7 Basic Plots of Content Marketing: Overcoming the Monster

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

Overcoming the monster seems elementary. The protagonist battles the antagonist.

The challenge with overcoming the monster is that the story must have a compelling antagonist. Think about how Star Wars begins. Darth Vader boards a ship carrying Princess Leia and her droids.

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Star Wars is unambiguous about who the bad guy is. The story unfolds from there with the ultimate destruction of the Death Star at the last possible moment.

In an overcoming the monster story for marketing, your customers and prospective customers must have a compelling antagonist.

Sometimes the antagonist is a concrete entity, a person or organization. If you’re a customer of T-Mobile (a client of my employer), the antagonists are Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless, and you’re fighting the battle against them.

Sometimes the antagonist is less tangible, like a belief system. If you’re a politician, your antagonists are everyone who doesn’t believe in what you believe. If you’re a conservative, liberalism is your monster to overcome. If you’re a liberal, conservatism is your monster to overcome.

Sometimes the antagonist is a quality, an attribute. If you’re a fitness center, the antagonist is sloth or gluttony. You wage a powerful war against those forces holding people back from health.

Here’s the secret to storytelling in general and overcoming the monster specifically: you are not telling your company’s story. You are telling your customer’s story. Who is their antagonist? You’re not the hero of the story. You’re the able companion, the trusted friend, the powerful ally who helps the true protagonist, your customer.

Your customer must be the hero in order to tell a compelling story.

Here’s how overcoming the monster can go wrong. Think about the overcoming the monster story that Tidal told on its launch. The perception Tidal created was that wealthy musicians were complaining that they didn’t get paid enough. The monster they sought to overcome was the low royalty industry, exemplified by Spotify. Tidal cast itself as the hero of musicians.

What did they do wrong? Tidal’s customer isn’t the musician. Their customer is the consumer, and in their story, the consumer’s refusal to pay more for music transformed who should have been the hero into the villain. No wonder it was so poorly received! Imagine Star Wars casting Darth Vader as the hero.

Overcoming the monster can be a powerful framework for your corporate story as long as you remember who the heroes and villains are supposed to be and you don’t mix them up.

In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about Cinderella.


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The 7 Basic Plots of Content Marketing, Part 1

Back in 2004, Christopher Booker took a series of concepts from Carl Jung’s archetypes, Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, and Arthur Quiller’s conflicts and rendered them down to 7 core plot types. These plots are eternal and form the basic fabric of virtually all our stories.

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The logical question is, do these story archetypes translate well to the stories we tell in business? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, the 7 basic plots are a great set of guidelines to understand whether you’re telling a coherent story at all. Let’s take a look at Booker’s 7 plots, via Wikipedia:

Overcoming the Monster: The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force which threatens the protagonist and the things/people/places the protagonist cares about. This is the epitome of Star Wars and all the good guy/bad guy movies ever made.

Rags to Riches: The poor protagonist acquires things such as power, wealth, or a mate, before losing it all and gaining it back upon growing as a person. Stories like Cinderella are based on this trope.

The Quest: The protagonist and some companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way. JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings tells this story.

Voyage and Return: The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to him/her, returns with nothing but experience. Tolkien’s story The Hobbit follows this format.

Comedy: Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstances, resulting in a successful or happy outcome. An example of this story type is Bridget Jones Diary or Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Tragedy: The protagonist is a villain who falls from grace and whose death is a happy ending. Breaking Bad epitomizes this story type.

Rebirth: The protagonist is a villain or otherwise unlikable character who redeems him/herself over the course of the story. Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Ebenezer Scrooge exemplifies this tale.

Many stories blend more than one type. While the original Star Wars was Overcoming the Monster, subsequent films Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were more The Quest, while preserving the Overcoming the Monster theme. Lord of the Rings was The Quest, but also had strong elements of Voyage and Return.

In the stories you tell in your marketing, how many of them fit any of these archetypes? If you write a case study or a white paper about how your products or services made a difference, are you telling the story in a compelling manner? A paper about someone buying X product and seeing Y% returns on investment isn’t a story. A series of facts placed in the same document is not a story. Without conflict, without a journey or demonstrating significant change, you’re not telling a story.

How can we retell your corporate stories using Brooks’ frameworks? We’ll explore that in the next post.


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Unsolicited Review: Wacaco Minipresso GR

One of the questions I received recently was what my morning fuel of choice was. The answer is coffee, but the form it takes changes. We’ve got a massive Keurig machine at work, which does an able job of making coffee. It may not be the best quality, it may not have any cool factor whatsoever, but it’s included as a benefit.

That said, sometimes you want to step up your game a little. I recently saw the Wacaco Minipresso GR become available again, and decided to spring for one of the devices.

Disclosure: this is an entirely unsolicited review. I purchased this product out of pocket and the company has not reached out to me in any way.

The premise is pretty straightforward: a portable espresso machine. Of course, there’s absolutely no way a little handheld device is going to make the same quality of espresso as a countertop machine or the local coffee shop’s commercial machine. It’s delusional to even think it’ll come close.

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That said, it does pull a pretty solid cup of coffee that tastes like espresso. The device is simple. Add coffee grounds in one end, boiling water in the other end, seal, push the piston, and you get a single shot of espresso.

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When it says single shot, it means single shot. People expecting a full cup of coffee or a Starbucks-style massive cup are going to be sorely disappointed. If you compare the size of the output with an actual shot glass, it will make a full shot.

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A couple of notes worth pointing out. Start with boiling water. Not hot water, actual full rolling boil water. I take the hot water from the office water tap and stick it in the microwave to finish the job and get it to temperature. If you have the time, warm up the device by running hot tap water through it, because cold, it’s not going to pull as good a shot. (or give the first shot to a friend)

Second, pack and tamp. Loosely packed grounds are going to give you a weak shot. Pack it in. Obviously, that makes the piston harder to use – I have to use both hands – but it makes for a solid, strong shot.

If you want to add a little espresso to your day, give it some consideration. At $49, if it saves you from $4 espressos at Starbucks, it’ll only take a couple of weeks to pay for itself.


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