Business storytelling blunders to avoid at all costs, part III

A version of this article was originally published by ColoradoBiz here.

Nobody wants to hire a hero.

marketing conversationThink of your favorite movie. I bet I know a lot about it without you naming it. Whether it’s a thriller, drama, romance or comedy, the protagonist spent the first half of the movie making mistakes, falling into traps, and perhaps even alienating people for good measure. Then, through a relationship, experience or chance encounter with another person, they were able to turn things around. Someone taught the hero how to fight, how to think, how to be a better version of himself, or something along those lines.

I also know you had more empathy for the protagonist than for the character who pointed the way. (Yes, storytelling is complex, so there are caveats, variations and nuances here that are too numerous to get into. But these general principles hold.)

My two most recent columns focused on the follies of bad narrative form and overdog protagonists. This final column will discuss the hero/guide dynamic introduced in Building a Story Brand, by Donald Miller.

Fatal error #3: You want to be a hero, but heroes die young

Telling clients’ stories is better marketing than telling your own story for several reasons. For instance:

  • It’s more interesting: Someone who might fail is far more interesting than someone for whom success is a foregone conclusion (and if you haven’t already had some measure of success, why would anyone hire you?).
  • It’s unpretentious: Placing your customer at the center of your stories allows you to convey the impact of your work without sounding self-absorbed or salesy.
  • It’s more credible: Insecure, thin-skinned people talk a lot about themselves. You know this intuitively, and it can be a red flag. Remember that your success is ultimately dependent on helping other people succeed.

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In Building a Story Brand, Miller explains it this way:

“If we are tempted to position our brand as the hero because heroes are strong and capable and the center of attention, we should take a step back. In stories, the hero is never the strongest character. Heroes are often ill-equipped and filled with self-doubt. … They are often reluctant, being thrown into the story rather than willingly engaging the plot. The guide, however, has already ‘been there and done that’ and has conquered the hero’s challenge in their own backstory.” (emphasis added)

Your clients and stakeholders should be your brand’s heroes. They should be at the center of your stories.

You are the guide.

You—the navigator, the veteran, the expert—provide the crucial help at the right time. But you don’t win the day for them. The paradox is that by assuming a less central role in the story, you actually make yourself more memorable.

In business, as is too often true in life, heroes die young.


Elevate your brand with stories, not bories

What's your story

Revisit your company’s story and ask yourself the following questions:

  • If my marketing strategy were a screenplay, who would the opening scene focus on?
  • Are my heroes plausible and empathic—or are they brilliant problem solvers?
  • Do customers see themselves in the stories we tell?

Once you’ve considered these questions earnestly and acted on these insights, you will begin to elevate your story-based marketing.

I help purpose-driven entrepreneurs elevate their marketing through storytelling, humor, and clear strategic messaging.

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Posted on: February 8, 2021