Once upon a time there was a princess … no wait that was a fairy tale and unfortunately creating a great business doesn’t usually include a fairy godmother or three wishes. However, most great businesses do have a great story behind them and the success of your business will be determined by the stories you build around your products, services and brand.

Even if the story is not told in a direct way, when you look closely, you can see that there is a narrative driving the language and presentation or every piece of marketing.

It is also important to remember is that every story has to be aimed at a specific audience – with fairy tales it’s mostly children – and in your business you need to know who your audience is for your story. No matter how you look at it, marketing is all about story telling. So the better you are at creating great stories around your products, services and brand, the better your audience will identify with you.

Whether it’s the story of your business, the story of a customer, the story of your journey or just a representative narrative, every story has to have the right structure to get the message across.

So what’s in a story?

When you look at any of the major stories that have stood the test of time, there are three key elements that allow the story to come through in a compelling way:

  1. The protagonist
  2. The narrative
  3. The plot of the story

When you look at these three elements in more detail you can see how they are the same elements that matter to the messages in your marketing. Whether you are putting out a tiny pay-per-click ad on a search engine or an ad on TV, you need to consider all three of these elements to ensure that your message matches the brand expectations of your target audience.

Who is the protagonist?

When we talk about the protagonist in the context of marketing we are talking about the character representing your ideal customer, often referred to as your avatar. For example, if your ideal customer were a 27-year old career woman, you would use a character of that type as the main protagonist of your story. I will write more about that in a future article.

The narrative

People love a good story, Disney Studios has made a multi-billion Dollar business out of fairy tales for kids and they’re not the only ones. There’s nothing better at getting a message across than telling a compelling story that your audience can identify with. I will write more about this in a future article, but for now I want to look at the plot as this is represents the framework that will allow your message to be received.

So what is the plot of your message?

In every story there is an underlying theme or plot type and there are just seven types of plot to any story. In order to get your message across effectively you have to use one of these plot types, otherwise it is highly likely that your audience will miss the point.

  1. Overcoming the Monster

In this plot type, the protagonist must defeat an evil force or antagonist, which threatens the protagonist or the protagonist’s family. In marketing the ‘Monster’ represents the challenge that your product or service overcomes.

  1. Rags to Riches

This is a very common plot type that is often over used in personal development. In this plot type the protagonist starts in a state of lack, then acquires things such as power, wealth or a soul mate, but then loses it all only to gaining it all back again once they grow as a person – using your product or service.

  1. The Quest

Although all the plot types are used in various marketing pieces, this is one you see a lot, even in 30-second TV ads. With this plot type the protagonist sets out to achieve an important objective, facing many challenges and obstacles along the way and finally wins out using your product or service.

  1. Voyage and Return

The voyage and return is another plot type that is used in TV ads often where the protagonist goes on a great adventure and, after overcoming dangers and challenges, returns with nothing but muddied knees – to a familiar product.

  1. Comedy

Humour and a light-hearted narrative with a happy ending is something that is extremely popular, and it works wonders in getting a strong message across whilst keeping the audience engaged.

  1. Tragedy

Tragedy may not be the most obvious of plots for a marketing campaign, but it is used a great deal, as a way to show how not having a product can be a disaster. In this plot type the protagonist comes to a sticky end in some way, which seems a little counter intuitive, but you add a simple twist at the end to get the message across. By adding another character right at the end of the story that does not have the same tragic end because they have your product or service the audience can see how to avoid the same problem. This plot type is used a great deal in campaigns by insurance companies.

  1. Rebirth

The rebirth plot type is probably the most common plot type in the long sales letter and marketing videos. In this plot type an important event forces the protagonist (usually the creator of the product) to strike out in a new direction. Often they initially make great progress only to face an unexpected obstacle and lose everything. They then create a new approach to this challenge, creating an amazing breakthrough, achieving their goal, making them a better person and making life much easier.

Whatever you are selling and whoever you are selling it to, whether a company message, a services or a physical product, create a story, with a protagonist and a plot that leads to the ultimate happy ending and you will be far more effective than 99% of your competitors at getting your message across.

In the next article I will look at how to create and use a protagonist or avatar for your stories and ads.

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