Let’s assume you have heard of it!

Storytelling is often presented as some new marketing concept; it is not. You have been told and been telling stories since the day you were born. If you are an adult and you have no concept of story, I honestly don’t know how you made it this far in life in general. Tell me that story!

 For some businesses, finding a story comes very quickly; a dog adoption centre, for example, compared to a company that manufactures nine-inch nails, will have a solid head start, won’t they?

Today, we will explore two approaches to storytelling, commonly found in films, by looking at some real examples of them in play. In addition, we will show you how and when you can use each approach in your business marketing activities.

Why tell stories in business

As a business owner or representative, your story is communicated in everything you post. It could be a simple phrase on a coloured background or a glorious brand video. In both cases, you are expressing an idea of who you are or what your business does. When you hear about storytelling and try to work out how it can fit into your business, the chances are it already does. Your digital content strategy will have objectives that will most likely align with your business goals and values.

The great trick is convincing people that they care about your business enough for you to tell them more. Marketers will refer to this as a sales funnel, but this is storytelling, and it is much, much older.  

Character and plot-driven stories

A good general rule in filmmaking is that a good film is not necessarily derived from an idea; it comes from its characters motivations and objectives. This often makes a film feel much more organic and believable.

When we watch a blockbuster ensemble cast film, the plot drives the story forward, so we tend to see easily recognisable or relatable characters. These characters serve the plot and help push the story along, sometimes with witty dialogue, but ultimately the film is not about them.

Comparatively, the films that tend to win all the awards focus on the character, their motivations and actions to drive the story forward. This is when the character takes us on a journey, has relatable humanising moments and learns something about themselves (usually) by the end of the film. Let’s compare any Fast and Furious movie (they are all the same) with Nomadland.

Fast and furious 1-9 (nine films!!! WHY???)

We get what we pay for; crazy stunts, terrible dialogue and essentially bad acting from characters that we never really learn that much about in the fast and furious movies. These films are all about what drives (no pun intended) the audience to the subsequent explosive car chase. So, the plot is what carries the film forward.

Nomadland

In Nomadland, we explore the life of someone living on the road. The director made choices to include real people who live in this ‘nomadic’ way and tends to use exclusively natural light and beautiful surroundings to help paint a picture of this world. However, the actions of Frances McDormand’s character push the story forward, making the plot character-driven, more believable, and arguably more engaging.

You may be someone who prefers explosive car chases to a middle-aged lady pooping in a bucket, but only one of those films has won awards, and the other has made nine attempts so far and won nothing.

Avoidable poop jokes aside, the point here isn’t to say that one of these is better than the other. There wouldn’t be 9 Fast and furious films if people didn’t want to see them. Fast and Furious has made Universal studios millions and millions of dollars. Whereas Nomadland has received international acclaim. The point is to show you how both are necessary considerations when creating content for your business.

How can I apply this to my business?

Think of your business as a character, with its own precise needs and goals. Let’s try sales, for example;

Peter runs a business that makes nine-inch nails, Nails By Mail Ltd. Their target audience is tradespeople. Peter believes that he can save tradespeople time by delivering to the address they are working on the same day the nails are ordered. Awesome!

Peter wants to make some content that builds trust in his brand and demonstrate how his service has value to his audience. Let’s apply the two different story approaches to what Peter might make:

Plot Driven Content

We explain Peters service using motion graphics and animation. This is effectively a series of animated slides describing how Nails by mail works, from signup to product delivery. 

  At the end of viewing this video, the customer will understand what they need to do to purchase from Nails by Mail. The video clearly meets Peters business needs, but it fails to motivate people to buy. At two minutes long, he found that viewers were not staying to the end of the video before being distracted by something else on the internet…which really could be anything!

Character-Driven Content

Peter chooses to have a video shot with an actor playing the part of a frustrated tradesperson.

We see the actor’s problem established as he looks for missing parts on his building site. Maybe we make this comical.

We then see the actor in his car, at a shop looking increasingly frustrated, having lost hours of his day in traffic and queuing in shops. 

The actor returns to the building site, furious and without the parts he needs. A colleague shows him Nailsbymail.com on his phone and places an order. 

The parts arrive and are handed to the actor, who is now visibly relieved and smiling. 

In this video, the audience is now motivated to learn more because Peters video has connected with a common frustration that his target audience has. He has also made this video about his customer rather than his product or service. In this video, the character is his ideal customer and his service works in support of that.

In Summary   

Clearly, there are two different objectives here. We need both to exist as separate pieces of content. The first engages, the other informs, and when we think of the dreaded customer journey, this is always a staple aim of any marketing plan.

Peter needs the character-driven content to get his viewers to relate and engage, and (once they click a link), he then needs the plot-driven content to show them how his business works. 

When you think about creating content for your business, think about what best serves your ideal customer on their journey to you. You want your character-driven content on social media, driving up engagement and your plot-driven content wherever your customer goes to find out more (your website).

If you would like to learn more about working out what content to start making for your customers, have a read of our article all about pitting wants vs needs.