brought after resolving whatever issue was addressed in the climax. This is where you should showcase both the influence that your solutions have had upon your client/customer’s operations, and how much their business has improved as a result.
Resolution - In many stories, the resolution serves as a means to wrap up the narrative and sum up the lesson that the audience should take away. When used in marketing, the resolution serves largely the same function, with the addition of a call-to-action to entice the audience to communicate with you so they may enjoy the same benefits as demonstrated in your story.
Of course, this is a very basic guide to the traditional format that a story can take. There are other ways that a story can be told, but we recommend sticking to a more basic, linear format, at least at first. You don’t want to make your materials too complex to be easily followed, thereby alienating your audience.
However, once you’ve gotten the knack for shaping your marketing around a story, you can use other varieties of story to get your message across. Even better, most varieties of story still largely follow this format, or at least a very similar one.
Other Plots For Your Marketing Story
Thus far, we’ve focused on the foundational format that most stories are built around, as it is inherently approachable and catches the attention very well. This format is referred to as the plot.
The classic and familiar plot example goes like this: the story begins in a familiar, comfortable - but flawed - place (exposition) before a great problem is introduced (conflict) that they must prepare to face (rising action).
After confronting this problem (climax), things begin to settle (falling action) and a new, better status quo is achieved (resolution).
However, based on the nature of the conflict and what ultimately takes place by the resolution, the plot of your story may develop differently. The general consensus is that there are seven plot varieties that can give a story its shape (some better suited to marketing than others, based on the story you want to tell).
These plots are as follows:
[READ THEM ALL TO DETERMINE WHICH BEST SUITS EACH PARTICULAR STORY]
Conquering the Monster - A hero embarks upon a journey to vanquish a monster (which can just as often be a frustration that your audience shares) through skill and cunning. This simple plotline is seen in everything from religious texts in the story of David and Goliath, to fairy tales like the Three Billy Goats Gruff, to video games like Super Mario Brothers.
The Quest - Together, the hero and their supporting characters set out on another journey, this one in search of some person, place, or thing. Along the way, they face many obstacles and challenges, persevering through until they reach success - much like you want your audience to view you in your dedication to finding the solution, just as the Holy Grail was sought by the Knights of the Round Table, and later, Indiana Jones. This is usually the go-to format for writing a good case study.
Tragedy - This plot is a challenging one to use in your marketing, as it predictably lacks a happy ending. The hero of the story (or the anti-hero) is ultimately led to their undoing through their actions and hubris. If used at all, a tragedy can serve as a cautionary tale, encouraging the audience to make different, better choices. Literature is packed with examples of tragedy, including many of the Bard’s famous works, as well as more contemporary works like Nabokov’s Lolita and Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. Besides cautionary tales, you could market yourself with tragedy in PR efforts - although these aren’t technically tragedies, as there is usually some kind of redemptive aspect to a press release, and they can be used as more than just a disclaimer.
Rebirth - Marketing is chock full of rebirth stories, where the protagonist is reduced to a very low point as the tale begins, but through their struggles are able to rise again to be better. This is a common trope in many stories revolving around the holidays, like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Incorporating your solutions into this kind of story, if only in a minor way, can help to assist your audience in seeing the value you offer. This is also how many rebranding announcements are shaped.
Comedy - This isn’t necessarily referring to the “ha-ha” funny that many people first associate with the term. Instead, we look again to Shakespeare, whose comedies were driven by the confusion of the characters and the hijinks that they experienced as a result. This plot can lend itself to an amusing account of how you persevered to deliver your solutions throughout this time. For an example of this kind of comedy, look at the Bard’s play The Taming of the Shrew, or it’s more modern interpretation, the 1999 film based on the classic comedy, Ten Things I Hate About You.
Rags to Riches - This plot is a particularly good fit for marketing materials, especially those that are dedicated to sharing a company’s story. The classic tale of self-made success, a Rags to Riches story describes how one found success through dedication and effort. For a few inspiring examples, look to the Rocky Balboa movies or, for a literal example of “rags to riches”, stories about Cinderella. This can also be used effectively within a case study.
Voyage and Return - Leveraging the tale of a journey into the unknown, along with the triumph of this endeavor, is an approach that sticks particularly well among members of the audience you will be targeting. After all, they all took a risk when they started their business, making this story a shared experience. Whether you’re inspired by Homer’s Odyssey or the Back to the Future film trilogy, your story should be a tale of struggle and sacrifice that culminates in a return home. This plot shares a lot in common with Rebirth stories.
You have the option to leverage pretty much any of these plot formats for your marketing efforts, again, based on how well each fits with the story you want to tell.
A Few Starting Points to Incorporate a Story
Now that you’ve learned how a story should take shape, and different ways to dress that shape up, it’s time to discuss a few places you can introduce storytelling as a marketing tool to grow accustomed to it as you’re first starting out.
Most obviously, there are case studies, which themselves are stories about how one of your clients benefited through your services and solutions, whether your backup and business continuity solution saved their bacon or you increased their operational efficiency by introducing them to cloud solutions. However, this is far from the only way that a story can effectively be a part of your marketing.
Take your “About Us” page. Many companies see this page as another place to showcase their unique selling proposition and company history. However, are your prospects going to care about any of it if it doesn’t demonstrate how you can better benefit them?
Of course not.
What it should be is an in-context overview of your differentiators - how you will go above and beyond for your clients and their needs, as evidenced by your track record - and how your clients will benefit from this. It shouldn’t be a company history, it should be a history of your company’s successful service thus far.
Furthermore, you should also consider the cast of characters that bring your company’s story to life: your employees. Featuring them in your stories brings you two benefits: one, your customers gain a reference to bring the stories they’ve heard into reality, and two, stories featuring your staff can be beneficial to recruitment efforts as well through the impressions they create about your company culture.
Now that you’ve learned about the different considerations to keep in mind as you create your story, all that’s left to do is record it somewhere. This is what we’ll discuss in our next blog. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss it!