Story Mythos: A Movie Guide to Better Business Stories
by Shane Meeker
“People are inspired and moved by stories…Story is about human emotions… Stories de-commodify your brand/product.” The premise of this book is that the same principles used by Hollywood filmmakers can be used to develop powerful brand stories. The author is the company historian and corporate storyteller at Procter & Gamble.
“What are your most powerful company stories, and how are you using them to inspire your people? How do you explain your purpose through different stories? What stories best demonstrate your company beliefs? How are you documenting and protecting the stories that matter? … How can you use a story to demonstrate a company’s culture?”
“Great stories start with an insight, and the best insights usually come from good ol’ fashioned research and observation…. As your knowledge base grows, you learn to read between the lines, which is often where unique insight lives. Know your hero and your audience. In the end, it can’t be your story; it has to become theirs!”
You cannot develop a great story using a formula, but Meeker does offer a 5-part recipe. “Recipes are personal, they are customized, they are protected, and passed on by an abiding generational memory. So are the best brands.”
- Hero. “The key to a successful hero is connection. We must connect with them—we must have empathy for the hero… If you don’t like the hero, the story is over. If you don’t think the hero is doing something worthwhile, the story is over.”
- Obstacle. “Obstacles, challenges, and problems are the lifeblood of your story. Without conflict, you have no story… The most memorable and powerful decisions we make through life are the ones when the choice isn’t easy—we are in a dilemma… Be very careful about creating an obstacle based on the choice between a positive and negative… Are you good or evil? Do you prefer clean or dirty clothes? … Who would choose the negative state? Nobody… If your product or brand solves a weak problem, it most likely will be a weak story.”
- Treasure. “For us to spend our time and energy, there must be something for us to gain, something emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, or financial—there must be a reward… In economics, this is called cost-benefit analysis: assessing whether the benefit of a decision or action outweighs its costs, which may be tangible or intangible. It works the same in stories. Therefore, the goal, the outcome, the objective, or the treasure becomes important in influencing the hero to spend that precious energy.”
- Climax. “You need a powerful catharsis and resolution to your story that satisfies the audience… The trick in storytelling is to keep raising the emotional stakes for both the hero and your audience. The further you go in the story, the more emotion you need to build. Doing that helps keep the audience’s attention… It is all about delivering the story’s meaning and moral to both the hero and the audience. The climax’s epiphany can be handled overtly or covertly. You can blurt it out or you can ask the audience to read between the lines.”
- Transformation. Help your customer move from a weaker before to a stronger after. “If your hero is exactly the same at the end as in the beginning, then your story went nowhere!” In The Wizard of Oz “the transformation that Dorothy makes is simply to go from not appreciating home and how great it is to the realization that there is no place like it.”
“If you have the brand or product the hero, you have just removed you consumer from the journey… So the hero is always the user, the customer, or the consumer… The product simply becomes a tool for the hero… This means that what you really make for your consumers are lightsabers and ruby slippers!”
Part of the ideation process is coming up with a theme and a pitch.
A theme is the moral of the story. “When it comes to creating your story, it is the guiding idea. It is not the theme’s job to tell the story—it’s the story’s job to make the theme clear… There are no brand names in a theme. The best themes are timeless human truths like ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’”
“Pitches are usually pretty short and can range from a sentence or two to a page… You must create interest and emotion with your idea, even with a limited time or space… The simplest way to get started is to write down three of the basics: Who is your hero? What are they trying to do? What (or who) is in their way? … Another kind of pitch worth taking a look at is called the “What if” statement … What if you could have 1,000 songs in your pocket? What product is that? Of course, it is the iPod.”
“So, a pitch for Jurassic Park may be ‘What if you could go to the zoo today and see real dinosaurs?’ The theme for Jurassic Park could be ‘Just because science can doesn’t mean science should.’”
“The hero’s journey will end up being about two simple things: choice and change. It will involve the choices the hero makes and the change(s) those choices bring about… Obstacles are critical because they help the audience develop and feel empathy for the hero.”
“What is out of balance in the hero’s life? If nothing is out of balance for the hero, there would be no need for a story. What do they want? What is the simplest way to introduce whom you brand is for and how it can help them?”
Meeker’s 7-Stage Hero’s Journey can provide some structure to flesh out your idea. “Start by deciding who your ‘audience’ is for the story you want to create (e.g., is it your target consumer, management, shareholders, a retailer, etc.). Next, have the team write a story about your product or brand using only one sentence for each of the Hero’s Journey stages… This will force them to really think about and write down the most important sentence to represent each stage. This will also allow them to see if they truly understand the values behind each and how those could affect the larger story… Don’t get too hung up on wordsmithing just yet. Just get the idea down on paper.”
The author cautions, “macro words are the enemy of a great story. You need details.” He recommends several books throughout the text including: Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler , Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee, 101 Things I Learned in Film School by Neil Landau, and Resonate by Nancy Duarte.
Meeker shares a story about a child’s meltdown at Disney World because spilled ketchup would ruin her photos for the day. Observing this, a janitor steps in and give the family a gift certificate for a new shirt. This says a lot about the empowerment of employees to ensure a positive experience. Meeker also tells a story about how the Tide formula was developed. Senior management had pulled the plug on the project, but the scientist persevered for 14 years under the radar, resulting in a product which tripled the company’s bottom line within 10 years of being launched in 1946. It seems to me that these stories may be more valuable for motivating employees and building pride in the company culture than they are for marketing purposes.
“Any company can copy a product or technology, but you can’t simply copy a great brand story.”
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book.
Meeker, Shane. Story Mythos: A Movie Guide to Better Business Stories. Bellingham, Washington: Speak It To Book, 2018. Buy from Amazon.com