Multi ooloured email at signs

21 Reasons Email Marketing is Essential

When you tell your business story, you need a medium to tell it.  Traditional media include public speaking, drama and books.  What can you use online?  The truth is you must design an email marketing strategy.  Email is a flexible approach and the only way to build a secure online business.

Many protest they can build a business around social media.  The overriding reason why this is not best practice is email marketing is the only approach where you have complete control of customer information.

Bear in mind, email marketing strategies take time to implement.  Make a start today and start to see results.  But it takes time to design and build a system that works and requires minimal tweaking.  The 21 advantages I list below, assume an email marketing system that works!

In future posts, I shall add information about the 21 advantages.  Remember, every business is different.  There is no single strategy that meets the needs of all businesses.  Above all you need clarity about your business narrative; what is the story you need to tell?


Branding has little to do with graphic design.  Your brand is your reputation; what people say about you in your absence.  Visual and verbal representations of your business become captivating when people associate your brand with them.  If your reputation is poor, the best graphic design in the world will seem negative.

Build Brand (1)

When prospects enter your sales funnel, they stay there if they find quality content.  They may also tell their friends.  Emails that contain or point to quality content are always welcome.

Build Credibility (2)

The same content builds credibility because it shows you deliver.  You invite prospects to journey deeper into your world.  They pay for access to exclusive content and services.  This depends upon the trust you build.

Look Professional (3)

The madcap chaotic world of social media is not always the best place to conduct business.  Nothing beats a thought-through sales funnel.  A funnel you own and control and adapt to changing circumstances.


Imagine a funnel.  The wide end is its front end and corresponds to fresh prospects, interested people who have not yet made a purchase.  Once someone makes a purchase, they enter the back-end, where you continue to deliver quality content and great offers.  The whole is about building relationships with prospects and customers.  This may be difficult, especially if you have a global market but it is not impossible.

Generate Calls (4)

Someone reads your email and takes interest in your services.  It may be natural for them to make a call.  How natural, depends on your business.  Emergency services are more likely to receive calls than coaches or consultants.  However, prospects are always more likely to call if they see a number and you encourage them to use it.

What would happen if you called everyone who joins your list?  This is a great way to build relationships.  However, it depends upon them giving you their number.  Why would they do that?  For overseas contacts you need Skype addresses or a similar service.  How would you get this information?

Start Conversations (5)

It is easy to reply to an email.  Encourage recipients to do so.  Once you receive a reply, can you move the conversation onto the phone and/or a 1-to-1?

You can support communication between customers too.  Be clear about the purpose of conversations and be certain they’ll actually happen before you make any promises.

Strengthen Relationships (6)

Let’s say you move prospects from social media to your sales funnel.  With social media, they communicate with everyone else taking interest or just hanging around.  They stay on social media when they enter your sales funnel, of course.

But consider the change.  In your funnel, it’s just you and them.  It is an opportunity to strengthen relationships.  Your aim is to move them to where they see the point of buying time with you.

Improve Communication (7)

Always reply, even if they like a post on Facebook.  Ask a question.  They may answer it.  Always try to deepen the conversation and probe for common ground.


Email marketing is a common and effective version of the sales funnel.  Emails combined with just about any other media are a great way to build relationships and increase sales.

Increase Web Traffic (8)

Use email to direct followers to your website, when you add something new.  You need two calls to action.  The first is the subject line to your email – does it invite, or better compel, the recipient to open the email?  Then you need a call to action to click the link to your website.

Once they are on the website there will be at least one further call to action, for example to sign up for or buy something.  You can see why clarity and compelling content is essential at every stage.

Generate Leads (9)

This is one big advantage of email over social media.  Emails can be forwarded to other interested people.  First, you need great content and then you need to ask!  Many people know others equally or even more interested in your offer.  Or perhaps maybe interested – no need to be picky!

Promote Products and Services (10)

Some people think email is dead!  If it is, how come social media depends upon it?  You see emails every day drawing attention to posts, tweets and the like.  You receive email reminders of events you have signed up for or notices of new products and services.  Many companies send emails, perhaps on a daily basis, that remind you they’re still there.

Boost Sales (11)

You can go further.  If you have a major product launch, use sequences of emails to raise awareness.  You don’t need a massive list to do this.  Use the promotion to grow your list.

Customer Relations Management (12)

Keeping track of your customers and what they have purchased or expressed interest in is another big advantage of email marketing.  There are effective ways to manage huge numbers of customers on the market but start with low-cost (or free) services and grow your business over time.

Build Capacity (13)

Email marketing automates online sales.  Develop a robust and effective system to extend your reach.  Email marketing is scalable.  However, other factors limit reach, such as staffing.


Like any method, email marketing introduces new technical issues.  However, it also resolves some tough issues.  Here are a couple.

Business Security (14)

Corporations own social media and they can (1) change the rules and (2) impose restrictions, if they think you’ve broken the rules.  Therefore, be ready for anything that threatens your business.  Keeping a list of customers and followers outside social media really helps.  Social media feed into your list.

Compliance (GDPR) (15)

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is largely taken care of through your email service provider.  Measures such as double opt-in, unsubscribe links and showing your business address helps you comply with standards automatically.  Remember though, you need to do more on your website to be compliant.


In their early stages, new businesses seek early adopters and find adaptive solutions to the problems they encounter.  Hence design of marketing is crucial during early years.

Some businesses go on to mass markets and so the design challenge moves from “how do we do this?” to “how do we remain true to our original business purpose?”

Marketing Strategy Design (16)

Email marketing has many advantages for the beginner.  It is inexpensive, scalable and imposes a systematic approach from the start.  It is highly flexible, not an alternative to social media but uses it strategically.

Design Products and Services (17)

Many online and offline products and services are highly compatible with email marketing.  Your email marketing strategy influences decisions you make when designing products and services.

Use email lists to test drive ideas or test products in beta.  It’s great to build something new, confident there is a market for it.


Most important of all, email marketing is how you communicate your business why.

Explains Your Business Why (18)

Help followers and customers understand why you’re in business.  When they understand your why, they are more likely to buy from you.  Use emails to take them further into understanding your business than you can on social media.

Help them understand how to help you achieve something they want to see happen.

Generate Anticipation (19)

People hooked by your Why, want to know what happens next.  People excited about your business are keen not to miss out.

Educate Your Followers (20)

Take your followers to new levels of understanding using teaching via email.  Also use email to point to new material on your website or blog posts.

Saves Time (21)

This is under the heading of transformation because a robust email marketing strategy transforms your life.  It’s your choice. Use the time you save to build capacity or pursue other interests or commitments.  You should find the latter happens as your business develops.

And Finally

I hope I have persuaded you email marketing is worth considering as the basis for your marketing design.  Even if you read the headings only, you see there are several powerful arguments in its favour.

Remember though, email marketing is not a technical fix.  You need to design a system that works for your business.  It’s not only the technical aspects that matter.  You must get to grips with content.  This is why I offer coaching, so I can help you figure out what works for your business.  Visit new pages on my website about my coaching offer.

In the New Year I shall offer a workshop where you can find out more about email marketing, the various options for setting up your own strategy and how to set about producing content.  Sign up below if you would like to receive notice of the workshop and other events designed to help you tell your story.

Also, in the New Year I shall produce a series of blog posts about each of these 21 reasons to use email marketing.  You shall receive notice of my blog posts, as they appear, if you sign up below.

speaker with flipchart and audience

Secrets of Great Speech Design

You want to know the secrets of great speech design?  There’s really only one.  It’s what you know.  To stand in front an audience and deliver a cracking speech that leaves them asking for more – you need to know … well what exactly?

Know Your Audience

Your audience is the great unknown.  It’s the hardest to know but the most important.

Imagine you’re asked to stand in as a speaker at the last minute.  You know nothing about your audience, walk into the room and …

You could deliver your proven keynote.  Is that really for the best?  The chance you’ll connect with your audience is low.

Why not take time getting to know your audience?  They could discuss a question in pairs and share conclusions.  This need not take long. It offers you an opportunity to find out what they know and to gauge mood and responsiveness.

Usually, you have more information but it is still helpful to gauge your audience’s mood.  There are many ways to build a positive relationship with your audience, even where you already know a lot about them.

Your audience could be people you know well. Your hosts may provide information. Can you rely upon this knowledge?  Pre-meeting research may be as valuable as direct observation at the meeting, eg if you know they are people in the same profession.

Know Your Business

You deliver your speech as a business owner.   So, you need to know your business.  Most business owners know aspects of their business but have blind spots.  What do you know about your branding, products and services, proposition, problem and market?

Be clear about the basics.  What business are you in?  I coach business owners in local marketing.  I position myself as a coach but I could be a marketer or storyteller.  Because I talk about marketing and storytelling, some people believe I do one or both.  You see the potential for confusion?

When you deliver a speech as a business owner, keep your business in mind.   You aim to do justice to yourself and your business.  Your speech should leave your audience hungry to know more.  You can do this without spending a lot of time describing your business.  Be in command of your material, particularly as it relates to your business.

Know Your Topic

Research your topic.  One frequent mistake is to focus solely on one type of raw material, so here is an overview of possible sources.

  • You can learn a lot about how to structure your talk from traditional stories. How to introduce emotion and tension, add relevant detail.
  • Historical material provides ideas for stories.
  • Experiences of friends, family, customers and others.
  • Case studies show how you work with customers.
  • Personal stories introduce yourself and the values underlying your business.
  • Business or product origin shows how you and your associates built your business or a new product or service.
  • How things work, including recipes and instructions.
  • Data and statistics – how do you present these to make a point without overwhelming your audience?

You see the range of skills you can bring into play, to compile a compelling talk.

Know Your Desired Outcome

Be clear about what you want from your audience.  If you sell from the stage, you are clear.  Your problem is how, not what.  You are likely too, to be in a minority.  Many people dislike the idea of selling from the stage.

If you seek significant commitments of time, money or energy, learn how to sell from the stage.  “Buy from me because I’m brilliant” is unlikely to be effective.  Use a narrative that brings some in the audience to the point where they’re ready to buy.  Your narrative shows you understand their problem and offer a solution.

For smaller commitments, selling from the stage is easier.  You may have a story to tell and your speech from the stage whets appetites for your book.  The challenge is not persuading people to buy so much, as suggesting what they might do if they buy the book.  Is there a next step and if so, what is it?

Sometimes it’s better to find interested people and offer a smaller step.  This helps where your offer may not suit everyone.  Arrange to meet face-to-face and find out whether there is a good fit, to tailor your offer to each need.  Coaches often use this approach.

You don’t want to make a sale or get the audience to do anything?  Think again!  Why deliver this talk?  What change do you seek in your audience’s thinking?  What new insights do you want them to take away?  It’s your responsibility to guide their thinking.  Could you offer a question to discuss or think about at home?  How can they follow up your talk?  Your keynote is not an information dump, get your audience to take action.  Otherwise, what is the point?


To deliver a brilliant keynote, understand your audience, know what your business offers, assemble material to use during your talk and decide what change you want to see.

As you dig deeper into one, it implies changes in all four.  You may find you circle around these four several times.  When your plans are good enough, try your keynote with a real audience.

Maybe you need a step-by-step plan? Come back next week to find steps to create a brilliant keynote.

What is a Keynote Speech?

Public speakers often talk about a keynote speech or address.  What do they mean?

A Classical Music Concert

You feel tense as you take your seat at a classical music concert, for the first time.  What if I’m bored?  What if I want to cough?  When do I applaud?  Can I stand up and whoop?  Will I want to?

A man with a stick arrives to tumultuous applause.  He raises his stick and silence falls.  The music starts.

A new world opens up.  How is it these sounds, so far from human language, mean so much?  Why do I and others feel these emotions?  What is at stake?  What is it that brings me to the edge of my seat?  Why do I sense jeopardy as the music approaches its end?  Why do I feel relief as the music resolves and finishes just so …?

When music finishes just so.oh.oh.oh, it returns to its original key, a familiar place, subtly different.  We have been on a journey and return to and recognise ‘same but different’ resolves the music. The composer sets out and we experience tension until we discover how the composer finds their way back.

The key not only sets the music’s boundaries, it also sets the theme and tone.  Without the key we cannot make sense of the music, just get frustrated.  The key-note is the first note in the scene-setting chord.

Conference Keynotes

The word keynote in public speaking best applies to a conference or event.  The keynote speech sets its theme.  It could be at the beginning, setting the theme and tone for the conference and is likely to be delivered by an inspirational speaker.  Or else it could be at the end of the conference, bringing together insights from the conference and clarifying what happened.

You attend a conference and its theme is British Mammals.  You expect the keynote to state the aim of the conference, perhaps setting the tone by highlighting issues facing mammals.

Next up, you hear a lecture about freshwater fish.  Why?  The keynote set the boundaries.  You thought you were here to find out about mammals.  Just as you think you might leave for a coffee, the speaker resolves the tension.  We need to understand the ecology of fish, to understand the lives of otters.

Perhaps some of the most intriguing and so powerful keynotes, do not address the theme directly or set boundaries.  They set the tone by uniting the audience around a concern or emotion.  Their concern is not so much about content, as the approach to the topic.  Where there is fundamental disagreement in the room, setting the tone may be important.

Business Keynotes

It would be an appalling speaker who delivered the same keynote, whatever the conference!  The conference keynote belongs to the conference.  The keynote speaker cannot change the theme of the conference.

However, we do speak about business keynotes.  These set the theme, tone and boundaries for a business.  A business owner may deliver a similar talk in many places and circumstances.

Here the talk belongs to the speaker, invited to deliver that specific talk.  It may set the theme for a  meeting.  Often questions and answers follow before the meeting moves on to some other topic or activity.

There is nothing wrong with this approach. However, don’t forget, the difference between conference and business keynotes resides in ownership of the theme.

Usually a conference keynote requires more work because you need new material and to build it into a new talk you deliver only once.  Nevertheless,  it is an opportunity to build your business’ reputation, through access to a new audience.

Finally, there is the formal pitch.  This is where you set the theme, by pitching an idea to a small group, who if persuaded might support your idea.  There is likely an understanding about the nature of the pitch but it is yours to deliver.  It falls somewhere between conference and business keynotes but is likely far more stressful than either.

Before we get down to practicalities, can you think of other types of keynote address?

Late Summer Pause

This blog will pause for a few weeks for my summer break.  I have lots of new ideas and when I return I shall write about them here.  If there is anything you would like me to write about comment on this or any other post.  Thank you for paying attention.

Scrooge meets Morley's ghost

Basic Plots 7: Rebirth

One version of the tragic story type is close to the seventh and final common basic plot, Rebirth.  It is where the hero repents at the last minute .  They are too late, nemesis consumes them, all too aware of the mistake they made.

But what happens where it isn’t too late?  What if such a hero lives?


Just like all but one of the seven basic plots, this story develops in five stages.  At first glance you may think the middle sections are very similar.  Although on one level a lot happens, stasis marks this story-type.  Nothing much happens for years or decades.  Frustration is absent until something precipitates a crisis.

  1. The hero falls under a shadow. Sometimes the hero is innocent until something happens that causes this first change of heart.
  2. The poison takes time to take a hold and perhaps things seem to go well at first. Gradually it takes hold and shows its full effect.
  3. With darkness full on, the hero experiences total isolation, imprisonment, a living death.
  4. Something precipitates a nightmare crisis.
  5. The power of love liberates the hero, who experiences a second change of heart.

From Innocence to Egocentric Obsession

There are three variants at the start of this story-type.  They influence the outcome and perhaps our feelings for the hero.

In the first, the hero remains innocent throughout the story.  They labour under a dark power that immobilises them.  This is common in children’s stories, eg Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.  Both these heroes are held in stasis until some external influence brings about change.  There are adult versions.  One such is Florestan, the hero of Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio.  He is imprisoned and Leonora, his wife, takes action to free him.  He needs to be released and has no need to repent.  Nevertheless, his release is a rebirth.

The second type is where the dark power springs from within the hero’s personality.  We meet Scrooge at Christmas, well into stage 3 or 4.  We learn during the story the reason why he became a miser.  This is the most realistic of the three variants and one businesses should study.

The third variant is where the dark power takes over the hero and turns the hero into a dark figure.  Peer Gynt is a well-known example, where he discovers late in life he never escaped the magic of the trolls. Kay, from the Snow Queen, is another example.  Neither of these heroes is particularly malevolent, they lead pointless lives.

One constant is the sense of a life lived to no purpose.  The hero often looks back to a time of innocence.  Perhaps a story on the cusp of tragedy and rebirth is Citizen Kane.  He dies with the word “Rosebud” in his lips.  We learn as the film progresses that Rosebud represents the last time he experienced happiness.

Slow Build

The point is the sense of constriction.  The hero is not necessarily a villain, typically he or she shows little malice towards others.  Others may fear or avoid them because they are cold, hard, inured to the feelings of others.  They see the world from a mechanistic perspective, they calculate and measure.  They don’t appreciate or delight in life.

On one level, they may be successful.  Perhaps like Kane, they build a business empire.  They pursue pleasure but see no beauty or purpose in what they accumulate.  From outside, they appear successful.  Within though nothing changes.  They care for no-one, not even themselves.

That one word, Rosebud, is the only clue we have that Kane appreciates he took the wrong road and could not find his way back.

Darkness, Isolation and Nightmare

Typically, we encounter this person without feeling at the height of their power.  It is not that Scrooge hates Bob Cratchit, he simply doesn’t care, he lacks sympathy or compassion.

Some of these heroes are monsters and do terrible things.  But the thing that separates them from the villain in other stories is their lack of malice.  They don’t care.

We baulk at Shahryar’s brutal rule.  He has power and uses it to rape and murder young women.  But we are given his back-story and see what caused darkness to overwhelm him.  Modern people perhaps want to see him punished but the story goes in an unexpected direction.  If we want to see him punished, if we don’t care what happens to him, does that not make us just like him?

In the end it is just a story and it is what it is.  It raises issues for us, it does not tell us what to think.  Scherezade could have run him through with a sword.  But perhaps her strategy was the only one available to her.

Liberation Through Love

Love precipitates rebirth.  Frequently love for a child, a young woman or a dashing young prince.  The hero is incomplete until they feel something for someone outside of the world they created for themselves.  Scrooge falls for Tiny Tim, who does not die.

Of these three the most interesting is the young woman.  A child can make a big difference but is essentially passive.  The hero must choose to take care of the child.  The young prince belongs solely in fairy stories as far as I am aware.  The young woman (who may grow old during the story) is not always passive.  Sometimes she takes action to rescue the hero.  Indeed, perhaps she becomes the hero.  She is the one prepared to love the hero.  Think of Gerda in The Snow Queen or Sonia in Crime and Punishment.


Scherezade is a frame story and so gets lost in 1001 other stories.  Unlike Gerda and Sonia, she does not know Shahryar.  She loves him but cannot possibly feel that way from the start.  What is different about her?

She is a young woman and so are all Shahryar’s other victims.  How is Scherezade different?  She determines not to follow her sisters but to put an end to Shahryar’s reign of terror.  We assume his other victims tried every conceivable seductive charm to no avail.  Scherezade could see this was not about sex.  She was a scholar and so used scholarship to help him rediscover his true self.

She has a plan, assisted by her little sister, who asks for a bedtime story.  Maybe the child’s presence made a difference.  Maybe Shahryar let Scherezade live out of sympathy for the child and found he was gradually drawn into a world of stories and there rediscovered his true self.

Work-Life Balance

The rebirth story is an arrow aimed at the heart of business.  It challenges all business owners to be true to themselves.  To remember who they are, as they contemplate their figures and plan the next sale.

It challenges those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.  To ask, what is it that is truly important?

A business person spends 15 years building a successful business, takes early retirement and returns home to a splendid house with a spouse who barely remembers him and a brood of moody Goths.  Yes, he provided for them, made sure they could do anything they wished.  But is that all his family wanted from him?

It is easy in business to lose track of reality.  Seasons come and go and suddenly you are a lot older, wondering what happened to all that time.  Success may have happened but under the surface, everything else has been on hold.  The faithful spouse complains “we had it all planned, we were going to do so much together but he died.”

How many business people die with “Rosebud” on their lips?

Some business owners tell how they realised time was passing and they no longer wanted to work for others.  They longed for freedom to live their lives to the full. Business itself can be a story of rebirth.


These seven common basic plots are not the only story-types but they open up models for stories that work.  There’s no need to force your story to fit one of these plots but if you can, find a story that resonates, a story you like, that has meaning. Your story will benefit from the dialogue.

If the rebirth story-type shows us one thing, it is the technical side of business is not on its own enough to bring satisfaction to us or our customers.  Remember no-one did business with Scrooge because they wanted to.

Man crowning himself

Basic Plots 6: Tragedy

The word tragedy is from the Greek for goat: tragos!  It is rooted in the idea of the scapegoat, the person who dies for the sins of the community.  Frequently the innocent suffer and die in a tragic story.  Even the central character can be innocent.

This is the only story-type that does not have a happy ending.  All other types show the hero somehow prevailing but in these stories the hero fails.  Does this mean this story-type is less applicable to business?  Who would trade with a tragic business?

Actually, this story-type is really important to businesses but to see why we need to understand how the tragic story works.


Just like most story-types, the tragic story passes through 5 stages.  I shall illustrate it with a simplified business story.

  1. Anticipation – an incomplete hero has a desire that focuses his energies. The new business owner decides his priority is to overcome his competition and make more money than anyone else.  He comes up with a “harmless” scam.
  2. Dream – the hero commits to a course of action that initially goes well. The hero finds his scam goes down well with the public and he establishes himself as a leader in his market.
  3. Frustration – things start to go wrong and the hero has to cheat even more to stay ahead. Our hero must add more lies to the ones he already tells from fear of being found a fraud.
  4. Nightmare – things get out of control, mounting threat and despair. A co-ordinated opposition begins to close in.  More people are suspicious and report their suspicions to the authorities.
  5. Destruction or deathwish. A final act of violence, murder or suicide, precipitates the hero’s death.  The hero is unmasked and condemned to bankruptcy or worse.

This is a complex story type and so the summary should be seen as one possible pathway.  There are several routes to the tragic ending and the threat is not always from the hero.

The Tragic Ending

These stories end in ultimate defeat, namely death.  Fortunately business people rarely kill anyone or commit suicide.  The tragic ending as a final defeat with no hope of reconciliation or rebirth.  It does not have to be death in a real life story.  Clearly, if someone does die, it is not them telling the story!

To understand the scope of this story better, let’s look at the hero.  There are several ways the hero works in tragic stories.  There are dark and light heroes.  Where the hero is dark, they are a threat to society.  Where the hero is light, society is a threat to them.

Four Subtypes Illustrate the Scope of Tragic Stories

  1. Here the hero is an out-and-out villain,  for example Richard III.  This play is an overcoming the monster story, from the point of view of the monster!  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.”  He does well because determined and few have the courage or convictions to stand up to him.  Out of sight, the opposition grows and in time is strong enough to overthrow the monster.
  2. Here the hero makes a foolish decision. They make a bad decision for the wrong reasons and pay the price for their decision.  Often the outcome arises naturally from the decision, eg Faust condemned to hell or Jekyll overwhelmed by Hyde.  Some of these heroes are also victims of society and common examples are women heroes, such as Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary.
  3. Here our sympathies are completely with the hero. A good person drawn into an external conflict against their own better judgement.  Romeo kills Tybalt because Tybalt kills Mercutio.  He has succumbed to the violence around him and so must pay the price.  He and Juliet are clear examples of the scapegoat, their death brings the warring families to their senses.
  4. Finally, the hero appears monstrous but is actually good. Victor Hugo offers us the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Jean Valjean from Les Miserables.  The latter is hunted as a criminal and yet all he does is motivated by love for his daughter and general humanity.

The Deadly Focus

The 5 stages describe a journey from hubris to nemesis.  When we think about tragedies, we tend to focus on nemesis.  But from a business perspective perhaps we should focus on hubris.

Hubris is to step over the mark.  You might find a law irksome.  You decide to break it and at first it’s exhilarating.  But then …

Last time when I wrote about comedy, I suggested a typical business comedy might be where the boss is immortal.  The person who identifies with the business to such an extent that they are a single entity.  I’ve seen this several times in my working life and it is always painful and difficult to move on.  In a comedy, eventually they come to their senses; what happens when they don’t?

What is the nature of hubris?  It can be infectious, whole populations can succumb to it, usually out of fear.  What exactly is it?

Some Examples of Hubris

It is a decision to focus on something that challenges the status quo.  We find this often in modern politics where the so-called liberal establishment is the target of so-called radical challenges from the right, eg Brexit and President Trump.

As far as it goes such challenges may be based on a degree of truth.  There is a lot wrong with the establishment.  However, they don’t understand the problem and reach for the easiest solution to hand.

What is the problem Brexit solves?  Is it immigration, loss of sovereignty, too many regulations, austerity …?  Each of these could be solved in several ways and Brexit is proving not to be one of them.

Hubris is where the wrong solution is found to a poorly understood problem.  The hero is bored or frustrated in some way and an apparent solution presents itself.  It can be very seductive and is sometimes called a temptation.

The hero commits to the wrong path and then because of their immediate success becomes more committed to the path.  We don’t know what story-type Brexit will prove to be but we saw the dream stage for the Brexiteers after the referendum result and now frustration and nightmare are setting in.  The opposition is rallying (perhaps) and we may see a final battle.

The thing to note is how positions on both sides become increasingly entrenched.  Focus has shifted from the problem to a badly formed solution that bewitches political discourse.

We even have a saying: “Jumping to conclusions” which means coming up with an ill-conceived solution, most likely to the wrong problem.  Businesses are familiar with this and so are community and voluntary organisations.  Religious organisations too are not immune.


Take any of the four subtypes I listed above and there is another possible outcome.  The hero repents.  They see clearly what is happening.  Number 4 already will have a good sense of reality, which puts them out of step with everyone else.  For subtype 1, the change is likely to be cataclysmic, for 4 less so or perhaps there’s no need for it.

In a tragic story the change of heart is too little or too late to effect the outcome.  The hero contemplates their folly and the disaster they have brought down on their own heads and for their loved ones.

The truth is folly has implications for not only the hero but for those around them.  Too late they see what has happened to those they love. They repent and the full horror of what they have done comes home to them. They die with regret on their lips.

This is important because to make the wrong decision is likely to cost in terms of turnover, relationships, work-life balance and maybe legal proceedings.  These stories paint the picture in an extreme light but the point they make is highly relevant.  The choices we make matter.

Looking Forwards

Tragedy shows us what happens when repentance is too late.  But what happens when the villain’s repentance allows them time to make amends?  This opens the way to perhaps the deepest, most meaningful story-type: Rebirth.

Basic Plots 5: Comedy

If you think comedy is about humour, you must be joking!  People associate comedy with humour because many situations in comedy provoke laughter.  But many stories that follow the comedy plot are not particularly humourous. And of course not all humour is comedy!


So far, all the plots we’ve explored have a five-fold development.  Comedy is remarkably versatile and one reason is it has fewer steps.  The first two are typically missing; if they are present, you are likely to have another plot with humour!

  1. We are introduced to a small world under a shadow, where everyone is confused, uncertain and frustrated.  Usually the reason is a powerful figure who has taken the wrong path and so everyone has to work around her or him.  The people affected work separately and so all their little schemes confuse one another.
  2. Confusion increases and leads to nightmare consequences, eg someone will be executed or made to marry the wrong person.
  3. New information comes to light that reveals the truth about the dark character who either sees the error of their ways or leaves unreconciled. With shadows dispelled, there is a seemingly miraculous transformation and everyone joins in a joyful union, often around marriage of the right people.

Evolution of Comedy

Most plot types are ancient and their origins lost in the mists of time.  Comedy evolved during recorded history, it is only a few thousand years old.  I’m not going into a lot of detail, you can find an account in Booker but there are a few things worth highlighting.

The key to comedy is the point of recognition, where everyone suddenly sees clearly what has gone on before.  Recognition reveals the key dark character as a hypocrite, who either fesses up or departs never to return.  It is this key revelation that is distinctive to comedy.  This revelation prevents bad things from happening and so results in a happy ending.

Not quite so ancient but from a very early stage, lovers kept apart form comedy’s main preoccupation.  Frequently the resolution revolves around one or both lovers identities.

We naturally find, in these stories, the pompous powerful figure shown up for their hypocrisy, hilarious.  Think of Basil Fawlty, who is manager of a well-run hotel (in his own mind) and spends most of his time covering up the chaos happening behind the scenes.

Four Ingredients

Traditional comedy then has four key ingredients.  You are likely to find vestiges of them in any comic story.

  1. The dark character softens or else is shown up or paid off.
  2. The true identity of at least one character revealed.
  3. Recognition of the true love so that right people pair off by the end.
  4. Division, separation and loss repaired.

There are many traditional comic devices and if they happen you are likely to be enjoying a comedy.  These include disguises, mistaken identities, lost objects found, overheard and misinterpreted conversations.

Three Variations

Three basic variations go back to the earliest forms of comedy.

  1. The dark figure is a third-party and acts as a barrier to the lovers. This figure is often the father of the heroine or may be a rival to either the hero or heroine.
  2. The dark figure is either the hero or the heroine. The other must show constancy and eventually bring them round.
  3. There is no dark figure as such but things are generally confusing. The hidden truth revealed resolves the situation.

Note in the second, the dark hero or heroine must turn around to bring the story to a happy ending.  In the first, the dark figure can be unreconciled and so removed from the story.  This is unlikely where the dark figure is a parent and more likely where it is a dark rival.

Note too that for much of history, women lacked agency.  So, in comedies they are likely to disguise themselves as men.  Many of Shakespeare’s comedies use this device.

Above and Below the Line

Given a powerful person deluded is often the reason for confusion in the story, the question is: from where will they be opposed?  They have power and often the rule of law on their side, so parents decide who their children marry, for example.  The nightmare comprises power misused. The wielders of power do not have all the information and so think they are acting rationally.  The audience sees the full picture and so knows they are mistaken.

Opposition must come from those below the line, those without power.  This may be the dark figure’s wife, children, the lovers and servants.  They may form an alliance to overturn the dark figure.

Below the line is the source of both opposition and insight.  Think of Jeeves, who applies wisdom and helps Bertie out of the tight corners he gets himself and his friends into.  Or Pierre in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”.  Here the dark figure is Napoleon and Pierre learns wisdom from the old man he befriends when taken prisoner by the French.

Is Comedy Artificial?

Perhaps of all the story types, comedy is the most self-conscious and contrived.  It is easily burlesqued and the crucial recognition is often missing or the situation is reset at the end of each episode of a situation comedy.

Why then is it so rooted in modern Western literature?  Perhaps because it is about handing on to the next generation.  These stories are about the powerful older generation coming to terms with the new generation coming up to take their place.

Modern storytelling, often separates the serious love story from the comedy.  We have stories like War and Peace, which is essentially a love story, with two main couples and little humour.  Or else we have comedies like Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas, where the lovers take second place to the humour.

Comedy and Business

Is it possible to use comedy in a business environment?  Note this is not the same as use of humour.  Certainly the heavy dependence on lovers and marriage suggests perhaps only for dating agencies!

However, from the earliest times, comedy pivots on a truth hidden from the players in a story revealed.  Anyone who can say they were unable to see clearly and their misunderstanding confused others, may have a real life comedy story.

A Typical Business Comedy

A small business is in a state of confusion.  The business owner is no longer clear about the orders she gives.  She gives contradictory orders to her staff, or else they make no sense or someone else has already completed the task.

She plays the staff off against one another and does not encourage them to collaborate and in their efforts to please the boss, they compete and become more confused.  Eventually a few realise they must confront their boss and tell her why she is no longer able to lead them.

Gradually it emerges the boss faces some life crisis and her attention has been elsewhere.  Now all the staff can rally round and help her sort out her affairs and get the business back on track.

OK this is not a brilliant story but the point is to see the overall shape.  A situation like this is rarely funny.  It can be painful for everyone who lives through it.  Usually businesses resolve such issues because the boss must leave or everyone else will.

Business people telling their life story often recount how something got in the way of their business, eg alcohol or depression.  In telling the story, they often focus on their own experience and rarely on those around them.

Someone going through a personal trauma might say they were going into work wearing a cheerful mask.  People see the mask and perceive the contradictions under the surface.

This story type may be helpful to those who can tell a story of personal pain and the impact it had on their immediate community.

Looking Forwards

The positive ending depends upon that crucial insight that opens everyone’s eyes so they see reality as it is.  But what happens where the revelation never comes or comes too late?  What happens where the dark figure triumphs and precipitates those around into tragedy?

Customer: service, quality, efficiency, reliability

Using Elements of Value

Over the last 30 weeks, I have posted about elements of value.  There are probably many more but the point is: what are the things your customers value?  Do you provide them?  Do you market them?  How can you use elements of value?

Can you break down the elements of value in your business for your customers?  Perhaps an overall benefit and several lesser benefits.  Here’s a brief recap.  You can find a full list of the 30 elements of value at the end of this post.

Functional Value

These are perhaps foundational values and for most offers, several apply.  One of these may be your overall benefit, if you offer something like accountancy or insurance.  However, look at the higher levels if you work in these industries, for example an accountant or insurance broker might reduce anxiety.  The work of an independent financial advisor might even be life changing!

For others, you sell something that maybe saves time and reduces risk.  Loads of things do this and so these are your lesser benefits.

In what sense are they foundational?  If your offer does not meet at least one and preferably several, then perhaps you don’t have a fully developed offer.

You may not have noticed some of these elements of value.  This is where this list of values comes into its own, it helps you name existing elements that add value to your offer.

Emotional Value

These elements address substantial needs in areas people are anxious about.  People worry about, eg health, attractiveness, community.

Some offers focus on these values and you may find your overall benefit belongs here.  A hairdresser for example might focus on attractiveness as their overall benefit.  You can of course offer several emotional values.

You may find many people cannot meet these values because they need to carry out life changes.  This implies you need to set your overall benefit at a higher level.  You should aim to set your overall benefit at the highest possible level.

Life Changing Value

These values make a substantial change to peoples’ lives.  The person seeking to become more attractive may need help with self-actualisation, for example.

At this level, choose one value as your overall benefit.  Your other benefits will be from emotional and functional value sets.

Social Impact Value

This value may be common but of course your offer should be very different from anyone else’s.  As we climb up the levels, the scope for variations in the detail of offers increases.  People seeking progress at this level will often need to build on values at the lower levels too.

Elements of Value Completed

The posts in this sequence can be accessed below:

woman facing huge horizon

Basic Plot 4: Voyage and Return

In some respects, Voyage and Return is like The Quest.  Both involve a journey but beyond that they could not be more different.


Let’s start with a summary of the story structure.  Note it has the 5-fold structure of all the story types we’ve explored so far.

  1. Anticipation and fall into another world.  The circumstances of the hero or group of heroes is often relevant.  They lack something and usually they are not aware of what they lack.  And note the journey out is usually not significant, often effectively instantaneous and in any event, little significant happens during the journey.
  2. Initial fascination or dream. They find themselves in a new world and at first they are intrigued maybe excited by it.
  3. The experience feels unreal but because the rules are unknown, the experience becomes more frustrating.  Sometimes they make enemies.
  4. Nightmare or serious threat. Their presence triggers a real threat and things come to a crisis.
  5. Thrilling escape and return. The return is important because it poses the question: what difference has the voyage made?

Story Types

Voyage and Return is a common story type, often haunting and mysterious.  It takes several forms.  There are at least 4 main types:

  1. Marooned somewhere in our own world, eg Robinson Crusoe.
  2. A strange civilisation in an imaginary world, eg Alice, Narnia
  3. Social, where the hero finds themselves in a different social setting, eg Brideshead Revisited
  4. Switched identities or transformation, eg Kafka’s Matamorphosis, Freaky Friday (film and novel).

Three Questions

To understand the nature of this story type, we need to answer three questions.

How Do They Get There?

Unlike The Quest, the hero or group of heroes have no purpose in making the voyage.  The voyage is usually involuntary.  Even where the hero plans the voyage, there is no aim other than to see what’s there.  Usually they stumble upon it; there is rarely significant planning.

However, the hero is often psychologically ready for something to happen.  They may be frustrated by their life or job and ready for a change.

Whereas the journey in The Quest often takes up about half the story, preparing the hero for the challenge to come, the Voyage is often just a means to effect a transition to a different world.

What is The Nature of the Other World?

The hero or heroes are trapped in an unfamiliar world, perhaps where their inability to interpret what’s going on makes it more threatening.  Encounters with the inhabitants gradually lead to a sense of increasing threat.

The early stages are often quite pleasant.  The hero makes contact with the inhabitants.  In many stories this includes bonding with a sympathetic character of the opposite sex.  However, the outcome of this relationship is not the same as it is for The Quest.

What Happens to Them?

This is the crucial question for this story type.  They return transformed or not transformed.  Occasionally, the untransformed are left trapped in the other world.

The transformation often leaves them chastened, repentant or visionary.  They return as a different person, able to deal with the issues they face in their own world.  Consider the five stages from the point of view of such a hero:

  • They begin in a state of unawareness, possibly even as a dark character.
  • Their current state plunges them into a new world
  • Increasing frustration leads to
  • A nightmare that causes something significant to change
  • Meaning they understand their own world better, a victory over their former selves

The untransformed can be neutral or dark.  There are many examples of neutral, where the hero shows no change, perhaps because it was all a dream.  Examples include Alice and Dorothy.

Often a sign of lack of transformation is leaving the friend of the opposite sex behind.  They return with a sense of loss that reinforces their original state.  There is some inadequacy in the relationship that is never rectified.  They are tested and fail.

Whatever the outcome, this story type poses the question: what difference did the voyage make?

Application to Business

Like Overcoming the Monster, this is a popular story type but perhaps one with fewer business applications.

The social voyage and return may be the most helpful here.  Many people have stories to tell about an accident that moved them into a new world and how they returned as a different person.  Examples might be victims of crime, spending time in prison, paralysis.  Any event that knocks a life off-course, raises similar questions.  The interest in the story is how the hero found their way back and the nature of the transformation they undergo.

This story may work for markets of survivors of some life-changing event who seek help in finding their way back.  But it is worth pausing here because we can see in real life it is not possible to return to life as it was before.  Everything changes.  This is not just a personality transformation, return is not possible if by return we mean the same state as at departure.  The world visited creates a new world in the here and now.  The state at the end of the story combines the old and new worlds.

Perhaps the key is in the return journey?  In The Quest, the outward journey is important.  In this story type it is the return journey.  Where the return is precipitate, leaving important elements behind, then transformation is unlikely or unsuccessful.  Where the return is planned and taken seriously, then transformation is likely to be successful.

Case Studies

There are at least two types of case study based on this  story-type:

  • A client stuck in a humdrum or stressful environment, realises they want to see change. A coach might help them, perhaps leaving a job or a marriage and entering a new world.  They might help them navigate the new world they create for themselves until they find they have transformed their lives and feel fully engaged.
  • A traumatic event precipitates someone into a new world, eg prison or hospital and they need to find their way back to autonomy.

Telling this story-type may help coaches find clients who are somewhere in this story.  The threat they must overcome is internal and often they are not clear what they are up against.

Looking Forwards

There is another story type that takes this same concern, of overcoming inner darkness, in a different direction.  What do we do when someone close to us is trapped in their inner darkness?  What if we don’t understand what is happening to them?

Maybe the best solution is to resort to Comedy!

tablet and paperwork

How to Make an Offer that Informs Your Clients

Do you have a business that informs; provides reliable and trusted information?

What is It?

A business must provide reliable information.  If your information is wrong or deceives, you risk losing trust.  In these days of social media, you cannot guarantee an undamaged reputation.

Distinguish between information and opinion.  Context does not change information.  Advances in research occasionally supersede something we thought true.  We can cite sources so clients can check facts.

Opinions vary with context.  We may believe some group of people wrong, while others believe them.  You can never prove political beliefs, for example.

Value to the Customer

Information is valuable to customers in two ways : recreation and utility.

Sometimes a particular topic interests a client.  Even though they do not use the information for business purposes, they find it helps them grow as human beings.

Utility is where information has short or long-term business use.  It helps us advance in the business world and may be paid for by the customer or their employer.  There are three basic approaches:

  • With the Done-for-You approach, the client needs a job completed and takes interested only in the information they need to specify the job and take care of whatever remains necessary once the job is complete.
  • Do-it-Yourself means the client needs all the information to complete the task.  This implies not only factual knowledge but also experience and understanding of the skill.  There is a distinction between those who learn something for their own use and those who sell a new skill to others.
  • Between these extremes there is Done-With-You, where the expert works with the novice, assisting them sometimes with a view to the novice in time becoming an expert.  This can become a species of teamwork, where DWY persists because the results are better.

How to Get There

What information does your customer need or want?  Too little information and the customer may feel short-changed.  It’s not only about operating instructions, you may find there is other information they appreciate, perhaps about other user’s experiences.  A blog may be a good way to explore other dimensions of the work.

Too much information and the customer may become bored or impatient.

Your Offer

Turn this element of value to your advantage by being clear about the information on offer and how to access it.  Offer guidelines so people can find the degree of information they seek.  Offer more information to those who express interest.

This is the thirty-first of 31 posts about elements of value.  Make sure you don’t miss any by signing up for the offer below.  The posts in this sequence can be accessed below:

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