Category Archives for "Purpose"

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!

Summary

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.

Summary

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:

map showing route and x marks the spot

Basic Plots 3: The Quest

This third basic story-type, may be suitable for many businesses, when it is about business origin and development.  However, quest stories are usually very long, eg The Lord of the Rings or The Odyssey.

5 Stages of The Quest

As you read the five stages of The Quest, you see parallels with Overcoming the Monster and Rags to Riches.  You see also why quests take a lot of telling.  For this reason, I have adapted a real-life story of a business origin. It shows how to cover a quest in 10 or fewer minutes.  The business story is in red type.

  1. The story begins with a call to action. There is some problem in the world of the hero and she sets out to find the remedy.  Alternatively, the hero hears of lost treasure and sets out to make her fortune.  The hero as a child watched a video about a wedding organiser many times and decided she wanted to be an event organiser.
  2. The next stage is the journey. The hero usually has companions on the journey and encounters obstacles as well as help on the journey.  The hero studied and eventually got a job in New York.  She went there and found an amazing opportunity.
  3. When the hero arrives at their destination, they are frustrated because things are not straightforward. The hero was not doing what she really wanted to do but took advantage of opportunities in New York.  Then she was offered an opportunity to organise a several hundred-dollar event.
  4. The hero and companions have to face a series of final ordeals. These are often three-fold and there are tests only the hero can pass.  The hero was able to create a fantastic event by overcoming many obstacles to create something only she was able to achieve.
  5. Eventually, the hero achieves their goal and returns home with the treasure or the threat resolved. The hero has achieved her childhood ambition and returns home with an assured career as an event organiser.

Notes

The Quest often divides into two roughly equal parts, the journey (stage 2) and the final ordeals (4).  This story is a journey with a purpose and so most of the story is about achieving the purpose.  Often the hero and companions have no idea about the final ordeals until they reach the end of the journey.  Here their first goals are usually radically modified.

The business story does not necessarily share the jeopardy of the traditional story.  The hero journeyed to further her second best career.  The final ordeal was really a great opportunity.  The traditional story offers an underlying structure for a story that could become pointless.  We’re on the side of the little girl with a dream, who achieves it in a few years.  The story is more satisfying when presented this way and not as a simple account of what she did in New York.  The person who told this story had already sensed this underlying shape to her story.

The Treasure

Let’s begin with the treasure.  What the hero sets out to do or find is not necessarily what they do or find when they get to their destination.  But their first promise sets their feet on the road and so it is important.  Typically, it is one of these:

  • A treasure of great value. The hero sets out to find it.  It may be treasure in a literal sense of money or precious stones, maybe valuable objects.  Sometimes it is a single priceless object, eg the Holy Grail.  Business stories are often framed as a challenge to make money.  Note though the story I used earlier does not focus on the money the hero earned, just the budget for the event.
  • It can be a journey to meet some threat to the hero’s home. Usually, the prize for the wider community is freedom from the threat.  Many businesses start out with envisioning some change they want to see.
  • The search for a new home or a promised land. Here everyone sets out on the journey.  Examples might be the Exodus or Watership Down.  The story of Brexit might be framed in this way.  The heroes take everyone with them, even though not everyone wants to go there.  An equally challenging story follows the journey towards leaving the EU.  What happens once they get what they want?
  • A secret of great worth. Here a business story may be about seeking out the support of an expert who has knowledge of a secret to business success.  A business owner maxed out her credit cards to raise £20K and then told her husband.  This gamble paid off after a lot of hard work and so she had a story!

The Call

The treasure is a big part of the call and may be sufficient to get the hero and companions moving.  Sometimes they need more.

Clearly, the treasure is left behind, if the home is under threat.  This means the hero and companions are moving towards danger and this may not be at all attractive.  So, there will be some menace at home.  Something that puts them in danger even if they stay.  They may be pursued on their journey.

A different type of pursuit is the race, where a rival group are seeking the same treasure.

Companions and Helpers

The word companion means one with whom you share bread.  You can see the French word for bread in the word if you look closely!  They are the people who go with the hero and help or hinder her progress.  They share the risks and dangers of the journey.  There are four different types of companion.

  1. Undifferentiated masses.  This is where a whole community sets off on a quest.  Think of the Israelites on the Exodus, the Odyssey where several boatloads set out, Watership Down, where a rabbit community seeks a new home.
  2. There is often a companion who exhibits fidelity.  They are extensions of the hero, perhaps a servant and they solely support the hero, think of Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings.
  3. Others provide a foil.  They do not share exactly the same goals as the hero and may at times obstruct the hero.  Alternatively, they may display qualities the hero lacks and so help her through the various challenges.
  4. Finally, there are fully differentiated companions.  They have their own reasons for being on the quest and interact with the hero as equals.  Typically, one of these is likely to become the partner of the hero, usually after much wavering.

Helpers

Helpers provide respite and guidance.  On the journey, following an ordeal, the helper provides a safe haven and useful advice.  Remember Elrond and Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings.  This type of support is typically provided by an old man and a young woman.

Sometimes, defeat of an enemy leads to them converting into a helper.  Circe in the Odyssey, once defeated helps Ulysses with his quest.

It is always worth asking in any business story: from where did help and support come?  Many business owners see themselves as the hero of their own story.  Heroes accept help and offer it to companions and helpers.  Teamwork is often an essential element in business development.

The Journey

Respite and guidance are one function of the journey.  As the journey progresses, the hero learns more of the problem they face and what’s at stake.  The other thing they face is ordeals.  Sometimes ordeals are stories in their own right.  You can see why quest stories can be very long!  So, what sort of ordeals?  There are four basic types:

  • Monsters, of course. Maybe a mini Overcoming the Monster story.  They are not the main threat and may be agents of the main threat.  Sometimes they injure the hero and companions and so the need for respite.
  • Temptations cause the hero and companions to forget their quest through guile or seduction. The Circe episode in the Odyssey is one of several that deflects the quest, sometimes for years at a time.
  • Deadly opposites are a rarer event. We sometimes talk about steering between Scylla and Charybdis – between rocks and a whirlpool.
  • A journey to the Underworld is a common event with its own hazards and usually returning with some insight. In modern stories this may be where the hero has a close encounter with death.

Business and personal stories have their share of competitors or other obstructive people, distractions, the need to find the right path between two equally bad options and giving up the entire enterprise.

The Final Ordeal

Key to understanding the quest is the final ordeal.  The hero reaches journey’s end with all or some of their companions.  They discover things are not as they expected.  There is some final, apparently insurmountable barrier.

This part of the story can take as long to tell as the journey.  The journey equips the hero and companions with knowledge and experiences they need to overcome this final obstacle.  The reward at this stage is to secure the original goal.

The ordeal is often three-fold and the test is one only the hero can pass.  At the beginning of the journey they had little or no hope and now they can work out how to overcome the ordeal.

The little girl who watched The Wedding Planner many times over, would not have been able to organise the big event on New York.  She needed training and experience as well as to travel a long way!

Life Renewing Goal

The outcome depends on the goal of the quest.  The goal changes because things rarely work out exactly as planned.  However, we recognise the goal is achieved.

There is a sense of renewal in many quest stories.  The typical marriage of the hero and her partner and their benevolent role in their kingdom is likely.  But there is a strong sense of renewal for everyone because some threat is overcome and people can live in peace.

Looking Forwards

This is the third of Booker’s seven plot types.  Remember the aim is not to put your story into a straitjacket but to help structure your marketing story in a way that resonates with your market.

Next time we’ll look at a plot that on the surface is similar to the Quest.  Voyage and Return is the second about journeying and presents some very different challenges.

pigs head with pineapple rings and cherries

How’s Your Sensory Appeal?

Sensory appeal is another functional element of value.  It applies to both products and services.

What is It?

Traditionally there are five senses, although there are occasional claims there are others.  Sensory appeal is using one or more of the senses to make the product or service more attractive.

We are talking about sensory appeal incidental to the product or service.  For example, good taste is integral to food.  We expect food to taste good, especially in a restaurant.  Certainly, a restaurant’s reputation for great tasting food helps but we arrive at any restaurant expecting the food to taste good.

Sensory appeal maybe a garnish that makes a dish visually attractive or the decor of the restaurant.  It is something that appeals to one or more senses, over and above the customer’s expectations.

Value to the Customer

This depends on the customer’s sensitivity and appreciation.  Some people don’t know what to expect and may not appreciate the deal is special.  Others may not be in the mood: those comfort eating following a relationship breakdown or a bereavement may be unmoved.  Others may be highly sensitive and appreciative through favourable circumstance.

Where service is personal, discerning the mood and desires of the customer is important.  Simply asking what they like may be all you need.

How to Get There

Review your offer.  It matters little whether you offer a product or service.  There is little scope with a boxed product that is shipped straight away.  It may be possible to slip a little extra in or if you sell from a shop, you can enhance the sales environment.

Where the customer consumes the product on the premises, there are more opportunities.  Coffee shops that sell food with a salad garnish are rare.  These days you’re lucky to get a napkin or a knife.   Some services are easier, massage or hairdressing includes opportunities for small extras such as refreshments or magazines.

What about coaching?  Consider the environment in which your coaching takes place.  You can choose a public place.  Is it quiet and pleasant, with good coffee?  Who pays?  Might an occasional change of venue help?  Maybe a walk in a park or countryside?

Another thing to consider is bonuses.  A small gift to say thank you to the customer may be appreciated.  Paying for coffee or meals is possible, especially for high-end offers.

Your Offer

If you have a sense of style, offer a service with a unifying sensual theme.  This could start with publicity materials, the story you tell and your approach to sales.

Continue in your working environment and in the bonuses you offer your clients.  These may be simple things like tea and biscuits.

Take care to manage expectations.  Don’t raise them and then disappoint.  Surprise bonuses mean you exceed expectations, without making promises you later find you cannot keep.

This is the thirtieth 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:

Next: Informs

Basic Plots 2: Rags to Riches

The last time I saw the TV programme Top of the Pops, was in 1975.  It featured the Bay City Rollers and a man in a flat hat singing the Ugly Duckling!  He was Mike Reid and this is his song!

The Ugly Duckling is a Rags to Riches story pared down to its basics.  Rags to Riches is always about growing up and achieving inner potential.  The Ugly Duckling has to experience a lonely winter before he discovers his true nature.

At first glance, the Rags to Riches story seems a perfect fit for business.  It certainly is for some businesses.  But not necessarily the businesses you might think.  Riches do not of themselves bring about maturity.  The story is not complete until the hero or heroine proves worthy.

Relationship with Overcoming the Monster

There are parallels with overcoming the monster but the emphasis is different.  Here the protagonist may overcome several monsters as the story progresses.

Overcoming the Monster focuses on good versus evil.  Rags to Riches focuses on perfection and completeness.  Just as good versus evil is unrealistic, we rarely encounter complete evil or good in real life, so perfection and completeness is incomplete.  The point is to remind us what is important.

The hero in a Rags to Riches story encounters several barriers and increasingly draws on their own resources to overcome them.  This leads to growing maturity.  Perhaps this story-type fits closer to life coaches than to marketers.  But if it is about growing to maturity, perhaps it applies mostly to younger people.

5 Stages of the Rags to Riches Story

Just as overcoming the monster typically has five stages, so does Rags to Riches:

  1. Initial wretchedness and the call. Note the threat this time is local.  The hero leaves home in the overcoming the monster story to find the monster, in rags to riches they leave home to escape a monster.
  2. Out into the world and initial success. Sometimes this is significant, the hero, with significant help, has good fortune and grows in wealth.
  3. The hero’s hubris precipitates the central crisis. Their initial success goes to their head. At this stage despair sets in.  If the hero does not overcome despair, there is no story!
  4. Independence and the final ordeal – this time around they have to rely on their own resources.
  5. Final union, completion and fulfilment. The rewards are similar to those from overcoming the monster but there is a strong sense that now the hero deserves her or his riches.   They are proven worthy.

Longer stories naturally move on to all five stages.  The temptation is to break off the story at stage 2.  A moment’s reflection shows why this is a mistake.  There are many stories of people finding a fortune and squandering it in a few years. Or early business success is followed by a disaster that takes everything away.  Illness or falling out with a partner are common reasons.

Promises of a 6 (or 7!) figure business are common and are sometimes described as Rags to Riches.  This basic plot underlines the reasons these promises do not become true.

Hidden Potential

The hero often starts in wretched circumstances.  Cinderella for example, lives as a servant at the beck and call of her ugly sisters.  We compare her generous nature their self-centredness.  The sisters don’t just represent a threat, they are also a contrast.

When transformed, Cinderella’s apparent wealth represents her inner nature.  At the end of the story, the Prince recognises her even though she is dressed in rags.

Whatever the failings of the hero, we see she or he is worthy from the beginning.  They have a lot to learn and if that were not so, we would have no story.

Growth from Childhood to Maturity

We see inner potential manifest through the obstacles the hero overcomes.  Frequently initial wealth is itself a barrier to maturity.  It is as much a test as the various monsters the hero encounters.

Typically, initial wealth is found with help.  Cinderella has her fairy godmother and Aladdin his genies.  At this stage they learn they have inner strength to meet adversity without help.

If we focus solely on making money, the Rags to Riches story does not work.  The hero is tested and found worthy.  The real riches are within the hero, not in whatever material fortune comes her way.

The story is about how people become their true selves.  Everything else, wealth and adversity, is there to help them find out what they are capable of.

Moment of Crisis

The hero proves her maturity when she has to face her biggest threat ever without help. The temptation is to give into despair.  Everything that goes before prepares the hero for her final test, where she has to rely on ingenuity and experience to pass it.

In passing the test she shows she is worthy of the external trappings; her prince, her fortune, a kingdom to rule.  But the real riches are the qualities she discovers as she works through her final ordeal.

Perhaps the right ending for this story is “they lived happily ever after”.  Real life goes on and there are more challenges.  The point is this story is over.  The hero has attained maturity.  There are immature elders, of course.  But they feature in a different story-type.

Looking Forwards

This is the second of Booker’s seven plot types.  The aim is not to put your story into a straitjacket but to help structure a marketing story that resonates with your market.

Next time we’ll look at a plot perhaps more relevant to marketers and businesses that help make money, the Quest.  This plot is the first of two about journeying and business owners may find one or the other a good fit.

bright blue ice cream!

How Does Variety Sell?

Variety is a mixed blessing.  If you advertise a massive variety of products or services, is this attractive to more customers?

What is It?

Politicians go on about choice as if it is a good thing.  If I have an acute medical crisis, I am happy to allow my doctor make choices for me.  I trust my doctor.  I could choose between several hospitals but I’m going to ask which is the best one.

Variety works in two ways.  You cater for customers with many needs.  So, if you sell sports equipment, the beginner has different needs to the champion.  The experienced sportsperson knows exactly what they need and pays for it.  The beginner needs the basics and won’t spend a fortune in case they decide not to pursue the sport.

The other type of variety is a range of options with no particular reason a customer would choose one or another.  For example, ice cream flavours are a matter of personal preference.  They are similarly priced and the customer chooses their favourite or sometimes fancies something new.

Value to the Customer

It doesn’t follow the customer knows what they want.  Someone who needs coaching may have specific needs but does not always know enough to make their choice.  To offer a range of options may be counter-productive.

Alternatively, whilst a variety of ice cream flavours may attract the eye, how beneficial are they to the business?  Customers restrict their purchases to a small variety of flavours.  The business owner must consider the cost of producing so many flavours; wastage where some flavours are less popular.  Even queues that move slowly because customers take more time choosing.

How to Get There

For ice creams and similar products, there are diminishing returns to offering more options.  How much more inviting is “30 delicious flavours” to 15?  There are few advantages to offering in a supermarket more than 2 or 3 types of tinned tomatoes.

For the specialist, a lot depends on their customers’ awareness.  A knowledgeable customer wants to see everything on offer or specifies exactly what they seek.  For the less knowledgeable customer, exposure to all 15 options may be counter-productive.  Far better to find out what they need and offer a couple of options.

Offer two options because it gives the customer a choice and it is easier to opt for the cheapest than it is to say no outright.  If they are not happy with either, find out why and offer something more suitable.  With services, the issue may be one of trust.  The customer tries something low-priced before they opt for more expensive options.  They are unlikely to tell you this, so be ready with a low-priced option.  Once they become a customer, they are more likely to buy again.

The customer who says yes may be interested in an upsell.  Offer more until they say no, then seal the deal.

Your Offer

To what extent does variety increase the likelihood of people using your services?  To some degree variety is neutral, especially where customers want one specific thing.  They may come to you because they believe you have what they seek.  “We have what you seek” may be a better slogan than “View our extensive stock”.

They say variety is the spice of life but not all at once.

This is the twenty-ninth 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:

Next: Sensory Appeal + 1 more

dragon

Basic Plots 1: Overcoming the Monster

Introduction

The purpose of choosing a traditional story is to hold a conversation between it and your personal keynote story.  Whether you tell anyone about your traditional story, let alone tell it in public, is your choice but it is not essential.

Just like any conversation, aim to interrogate your own story, experiment with new ideas, and structure your story to emotionally satisfy your audience.  A traditional story that resonates with your story, deepens its impact on your business.

How do you find the right story?  A lot depends on the stories you know. It may take a while to find the right one.  I recommend you seek amongst myths, legends and fairy stories.  Why?  These stories are better known and so offer common ground to your audience. Even where you don’t tell your chosen story, it helps you find a structure that will feel right to your audience.

Another reason to favour traditional stories is they are relatively short.  If you choose a novel, film or TV series, you may find you have far too much material.  Longer works can help and feel free to borrow ideas from them but if you want an overall shape to your story, stay short!

Basic Outline of Any Story

These posts are loosely based on Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Basic Plots”.  This long work is worth reading to learn more about stories.  Booker does not consider business applications for storytelling or discuss combination with real life plots as I recommend.  His focus is on the stories themselves, where mine is on storytelling.

There is, according to Booker, a 5-stage basic structure to most successful stories.  Not all stories follow this pattern and the seven basic plots each have their own take on it.   Remember this is a model and guide, to help you structure your story.  You do not have to follow every detail.

Overcoming the Monster

Here is the basic 5-stage plot for Overcoming the Monster

  1. The call or anticipation stage establishes a threat from some monster. The hero (male or female), sometimes with companions, set out to defeat the monster.  Sometimes they take special weapons.
  2. The dream stage is where things go well at first and they find their way to the monster’s lair.
  3. The confrontation or frustration stage is where they experience a major setback, often involving capture or discovery the monster is more powerful than they thought.
  4. This leads to the final ordeal or nightmare stage, where the monster unleashes its full power on them or the wider community.
  5. Finally, the miraculous escape stage, where usually something seeded earlier in the story turns up and saves the day at the last minute. The benefits of the victory are briefly mentioned.

This is possibly the most common story type.  It is simple, exciting and everyone is familiar with it.  It is found in almost every genre, eg science fiction, westerns, thrillers, war stories.

Business owners should approach this plot with caution.  Opposing good and evil is not always helpful.  The swashbuckling hero seller of lavatory brushes may be able to pull it off.  But the danger of coming over as an idiot or megalomaniac is real.

However, don’t reject this plot out of hand.  You might not have a monster to fight but your customers might.

External Threat

The monster is an external threat.  If you need a story about struggles within your own psyche, eg with depression or stress, this is probably not the best plot.  External threats turn up out of the blue and they are not your fault.  You or your community are under attack.

In these stories, there is polarisation between good and evil.  There is not much room for nuance.  Real life is not like this, evil is not so easy to identify.  Neither is good!

The monster has several characteristics.  In appearance it is hideous.  If human, it is likely to be deformed.  It is dangerous, can’t be left to its own devices because it will harm you or your people.  It is deceitful and so may first appear to be friendly.  It’s true purpose and abilities are likely to be concealed at first.  And it is mysterious.  Who it is and what it wants is not immediately obvious.  The hero often sets out with little idea what it is they are actually fighting.

David Tennant, when he played Dr Who, in an interview claimed they no longer call them monsters but creatures.  He made the point, just because something looks scary, doesn’t mean it is evil.  If there are other worlds with their own sentient beings, they won’t necessarily be enemies.  That’s true but not relevant to this plot.

Who Benefits?

Don’t forget two main groups benefit from defeating the monster.  First, there is the hero and his or her allies.  They hone their skills and grow in experience to defeat the monster.  Usually, they set off ill-equipped for the task.  They are the best person for the job, however ill-equipped they appear to be.  Sometimes they become more mature.  They show themselves worthy of whatever benefits accrue to them for their victory.

The other beneficiary is the wider community who suffer from the monster and despair of ridding themselves from its terror.  It is easy to forget this dimension to the story because usually the focus is on the hero.  However, it is always important because it is about who is worthy to rule, some monster or someone with proven prowess and character.

Equipment

One aspect easy overlook but relevant to some businesses is equipment.  Think of any James Bond film.  Towards the beginning, Bond receives instructions from M and then meets with Q who provides him with equipment.  Bond often finds some unexpected way to use the devices he is given during the adventure.

Perhaps this is one major application of this plot to business.  Customers often have a problem and need some way to fight it.  You can provide practical help or advice and guidance.

The Monster

The monster often evolves in a specific way.  It starts as a predator, picking off seemingly random people as it follows its plan.  At first this doesn’t make sense but as the monster becomes better-known its activities become easier to understand.

When the hero penetrates the monster’s lair, we see the monster in its second mode, holdfast.  Here we see the monster has accumulated treasure or weapons, as a result of its predatory activities.  This stance is primarily defensive.

Finally, when the heroes have a measure of success, they  provoke the monster into its avenger state.   Here it reveals its true powers and is most dangerous because it is angry.

Defeat

Its defeat comes about through some blind spot, where the monster overlooks something that makes it vulnerable.

Remember this is the plot where the hero defeats monster.  There are stories where the hero converts the monster.  That’s not a problem but it is not an overcoming the monster story!  If you sell equipment for overcoming some problem, customers want something that works.  They will be less attracted by something that enables them to live with the problem.  It depends what you sell.  Competitors might befriend the problem, you deal with it.

Rewards

There are three main rewards the hero receives for overcoming the monster.

The love of a princess (or prince) and their hand in marriage.  Consider what this means.  The relationship is usually either a result of rescuing the beloved from the monster’s holdfast or a reward from the community.  Whatever your take on sexuality, don’t lose sight of the point of this.

Marriage at the end of the story stands for maturity.  Male and female coming together balances both people.  You can experiment with this but reflect on how you feel when the hero and heroine get together, there is something deeper here than simply getting the girl (or boy!).

The two together are often deemed worthy to rule over the kingdom, community or household.  This preoccupies most traditional stories.  What makes a good leader?  It is never solely the male hero’s strength and courage but includes characteristics associated with the feminine, such as seeing the whole picture and flexibility.

The point is not whether some characteristics are male and others female, both sexes exhibit both.  Both are needed to rule a kingdom.  Marriage puts both in charge. Problems start when we over-associate with one or the other.

Finally, they inherit treasure taken from the monster’s holdfast or as a reward for defeating the monster.  They become wealthy and much the same applies to wealth as to political power.  I’ll explore this in more detail next time when I consider rags to riches stories.

From a business perspective, these outcomes may be important as the promise you make to your customers.  Note all are awards for those proved worthy through defeating the monster.  This helps us think about our offers on a deeper level.

Looking Forwards

This is the first of Booker’s seven plot types.  Remember the aim is to help you structure your marketing story in a way that resonates with your market.

Next time we’ll look at a plot that on first glance seems much more relevant to business, the Rags to Riches story.  This is an interesting plot that is a good fit for some businesses but possibly not the ones you might think.  If you think your business is about creating wealth, read the next post to find out whether it is!

Quality Control Approved

Delivering Quality to Your Customers

The problem with this functional element of value is credibility.  No business claims to deliver poor quality goods or services.  So how can you market quality credibly?

What is It?

You claim a quality service where you deliver a product or service to the highest possible standard.  Leaving aside the question of how you provide evidence, there is another factor to consider.

Quality is multi-factorial.  Your Crunchy Bites may be the crunchiest but that is no evidence of quality.  What do they taste like?  Nutritional value?  Environmental impact?  Are they fresh?  How do you treat your workers?  You can add many more.

They may be the crunchiest on the market but you cannot claim quality on one criterion alone.

Value to the Customer

Consider possible factors.  Not all customers care about all of these.  Some customers rate some factors as important.  Perhaps they all want a crunchy snack but after that vary about what is important.

If your packaging does not meet environmental standards some people, who would otherwise buy your snack, will not.  If your packaging meets minimal standards, your competitors may do better.

It is easy to see how you can get lost in a maze of regulations over a wide range of issues.

Maybe you can get by with customers who care only about crunch but that way you lose many potential customers.  What to do?

How to Get There

Customers expect minimum standards and maybe that is all you have capacity for.  Perhaps it is best not to broadcast quality as one of your elements of value.

Instead, use evidence you provide a good service.  Use things like awards, qualifications, endorsements and testimonials as evidence you provide a quality product or service.  If you provide a niche service or product, you may find you need go no further.

To go further, you need to build capacity.  I had experience of this during the 1990s, when we applied for funding for community enterprises.  Funding bodies insisted we met quality standards by providing evidence of compliance. This made us think deeply about what we were doing in all aspects of our work.  It was not easy but mostly improved performance.

The key to quality is accountability to an external authority.  This gets you beyond minimum legal requirements.  There is a point in the growth of your business, where quality becomes more important.  Addressing it too early absorbs a lot of time, with little financial benefit.

There are several quality standards available. Consultants can help you find the best for your business.  These include packages such as Investors in People or ISO standards.

Your Offer

Don’t misunderstand me.  A business that demonstrates it meets quality standards has an advantage in the marketplace.

However, you must juggle advantages with capacity.  In the early stages of business development, when you have not finally settled on your exact business, you develop new products and services and learn to market and sell them, quality may be premature.

Quality requires significant investment of time and finance.  Do it only once secure foundations are in place and you want to grow your business.

Some customers care about some aspects of quality.  Be ready for their questions but don’t worry too much about it.

This is the twenty-eighth 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:

Next: Variety + 2 more

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