When we talk of a business telling a story, we’re most often discussing one of two things. The first is a linear, self-contained piece: a video, a book, or an article that (occasionally) presents classic storytelling structures as a narrative. The piece (ideally) has a beginning that introduces conflict, a middle that illustrates a main character’s journey, and an end that brings some kind of resolution.
The second, more typical kind of storytelling that businesses talk about is the brand story and how to express the ideas for which the company stands. These expressions come in varying content-driven forms: websites, blogs, magazines, email newsletters, etc. These content-driven experiences are not, themselves, linear stories but rather collections of content that when consumed hopefully tell the brand story.
We can think of them as “story spaces” – nonlinear, sometimes interactive collections of content where consumers create their own adventures and experience the essence of the brand.
Let’s come back to that. Let me tell you a quick story.
The other day with the content strategy team at a large brand, I had a discussion that seemed to produce an aha moment. We were talking about their metadata strategy for a new content marketing website. The discussion focused on creating a great taxonomy that would help them structure their content. They were going through the three main types of metadata: descriptive, structural, and administrative. As part of the structural discussion, I asked a question.
“Does your strategy include designing the creative narrative?”
They looked at me the way my dog looks at me when I’m holding the car keys, unsure of the destination (vet or dog park) but preeeeettty sure she wants to go.
“Don’t you have some content,” I asked, “that consumers might find helpful to get in a specific order? Isn’t one piece of content integral to understanding why this experience exists in the first place? Could you envision working with the marketing and creative teams to map out a narrative arc for experiencing some of this content in a recommended sequence?”
Yes, yes, and yes.
These are different narrative structures.
In today’s world, the word “storytelling” and “narrative structure” tends to get thrown around as an ideal – a place. A singular concept.
Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is one such narrative – but there are plenty of others as well. Most you’ve never heard of. There is a narrative structure called “Save The Cat” for example – which itself has ten different types of structures.
One of the ten within the Save The Cat model is the Monster In The House narrative. Here you have a small group of people – usually young and sexy – and one or two of them commit some kind of “sin” (usually bow chika wow wow). And, then, for some reason they are TRAPPED in a confined space – and must then get out and defeat a monster in the process. You’ve seen this movie. You’ve read this book. Maybe they’re a favorite. It’s a common and satisfying narrative structure.
“Save The Cat”, by the way, is named for Sigourney Weaver’s act of “saving” Jones (the cat) in the very first scene of Alien – which is of course a famous Monster In The House story.
Business Content Stories – which are discrete pieces; a Whitepaper, a video, an article in a magazine, an infographic, a webinar can all have different types of narrative structures. So too, can brand stories – where we look at a promise- our brand – as spaces in which consumers can create their own adventures. This doesn’t mean we can’t orchestrate some of that (think Disney World) but you definitely make your own way.
So as you go into the weekend. Maybe we can think about this and start to think about what kinds of stories are we trying to create here. We have many narrative structures to choose from. We just have to choose to begin…
Once upon a time….
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.