Reinforcing Your Message Through Narrative

As business people, and especially as marketers, we’re expected to tell compelling stories that drive people to action.  Hardly a day goes by that someone isn’t talking about “influencing the customer” or “motivating consumer behavior” within the context of product placement, marketing, or advertising.  All of that talk can be a bit overwhelming as you likely didn't get into business to be a story teller, but are finding out that storytelling has become one of the unwritten requirements of the job.

There are two really basic tools that will help us better apply narrative to our business communications, however, and they help us clarify and target things such as our brand and message.  The first is called the Plot Diagram for story structure, and the second is something much more elementary: the story hand.

Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution
The Plot Diagram

The Plot Diagram, seen to the right, reminds us that our communications must follow a clear structure.  Just as I tell each of my University students that one of the most important structural elements of a business presentation is the Introduction, so too does a story rely upon its introduction, called “exposition.”  In the age old who-what-where-when-how-why (the so-called Five W’s and One H) of things, the exposition introduces the who and the where.

From exposition, we move to a period of rising action which details the what in our story, specifically what problem, conflict, or challenge must be overcome.  After the action rises, we reach the climax phase which gives into the falling action phase.  These both detail the how and when of a story, leaving the resolution phase to wrap things up with answering why.  Sometimes the resolution is positive and utopian showing that all the conflict was worthwhile, and other times the resolution is negative and dystopian in the hopes of calling the audience to action by showing them what may happen without a positive result.

Characters, Setting, Problem, Events, Solution
The Story Hand

Story Hand

The story hand, seen to the left, differs in that it is a tool taught to children in primary school for comprehending and reporting upon a story.  The steps of the story hand are broken down with each finger (including the thumb) representing a part of the story.  We ask children to identify the who by identifying Characters, the when and where by identifying Setting, and what is determined by stating the problem (again, called “conflict” in the previous Plot Diagram).  Determining the how is accomplished through the recollection of events within the story, and finally, the why is indirectly alluded to by detailing the solution and future events.  This entire hand serves as a device for children to comprehend what we might simply say to adults as, “Determine who wanted what, and then find the problems that stood in the way.  Finally, detail how the conflict was resolved and explain the outcome.”

So what do we do with this information?


Review your message, your brand, your image, and your marketing materials.  Are you paying to create social messages that talk about your brand or product, or relating that brand or product into the larger narrative of a story?

If you sell widgets, of course you want to detail the specs of the widgets, but that alone isn’t enough.  Are you crafting a compelling narrative that explains why your widget is spec’ed the way it is and how that translate into material success in terms of the widget being useful?

If you are promoting your brand, are you merely informing your demographic targets that you exist, or are you providing insight into how your brand can adapt, influence, and improve their actions?  How does your brand assist someone with reaching their goals and objectives?

Once all of the above is considered, we come to a nice and easy to follow TLDR-style action step as a conclusion: review all of your marketing materials and promotions and ensure that each specific item—even if a part of a larger whole—individually addresses the who, what, where, when, how, and why for your product, brand, or company.  If you can’t check off each of those elements, send that material back to the drawing board.


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