Why your Marketing Needs Drama (class)


Marketing expert Billee Howard recently told Forbes what she sees as the big trends for Marketers and Entrepreneurs in 2018.  Her main observation is that we've officially shifted to an experience driven marketplace where the WHY and HOW trumps the WHAT.

People don’t just want to get stuff anymore. They want to feel connected to who they are getting stuff from, working for and spending money with.  In fact, feeling connected isn't enough- they want to be part of a story that they feel good about.


The problem for marketers is that compelling storytelling is a more of an art than a science and though it requires a strategy to implement, story is not strategy. So what is a marketer to do?  

A crash course in story telling may lie in the unlikeliest of places: Theater 101.  Whether you are crafting a story for a big brand or your personal brand, here are some critical lessons from the Theater that can help you shape a more compelling brand narrative.

First, Define Your Genre: Are you a musical or a “straight play”?  Are you a comedy or a drama?  This is more than an abstract exercise, it’s a good roadmap to the kind of tone you want to hit when conveying your message across mediums and platforms. I’d probably classify a brand like Casper as a “feel good Musical-Comedy” while Planned Parenthood is a drama. 

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Backstory: Whenever we coach people on a business pitch or presentation, I'm always amazed at how frequently the backstory gets left out.  In any play the drama is about what it is we are seeing before us in real time, but the backstory is context for why it matters.  Often, we are so excited about what we can offer in the NOW we don’t explain the backstory as to why and how we got here in the first place  Or, worse, we assume everyone already knows.  Backstory can be verbal- the “About page on the website” is akin to dialogue in a play that set the stage for what is about to happen and why it matters. Backstory can also be visual- the Patek Philippe website for instance uses vintage imagery and antique props to signal it’s legacy brand.. much as a set design or costume can tell us a much about the present moment as well.

Your Character Motivations: Character Motivation is the cousin of Backstory.   If backstory is about why what’s happening now matters, character motivation is about why what’s happening now is happening the way it is. In a play, actors are have to make up their motivations based on already written dialogue so that the way they play the scene makes sense. As a brand, you get to write your own script. If your brand says that it’s motivated to keep their customers engaged and delighted, how does your social media, customer service language, exchange policies and more reinforce or contradict that motivation?  If your brand story is about empowerment, do your HR policies give your employees agency over their own lives? Is there hierarchy that stifles new ideas and promotions?

Cast: With the exception of Patrick Stewart's A Christmas Carol, One Man Shows are generally terrible vanity projects. Your Brand: The Play needs more than just you to make it engaging.  Sure,  you are a major protagonist in the story of Your Brand.  Where most people go wrong is that they think the customer is the audience.  Your customer is a main character and so is your team. How big is their part in your story?  Is it a dialogue or a series of monologues?  Are you talking with other characters or AT other characters?

*An important note:  in acting, especially theater, there are no “bad” characters. You don’t “play” a bad guy/girl, you play someone whose interests are 1) being heard 2) not being met or 3) in conflict with the interests of the main protagonist in the story. When conflicts with consumers or employees arise, it’s probably good to explore which of these three things are coming up before you label them as “bad” or diffiicult and move on.

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The Plot: Here is where things get interesting.  The subplot and the scope of your plot may change… but the plot is always about WHY you are doing what you do, HOW you are doing it and WHO you are doing it with.  Subplots might include expanding your services or taking on a new investor or expanding your team, but these are subplots, not meant to overtake the main story.  The way you want to tell that story may evolve… which character’s P.O.V. You want to take, where you are in the story will change, but don’t confuse sub-plots with your plot!

Xochitl Gonzalez