By Tom Lazaroff & Bruce Dundore, cofounders at The Fundamental Group
- Story(opens in new tab) is the key to getting customers, employees and partners excited about your company.
- Below, branding experts Tom Lazaroff and Bruce Dundore share 5 elements of compelling stories, proven by the film industry. When applied to business, they provide a hook for stakeholders that’s difficult to beat.
- A compelling story begins with a “life in balance,” thrown off by a “starting event.” The character or customer creates an “action plan” and overcomes a “gap” before landing their “object of desire.”
Your business should be one of the most interesting stories you ever tell.
Story is the key to getting people excited about your business, whether it’s customers, employees, investors or partners. And make no mistake: There is a methodology to developing a story. It’s not theoretical.
5 key parts to a compelling story:
We’re big fans of Robert McKee and his story structure methodology. We highly recommend attending one of his workshops, as we have done ourselves (more than once).
McKee teaches that there are 5 key parts to a compelling story, whether it’s in literature, film or business. We’ll use the classic Disney/Pixar film “Toy Story” as an example:
1. The life in balance
A compelling story begins by establishing the life of the central character or organization. A “life in balance” is not the perfect life, but it does mean that at least 51 percent of that life should be positive. In “Toy Story,” Sheriff Woody’s life is in balance as the leader of toys belonging to Andy. To him, this is life, and it’s generally good.
Here’s a business example: Let’s say you own a chain of carpet-cleaning shops. Here, your story may begin when your customer has a “life in balance,” in that their house is neat and tidy. They take pride in maintaining their clean carpet, and they’re satisfied with how it looks.
2. The starting event
This is the event that sets the story in motion. In “Toy Story,” the arrival of Buzz Lightyear threatens Woody’s status as the favorite toy. In your company’s story, perhaps a glass of spilled red wine threatens the perfect white carpet your customer loves so much.
3. The action plan
What is the response to the starting event? Once Buzz arrives, Woody’s action plan is to push Buzz behind the desk so he’s temporarily “lost” and Woody can win Andy’s attention back. Your customer’s action plan, meanwhile, is to get that nasty red stain out of their carpet.
4. The gap
This is where the well-hatched plans of the most expert generals meet either success or failure in the face of the enemy. When Woody attempts to push Buzz behind the desk, Buzz instead falls out the bedroom window. Suddenly, the other toys think Woody is malicious and violent. Now Woody must rescue Buzz to regain the trust and respect of the other toys.
In business, your solution enters “the gap” and meets either risk or reward. Your customer has the opportunity to take a chance on your carpet-cleaning business, calling them up to obliterate the nasty carpet stain.
5. The object of desire
This is the return to the “life in balance” that the character reaches after putting the action plan into place. In “Toy Story,” Woody desires to get Buzz back and return to being one of the toys, even if he’s no longer the favorite. In the end, they become equal parts in the toy universe.
Your customer, meanwhile, wants to get their carpet back to cleanliness. In the end, they’ll reach that solution … after using your service, of course.
Here’s how the story elements look all mapped out:
Image credit: The Fundamental Group
This is the outline of a good story. Now, It’s time for you to roll up your sleeves and use it for your own business.
And don’t just focus on your company. Think about your customers: What has thrown their life out of balance? How is their world broken? (Hint: If you first understand your customer(opens in new tab), it will be a lot easier to answer this question.) Next, what’s your action plan to solve their problem? What does your product or service do to help them achieve the object of desire? What does the object of desire look like for them? And what are the consequences of not solving the gap?
Once you map this out, you’ll have the outline for every story your business tells.
You can apply that story to your website. Or talk about it the next time you meet a potential customer. Or just shoot the breeze at a family gathering. The next blog post or case history you write won’t come across as dry business-school drivel, but as a compelling, well-structured story. It’ll captivate and inspire them, be remembered and repeated, and become part of the mythology of your company.
Your organization and your brand have the power to enrich and change lives, and maybe even make the world better. Tell your story proudly and confidently, and watch the difference you make.
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