7 Basic Plots of Content Marketing: The Rebirth

Previously, we looked at Christopher Booker’s 7 basic plots of how stories are told. Today, we’ll look at the last of these 7 from a content marketing perspective: the Rebirth.

The Rebirth is one of our favorites stories, as a human race. Rebirth is the story of redemption, of bad made good. Rebirth is especially powerful because we see our lesser traits in the protagonist and how the protagonist still makes good. Rebirth stories give us hope for ourselves, that we can redeem the worst parts of our personal story.

Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge is a classic rebirth/redemption story. The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is a tale of redemption. Even children’s stories are steeped in redemption, such as Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

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It should be unsurprising, given how widespread and popular rebirth stories are, to learn that rebirth stories can be one of your best choices for telling your own stories. Companies screw up all the time. Brands inevitably disappoint, sometimes just a few consumers and sometimes at a massive scale. Unlike many of the previous story types that told the story of the customer as the hero or protagonist, the rebirth story can effectively tell your story. Rebirth stories work well because though the focus is on you, the ultimate benefit is to your customers.

The key to telling a rebirth story is the highlighting of contrast. Rebirth stories showcase how bad things are to start. They show the impact of what’s wrong in the protagonist’s world. Vitally, they show the protagonist owning what’s wrong, and then the journey to redemption. The story ends with how good things are now.

For example, suppose your customer service leaves something to be desired. You’d showcase what’s wrong, how customers interact with you and leave unhappy, and the impact on your business. You’d take ownership of everything that’s gone wrong, plead contrition, and fix the problems.

The rebirth story doesn’t need to be as large as a company, either. A product that people hate can become a rebirth story. Mac OS during the 1990s was a terrible product. Apple’s flagship operating system was clunky, slow, difficult to work with, bloated, and unreliable. Simple things like copying files in the background were impossible. Basic tasks were much more cumbersome than they needed to be. The planned Copland release bogged down the entire company. Apple’s Steve Jobs blew up the entire product by replacing it with Unix, in Mac OS X. Since then, the product has not only become beloved by its customers, but has even branched off into different forms, such as iOS and Apple’s Watch operating system.

Rebirth is a compelling way to tell what’s changed, what’s better, and how customers will benefit.

In this series, we’ve looked at many different ways to tell your brand’s and customers’ stories. Keep these story archetypes handy! In the final post in this series, I’ll share a cheat sheet with you that will make it a little easier for choosing what kind of story to use.


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7 Basic Plots of Content Marketing: The Tragedy

Previously, we looked at Christopher Booker’s 7 basic plots of how stories are told. Today, we’ll look at the sixth of these 7 from a content marketing perspective: the Tragedy.

The tragedy is one of the oldest storytelling forms, in which the protagonist is actually a villain whose demise everyone roots for. One of the keys to actual tragedy, at least in the Greek sense, is a character flaw in the protagonist. The character flaw is what leads to the unhappy circumstances and the eventual destruction of the protagonist.

Walter White from Breaking Bad is this sort of well-known anti-hero. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is another classic tragedy. We root for evil to be vanquished by good.

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Up until now, we’ve emphasized that your customer’s story is what matters most. Your customer is the hero, the protagonist, and should be the central focus of your storytelling efforts. The tragedy will require some literary dancing on your part to use effectively in content marketing.

How can you root for the destruction of something and still make your customer the hero in a way that makes marketing sense? You don’t root for the destruction of the customer in whole. You root for the destruction of part of your customer, the part that doesn’t serve them.

For example, if you were doing B2C weight loss marketing, you’d villainize the slothful, gluttonous part of the customer’s persona. Matthew Inman’s The Oatmeal did this brilliantly by extrapolating a part of his personality as a separate character, the Blerch. The Blerch is a villain we root to see defeated, time and again.

If you were doing B2B security marketing, you’d perhaps villainize the insecure coworker, the guy or girl who leaves passwords on Post-It notes in plain sight. The insecure coworker shouts their corporate credit card number into the phone in an open office. The insecure coworker blindly puts USB thumb drives into their computer after receiving one in the mail in an envelope with no return address. This is a villain you can paint and root for the destruction of their bad security habits.

The tragedy is not suited to all forms of storytelling because it requires a character flaw you can highlight and amplify. If your product or service doesn’t tackle that character flaw head on, the tragedy is a poor fit for your narrative. It’s also an ungentle form of storytelling. You’re rooting for something destructive to happen; admittedly, we want the destruction to happen to something bad, but it still possesses a hint of negativity to it.

Suppose you want to reform the villain rather than outright defeat it? Tune in to the next post for a look at how we might do that.


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7 Basic Plots of Content Marketing: The Comedy

Previously, we looked at Christopher Booker’s 7 basic plots of how stories are told. Today, we’ll look at the fifth of these 7 from a content marketing perspective: the Comedy.

Comedy isn’t just funny content. While there are shows on Netflix of stand-up comedians doing their routine for two hours, that’s not comedy in the literary, storytelling sense. A comedy is the telling of a story in a light-hearted manner; the hero may experience funny situations, but still triumphs over adversity.

Shakespearean comedy often revolved around young love defying society or around winning someone’s hand. Modern comedy includes works like Bridget Jones’ Diary, Ghostbusters, and Forrest Gump. None of these movies are simply funny moments stacked atop one another; all have clearly defined stories.

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When telling your customers’ stories, a comedic structure allows you to share their experiences and potentially your own foibles while still sharing a positive outcome for the customer as the hero. Imagine a story of your customer getting a bad product but having a hilarious customer service experience that fixes their problem and delights them at the same time, such as this story in which an Amazon customer service representative role-plays Thor and Odin with a customer.

You can tell a comedy on behalf of your customer in many other ways, such as the process a customer goes through to research and buy a product. A comedy of errors isn’t just a cliche, but an actual conceptual story line. A customer who dealt with a previous competitor’s foibles is also great comedic fodder as long as the story ends with the customer winning against adversity.

Comedy is also an excellent way to tell your own corporate stories in a self-deprecating manner. Self-deprecation mitigates against your story being perceived as arrogant, and can reduce the perception that your story is entirely self-serving. Inviting people to laugh at you (kindly) gives them less room to attack you.

Remember that comedic stories can and should have dramatic swings to it. Ghostbusters would have been much less compelling without a Big Bad Guy. Forrest Gump would have been dull if he’d been shown just sitting at the bus stop the entire time. As you tell your marketing stories in a comedic format, don’t shortchange the dramatic moments for fear of straying from light-heartedness.

In the next post in this series, we talk about being the bad guy.


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