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The 7 Story Archetypes, and How They Can Dramatically Improve Your Marketing.
Posted on October 31st 2011
Did you know that there are only 7 basic plotlines throughout all story telling?
Christopher Booker author of The 7 basic plots distills all of story telling to 7 basic archetypes that make up all of storytelling throughout history.
The 7 story archetypes are:
- Overcoming the Monster
- Rags to Riches
- The Quest
- Voyage and Return
Now why do I tell you this? How does this possibly relate to marketing?
Well, actually it has everything to do with marketing. At some point in all of our lives, we experience to some degree one of these 7 archetypal plot lines, that's why they exist.
And in each of these types of stories, there are individual characters that play a huge role in the development to how that chapter in your personal story plays out.
Ever meet the wise stranger that gave sagely advice out of nowhere when you needed it the most? Or have you found an unlikely ally that helped you overcome overwhelming odds?
The reason I bring this up is because your customers are going through one of these plot lines at this very moment in their lives. Which one is it?
Overcoming the Monster
In the stories, this is where the hero must destroy the monster to restore balance to the world. In the real world this could be overcoming an addiction, fighting off a pervvy boss, debt, beating an illness or any thing else that requires something to be defeated for the hero (your customer) to win.
If your product or service falls into this category, you should look to play the role of either the sidekick that will stick with them to the very end, or the weapon that will deliver the final blow.
Rags to Riches
In the stories, this is where a modest and moral but downtrodden character achieves a happy ending when their natural talents are displayed to the world at large. In the real world this applies to anyone with an undeniably incredible talent who wants to break through and be successful. This could apply to photographers, musicians, artists, and yes even bloggers.
If your product or service falls into this category, you should look to play the role of the "Fairy Godmother" that gives the hero just enough to get to the right place and the right time. (this is where many coaches fail by trying to overdo it. A good coach is meant to pull the best out of their pupil, not do it for them)
The hero, often accompanied by sidekicks, travels in search of a priceless treasure and must defeat evil and overcome powerful odds, and ends when he gets both the treasure and the girl. The Odyssey is a classic example of this kind of story.
Often "Quest" stories make our hero(s) encounter a variety of challenges that are all seemingly unrelated. In the real world, this is very much the story of every beginning entrepreneurial journey.
Unlike "Rags to Riches" if your ideal customer is on "The Quest" you're in it for the long haul. Your product or service is meant to be a long lasting tool that can be used along the way, or ongoing companionship (such as a coach) you should look to ensure your services can withstand the test of time, and you will overcome any odds with your customer no matter how daunting they might be.
Voyage and Return
Stories of normal protagonists who are suddenly thrust into strange and alien worlds and must make their way back to normal life once more. Examples of this are Alice in Wonderland, or Cast Away.
In the real world, you can take this a couple of ways. If your ideal customer travels a lot, your products or services can assist them on their travels (think iPad, sleep pillows, convenient luggage, or comfortable travel clothing). Another way you can think of this is assisting your customer once they've arrived at their destination (think Language learning software, cultural ettiqute training, photo guides, maps, and tours)
Not in the "Haha" that's funny kind of way, but more in the Shakespeare kind of way. The plot of a comedy involves some kind of confusion that must be resolved before the hero and heroine can be united in love.
In the real world, your customer can't seem to get out of their own way. They're constantly finding themselves in one misadventure after another and could use a little assistance to be lead on the right path. It's frustrating for the customer, but when you take a step back and listen to everything they've gone through, it really can be funny.
As a service provider, you have to be willing to thrust yourself in the middle of everything to help them untangle the situation. Dating coaches and matchmakers are certainly familiar with this, but also style coaches, business consultants, and even to some extent personal trainers.
If you're not a coach and you produce a product, suplimental information that goes along with your product will go a long way.
For example, my fiancee and I are going to be moving into a house soon, and we were looking at different paint colors the other day. Instead of thinking we could do everything ourselves, we picked up several of the free paint guides that give you a really good idea on what colors will go well together, and what techniques to use. Another example is the "How to tie a tie" guide that was put out by express a few years back, and Urban Outfitters "Music Monday" where you can download 5 free songs every Monday. (because it's not enough to just dress like a hipster, you need to know the music too)
As a rule, the consequences of human overreaching and egotism. Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet etc... Stories from this category are usually very self evident.
Unfortunately, in the real world there has to be a market for this as well too. Divorce lawyers, grief counselors, self help books, and any one who helps their customer get through an extremely difficult time. Because this is so self evident, it's not difficult to identify when your customer is going through a tragedy.
This story archetype almost always has a threatening shadow that seems nearly victorious until a sequence of fortuitous (or even miraculous) events lead to redemption and rebirth, and the restoration of a happier world. The best example of this is "A Christmas Carol" where Scrooge much change his ways in order to not be hated and have a much better impact on the world around him.
In the real world, just like in "A Christmas Carol", your customers may not even know a problem exists until you show them just how bad what they're doing can be.
A good business coach will initiate the "Rebirth" process by showing owners how what they're doing can become a serious detriment to their company, by shining a spotlight on the problem they may have been ignoring, then spelling out the realities of what will happen if this doesn't get fixed. Doctors do this all the time when a patient has an issue they have been ignoring and are starting to display symptoms for.
The reality is, rebirth is usually at the beginning of epic adventures like "The Quest" or "Rags to Riches" or even "Voyage and Return" but most people aren't taking the time to push their customers towards being reborn.
But just like Scrooge needed a push to see exactly how it was he affected the world around him, customers sometimes need a push to realize "Something has to change, there is a better way" Ultimately once the "Rebirth" story has been initiated, everything else becomes that much easier, because they're more open to long lasting change.
Understand these archetypes, and contemplate where your customers are in their lives at this moment. Knowing where they are will help you strengthen the role you're supposed to play in their lives and further define how you can help them along their journey.