7 Basic Plots of Content Marketing: Voyage and Return

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

JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit epitomizes the Voyage and Return, so much so that the subtitle of the book is There and Back Again, a Hobbit’s Journey. The hero sets out on a journey, endures many challenges, and returns home changed, with nothing but experience. The same story is told in Alice in Wonderland. Voyage and Return is also Obi-Wan Kenobi’s story in The Phantom Menace and Sam Gamgee’s experience alongside Frodo in Lord of the Rings.

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Voyage and Return is a difficult story framework to tell a customer’s story because your customer shouldn’t be returning home empty-handed after an experience with you. Conversely, Voyage and Return is framework you can use to tell their stories for dealing with a competitor. Your customer goes out to satiate their hunger, has to deal with bad food or poor service at a competitor, and returns home wiser, yet still hungry.

Voyage and Return is an appropriate framework to use for telling your own stories, albeit sparingly. If your company got investor funding and then went back to being bootstrapped, or went public and became privately held again, you can tell the story of your experiences going to a place and coming back wiser. Maybe the investors had a different vision for your company than you did. Maybe the market wasn’t ready for what you do, but your customers are.

For example, the story of Steve Jobs being forced out of the company he started, Apple Computer, and coming back is a Voyage and Return. When Jobs came back from exile, he came back wiser and more capable of dealing with the many challenges Apple faced. The same is true of Howard Schulz and his story of stepping away from Starbucks, only to return to the helm, wiser and stronger.

In the next chapter in this series, we’ll have a laugh or two.


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7 Basic Plots of Content Marketing: The Quest

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

If you’ve enjoyed Lord of the Rings, you’ve enjoyed The Quest. The hero endures a difficult journey to a destination, to a goal of some kind. The quest could be to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. The quest could be a journey across Tibet. The quest could be a struggle for enlightenment or freedom.

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The key to a quest story is to focus on the hero’s journey. Imagine a movie in which the hero hits a giant stone with a mallet a thousand times. The first 999 strikes produce nothing; the stone’s exterior doesn’t even so much as chip. On the thousandth strike, the stone splits open to reveal a cache of diamonds. Would you watch a movie in which the first 89 minutes were pure tedium in order to reach the payoff of the stone splitting at minute 90? Highly unlikely. You’d leave the theater after the first 5 minutes. Why? The hero is reduced to the role of an automaton.

Now imagine the same story, but told differently:

The hero might leave after the first few strikes to get different tools.

The hero might bring a friend.

A crowd gathers and the hero finds a love interest in the crowd.

A brief back story of how the stone got there is told.

An able, trusted assistant counts the stone strikes and motivates the hero.

All these tactics can be used to transform an incredibly boring story into one that’s more compelling, because they focus on the hero’s journey, rather than the objective or destination.

The quest is a format used most often in case studies, and very often, marketers focus on the wrong thing. They belabor the context and setup so much that the audience loses interest long before the payoff, instead of showcasing the hero’s journey. Or, as in the example above, they highlight the wrong subject. As marketers, we tend to focus on ourselves, our products, and our solutions. Imagine the boring movie example was an advertisement for hammers. You’d spend 89 minutes showing the hammer hitting the rock, when the story of the person using the hammer, the latter example above, is the hero’s story that your audience would find compelling.

When you’re telling your customer’s story, take pains to highlight the journey and how your hero – the customer – is changed by it, as opposed to the destination or the tools your customer uses to get there. The destination may inspire the call to action you as a marketer want to achieve, but without the story of the journey, your audience will never arrive.

Life’s a journey, not a destination. The same is true of The Quest. If you’re going to use this format in your marketing, tell the hero’s story.

In our next post in the series, we’ll talk about hobbits.


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7 Basic Plots of Content Marketing: Rags to Riches

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

If you’ve seen Cinderella, Pretty Woman, or other similar archetype stories, you know how it goes. Poor hero faces incredible challenges, gains something, loses it, and gains it back after becoming a better person or overcoming a situation.

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A rags to riches story almost always has the inevitable loss in it, because a story with a simple linear progression is boring. The conflict and drama of gaining, losing, and then gaining again gives us an exciting story. This doesn’t necessarily need to be true for your content marketing!

It’s perfectly okay, when telling a customer’s story, for the rags to riches to be less dramatic. To create a compelling story of rags to riches, you must showcase contrast. The customer doesn’t need to lose it all and gain it back in order for people to understand the difference.

For example, if you’re a B2C financial services company, a very literal rags to riches story is how a customer went from being poor to being comfortably well off.

If you’re selling a product which changes a customer’s quality of life, you can structure rags to riches around the change in quality. For example, I recently bought an espresso machine. The rags to riches story there would focus on the poor coffee I was drinking every day, or the money I was spending at Starbucks, and how different and better my life is now.

Think about how effective weight loss and fitness products are sold; they’re rags to riches story where the increased wealth is your health.

If you’re selling B2B, remember the four core tenets of a compelling B2B value proposition: make my day better, save me time, save me money, or make me money. Whatever your product or service is, if it brings measurable value in one of those four cores, you can tell a rags to riches story. You’d tell a story about how time-poor your customer was, and look at how time-rich they are now.

A brand that has mastered rags to riches storytelling is Apple. Look carefully at Apple’s marketing of its products. They focus relentlessly on how the product will change your life:

This is rags to riches storytelling: look how much better our customers’ lives are with our gadget. Look how much better your life could be with our gadget.

Next in our series, we quest up Mount Doom with the One Ring.


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