What story does your marketing tell?
Every great campaign starts with a story that draws attention. It makes people stop what they’re doing in, lean in, and listen or watch.
You have to forge a connection with your target audience, and you have to do it quickly to capture attention, then weave a story to hold that attention and keep it focused on your brand and your customer’s journey with that brand. You’re competing every minute of the day, not just for market share against your competitors, but against the dull white noise of the everyday world.
Whether you are providing useful content, making your target market consider improvement to their lives (or even greater, society or the planet as a whole), or inspiring them by showing the potential your products or services serve, this connection between your business and the consumer is vital. Storytelling offers the most innovative, flexible, and successful way to quickly make that connection.
Here's the thing about Kurt Warner...
Think about it. Part of the reason we’re so enamored of events like the Olympic Games or the Super Bowl is because there are story archetypes just ripe for the telling. Remember Kurt Warner, quarterback of the (then) St. Louis Rams? It was 1998, and the city’s hopes were pinned on first string QB Trent Green, who showed promise and had sports fans in the Gateway City eyeing the upcoming football season with optimism for the first time in years. When star quarterback Green went down in a pre-season game with a knee injury, Kurt Warner, an undrafted free agent who’d spent time in the arena leagues and had even done a stint as a shelf stocker at a grocery store to make ends meet, made the masses nervous as he took position in the starting lineup. But he surprised everyone, leading the team through an unprecedented season, racking up record breaking stats, and culminating in a Super Bowl win with Warner being awarded MVP.
Kurt Warner, however, was unique in that his story didn’t follow just one storytelling archetype, but several, and in the process, captured the sports world’s attention and devotion.
Archetypal storytelling taps into deep universal emotions or scenarios that—even when layered with the unique details of your brand—can easily be picked up and followed by anyone in your audience.
Use These Seven Basic Storytelling Archetypes
Rags to Riches
The protagonist in the story reaches rock bottom before clawing through seemingly impossible odds to reach a goal—fame, power, wealth, love, and/or achieving a dream. Kurt Warner’s story fits into this one and the St. Louis Rams, and later, the NFL, picked up this narrative as a form of empowerment. The story’s main message is that given the right opportunity, greatness can be achieved by anyone.
Overcoming the Monster
An antagonistic force must be battled in order to right a wrong, save innocents, and thwart disaster. The beauty industry often sets the monster as aging or skin conditions that can be overcome by their products, defeating low self-esteem and promoting positive self-image and confidence. Insurance companies frequently offer their products as a way to prevent both man-made and natural disasters.
The hero must set out on a journey fraught with danger to acquire an important object or reach a destination. An example of this would be Tesla, and the destination is clean energy for everyone the world over. It also doesn’t have to be a big quest with worldwide impact, either. Nike is incredibly skilled at taking this story archetype and breaking it down to a very personal, individual level, promising wearers of their apparel and shoes that they can achieve success—whatever the goal—if they just do it.
Voyage and Return
The protagonist must leave everything they’ve ever known to explore another realm and acquire experience, knowledge, and skills they wouldn’t have gained any other way. They then return to their origins and use their newfound experience in the process of resuming their previous existence. A perfect use of this story type is found in the advertising for the US Armed Forces, who promise to give those who enlist a set of skills that are not only something to be proud of, but will translate into a solid future in almost any industry, with the added bonus of providing a college education. This story archetype is also used in professional services that offer a learning component, such as an online course, coaching program or group workshop.
A humorous character faces increasingly confusing and outrageous conflict before a clarifying event prompts the character to resolve the conflict in a way that befits their personality. This is one of the most difficult, yet most successful, stories to tell in brand marketing. Old Spice and Anheuser-Busch have both been capturing this archetype in 60 second spots for years.
A character with a major flaw who commits a great mistake that ultimately proves to be their undoing. Tragedy stories can be used in PR fall-outs to create an authentic and powerful statement about why your brand took a misstep. Tragedy stories are also sometimes used in company founder narratives when recalling why a previous business or venture failed. These are often combined with a “hero’s journey” tale or rebirth (see below). Often, tragedies are cautionary tales used by charitable organizations who take on the role of benefactor combatting an injustice or fighting against unseen forces for the greater good. They’re very careful, however, not to paint those who benefit from their services as deserving of terrible circumstances.
This is the story of a relatable character in need of a change in themselves in order to become a better person. Often times, transformation tales are told in the fashion industry, or by higher education institutions seeking to entice higher enrollment number with the promise of a “whole new you.”
Your company fits one of these...the question is, which one?
Perhaps in business, the art of storytelling means your company fits one of these archetypes as a means of helping your customers overcome negative circumstances, or achieve self improvement. Remember: all great marketing comes down to penetrating those three main desires: self-control, mastery, and power. Maybe the story is about your beginnings and obstacles overcome, like the company that started in a garage in a race to beat out a competitor with the same innovative idea: Apple pitted against Microsoft. The competition between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates has become legend in our culture, beyond just their companies’ origin stories.
Whatever the story you have to tell, fitting it into one of these archetypes can help you focus it in such a way that your target audience recognizes even on a subconscious level what you’re trying to do and where your brand fits in the scheme of things. The more powerful your story, the stronger your connection to the consumers you’re trying to reach, the more memorable your brand will become.