The basic structure of a story is simple enough: you have a protagonist, who goes through some sort of change, by way of a challenge or problem, which is the conflict, and you have the resolution of that conflict.
While that sounds easy enough, it’s only scratching the surface. There are a few things that lend richness to your stories, that take them to the next level.
Let’s take the Broken Goat Trail race as an example. This is a spectacular 12k, 25k, and 50K run that takes place in the West Kootenay Mountains outside of Rossland, British Columbia. The event director had responsibilities I can’t even fathom – a high alpine trail run with the potential for weather, for people to get lost, hurt, and dehydrated. She and her staff oversee volunteers, course marking, timing, finish line, post-event and awards ceremony. And I’m sure many things I’m leaving out. When I came through the finish line, there she was, the event director, pom poms in hand, cheering and hugging, each and every finisher and putting our one-of-a-kind, homemade finisher medals around our necks.
At the mandatory pre-race meeting, here were some of the rules:
- If you come across an injured racer, please stay with that person until help arrives. We know you worked hard to be here and don’t want to take away from your event but this is important and aligns with our values. We will comp your registration next year.
- “No cutting corners. Not only will you be disqualified, but I will call your mother.” That’s cheating.
Finish line hugs, homemade finisher medals, rules driven by organizational values and delivered with personality.
Stories are more than blog posts, case studies and web pages. Stories are the way you write the race rules, the way you greet your participants, the way you reward them. They are the connective tissue to everything you do and say.
To take it beyond the protagonist, conflict and resolution requires a few other things:
A picture may speak a thousand words, but a photo of a snowy landscape, as beautiful as it may be, has more meaning when we are told that it’s April, say, in Arizona. That’s not just a snowy landscape anymore. This pearl necklace is gorgeous but when you tell me it’s a reproduction of Jackie Onassis Kennedy’s necklace, and it comes with a certificate of authenticity, that story means a lot more.
Context is something I frequently see overlooked, particularly in social engagement. Don’t assume consumers know all the details or that they don’t care about them. You have lost subjectivity because you are in it but remember to elaborate. Share some background to add meaning to your story. “This is important to (our CEO) because his child…” Help us tie things together and connect the dots.
There is a ton of dry and meaningless blather on the internet (as if you didn’t notice). And let me stop you right now before you use the “We’re a B2B business” argument. We are all people doing business with people and a little personal touch/background does wonders to reinforce credibility and trust. I don’t care if you are in healthcare technology, manufacturing, or doggie daycare, your stories don’t have to be elevated in diction – just write it like you’d say it. If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online.
And use words that mean something – incredible, world-class, leading provider… these are words that could use the five-year old boy treatment: “Why is it incredible?” Ask yourself “why” three times and answer it three times. Use the third response in your story.
“Phoning it in” won’t get you there.
The finish line hug, the homemade medal, rules that are written not in the expected legalese but in conversational tone: This makes for a memorable customer experience.
You have to care because taking it beyond the ordinary requires extra work, creativity and dedication.
Here is the cool outcome.
That race director cares deeply that every single person enjoys the race. What’s more, her actions instill a culture that extends the story. Every time a runner passed me (and trust me, that happened a lot), they looked me in the eye, and said “how are you?” <— not a superficial “how are you?” they really wanted to make sure I was OK before they passed me. In a competition.
Telling a better story also requires getting out of the mindset of meeting deadlines and filling space with content, and into the mindset of how can we make this really matter to those who will come in contact with it?[ssba]