Robert wrote yesterday about David Mamet’s advice on dramatic tension, the key element that drives every compelling story.
But there’s another element that’s critical to story, and it’s particularly important when you’re telling a story that intends to persuade.
Whether you want to make a sale, gain an email subscription, or motivate a change in behavior, your dramatic story will fail if it doesn’t have one thing:
A relatable protagonist.
In other words, your story needs to be about someone we care about.
Sometimes that can be easier said than done. So here’s how to put together a memorable protagonist who will pull your readers into your story — and more important, will persuade them to take the action you’re looking for.
The protagonist is the actor in your story
I’m sure you remember this from Freshman English class, but the protagonist is just the main actor of the story. We used to say “hero,” but protagonists aren’t always what we would call heroic.
In fact, the archetypal story described by scholars like Joseph Campbell starts out as a very ordinary person, living in an ordinary world. It’s the circumstances of his life that pull him into a “hero’s journey” to extraordinary places and incredible events.
The protagonist might be you
A lot of marketers base their stories on themselves.
You show where you’ve come from, where you started, the difficulties you faced and how you overcame them.
Then you tie that back to what you’re selling. Because you’ve taken this hero’s journey yourself, you know how to defeat the dragons and storm the castle.
Your own experiences make you a dragon-slaying authority. And you can use that authority to persuade your audience to buy or adopt the solutions you recommend.
The protagonist might be your past customer
Not everyone wants to be the star of his own marketing story.
You don’t have to make your stories all about you. It’s often more effective to tell a compelling story about the people you help.
Case studies and testimonials are just good stories about how your product or service solved thorny problems for your customers.
Like any good other story, testimonials and case studies need dramatic tension. Going back to Mamet, there needs to be a gap between what your protagonist wanted and what he attained. His attempt to close that gap is what makes the story interesting.
That means you’ve got to show a “before” (customer facing a tough problem) and an “after” (how you solved that problem for them).
The protagonist is always your buyer
Coming full circle, the reader always needs to put herself in the shoes of your protagonist.
That’s what fiction writers mean by a “relatable” character.
It isn’t always about being likeable. Not every great character is likeable. But we won’t be pulled into a story unless we can relate to the character, which means he has the emotions we imagine we would have in the same situation.
Your potential buyer is the real star of every marketing story. If she reads the story and thinks, “I can see myself doing that,” you’ve won.
Social proof without numbers
A lot of content marketers want to know how they can use social proof before their blogs get big.
Storytelling is one great answer.
We’re a “monkey see, monkey do” species. Many forms of human behavior are contagious. We can certainly be prone to mimic ugly behavior, but we also mimic admirable behavior like generosity and courage.
We unconsciously imitate the stories we see around us, both real and fictional.
So show the behavior you want your reader to “catch.” Sell a product or service by showing how it benefits people, and telling stories about those people.
With a relatable protagonist and a good sense of drama, you’ll be able to craft a marketing story that pulls readers in, keeps them coming back, and makes it easy for them to see themselves as your happy customers.