In this week’s Modern Family, Mitch and Cam plan their wedding. The trouble begins when practical Mitch hands the reins to imaginative Cam.
Cam knows he needs to “dream big then winnow.” But as he demonstrates through the disastrous funeral for their cat Larry’s pretend wife, he can’t scale down a grand plan. He can dream big, but can’t later deliver what fits. Only together can they balance the yin with the yang.
This advice applies to content marketers who are developing the character of their customer-hero in the stories they tell. They need combine the qualities of their real hero with those of the people they want to influence, then winnow them to fit their framework and time, usually far more limited than television sitcoms or epic sagas, only seconds if they want to grab attention online.
Play the mentor
As I explained in my post about casting yourself as the mentor in How to tell stories that sell, the customer needs to be the hero of your story. This will encourage your prospects to identify with him and take the same action. Similarly, internal communicators telling the story of a heroic employee want other employees to relate to and follow the hero’s example.
To accomplish this, you need to focus on feelings shared by your hero and the people you want to motivate. You need to identify the overlaps of their answers to the questions: What keeps them up at night? What gets them going in the morning?
Grab attention quickly
You can develop a back story and other big elements, as explained in this helpful post from Duct Tape Marketing.
Take the example I heard on the radio recently in a quick-burst ad for accounting software. The hero is asked whether he wants to be bad busy, crunching numbers, or good busy, creating killer presentations? The targets for this ad will of course pick the same good busy as the hero.
So before you start to write your customer-hero story, start with an understanding of what keeps your prospects up at night (bad busy) and what gets them going in the morning (good busy).
Now think of your hero, somebody who was helped by your product, service or expertise. What keeps your hero up at night? What gets her going in the morning? What does he have in common with your prospects?
You may have a long list, but you’ll need to winnow.
To make your hero believable, you need details. But to keep your audience riveted and your story moving, you need to focus on only the most vivid and relevant ones. What’s more, as often as possible you need to show, not tell.
From your list of essential qualities shared by your prospect and hero, you’ll also have to figure out which ones will be revealed through the plot of your story, the best way. Any leftover essentials can be disclosed through descriptions, dialogue, flashbacks and other techniques. Because telling works better than showing, you may want to winnow some more here.
Back to Mitch and Cam
Returning to this week’s episode of Modern Family, Mitch could have listed Cam’s character flaws or recounted past experiences. But by using the subplot of the cat’s funeral to show how his winnowing disability ruined what should have been a simple dignified event–or better still, been avoided through humble honesty–the point was driven home. The story also demonstrated the fine balance of their relationship. Plus my belly shook with laughter.
Don’t worry about the details left on the editing floor. Either Mitch would have deleted them too or you’ll tuck them away for the next episode.