I have been fascinated with storytelling for a while now. The more I study the subject, the more convinced I am that structure matters and a good template can go a long way to helping you effectively tell your story.
Don’t get me wrong; a boring story that is well structured is still a boring story. But a good story formatted correctly can become a great story. So what is a structure that works?
One model I have been playing with lately describes a story as four acts.
Act 1 – The set-up
Act 2 – The Conflict or Challenge
Act 3 – The Resolution
Act 4 – The Call to Action
Conceptually, this is an easy model to follow. But, it is challenging to execute well. One text I can wholeheartedly recommend is “Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth”. His research on the art of story telling is unparalleled. It opened my eyes to the underlying structure of telling a good story.
The four-step model above is not the same as Joseph Campbell’s classic hero’s journey. For perspective, one big difference is the inclusion of a call to action. This is a business specific consideration. It is included because telling stories in the world of business is intended to create a value exchange. I tend to like the model because it is easy to implement for business communication.
I am sure you’ve heard the phrase that every play has a beginning, middle, and an end. This is called the “dramatic curve”. If you have had formal sales training, you may have been exposed to the dramatic curve described as problem set-up, product/service solution and sales close.
The set-up provides context. For example, “When looking for a site to expand your business the choices can be overwhelming and the data can be confusing.”
The conflict or challenge is a statement of your target’s need. To continue the example, “Sorting through the morass of information takes time, time you could be spending on solving business problems. You know how important selecting the right location is to the future of your business, but you begrudge the time it takes from solving today’s issues.”
The resolution is the description of your product or service as the solution.
The call to action is a relevant step that moves the reader toward an investment decision. It isn’t always a “sales close”, it may be a registration for additional information or an appointment to speak with a representative.
Ideas on Use
One of the first areas I have successfully used a story telling model is in writing electronic releases. I never understood why the structure of a traditional press release carried over into the electronic realm.
In case you are not familiar with electronic releases, they are business communications that are submitted to distribution services like PR Newswire or Business Wire. Traditional press releases are authored for reporters to get them interested in doing a story about your news. Electronic releases are authored for your target consumer and should be designed for that purpose. That is where the model comes into play.
You can also use the model when you think about structuring blog posts, promotional pieces and any other communication tactic you intend to share with your customer.
- Listen – Know your audience, their attitudes, beliefs, needs, and concerns.
- Be Personal – Build stories that respond to your audience’s specific needs.
- Encourage Interaction – Include a way for your target to interact with you. Examples would include registering for more information and providing feedback through a comment.
- Continue to Listen – Encourage feedback on your story and make appropriate adjustments to enrich your story and improve the reception.
- Think Around The Corner – The story you tell today should set the stage for the next chapter you will tell tomorrow.
It will likely feel awkward at first to use the model as a guide to writing your business communications. But, it gets easier over time. Your biggest challenge may actually be convincing your Creative Agency (if you have one) to adhere to the model. They will argue it restricts their creativity. In my opinion though, it increases the odds your message will actually be heard. My advice is to stick to your guns and insist the model be used. You will find the consistency over time will make a meaningful difference in the impact your communication has on your target audience.
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