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How basic plots can help your export storytelling

Many ‘stories’ presented by New Zealand exporters are really only fragments of true stories, without the dramatic tension needed to engage a customer. I re-appreciated this as I read The Seven Basic Plots – why we tell stories, by Christopher Booker, over the summer holidays.

In some situations where time is limited – say a two-minute conversation in an airport lounge – it is difficult to present more than a slice of your story. You may just have time to recount a situation that illustrates how you could help a customer solve a problem. But on websites and in print, you have plenty of opportunity to tell a full story.

As an exporter, you will have been through many situations that created drama – a customer needed something at short notice, a competitor stole your IP, your container with your first order got held up in customs. The list is probably endless.

But very rarely will you find any of these situations mentioned on a New Zealand exporter’s website. Most often you will read of their products or services.

Yet here is what marketing strategist David Meerman Scott writes in his latest book World Wide Rave: “Don’t talk about your products and services again. Instead, focus on your buyer personas [a distinct group of potential customers] and how you can solve problems for them”.

Seven basic plots
By understanding the seven basic plots described by Christopher Booker, you will also be able to model your story on one that resonates with these people you want to do business with.

Booker spent 34 years studying and preparing his book which traces common threads in stories that are cultures and centuries apart. These plots will help you in whatever country you export to.

The seven basic plots he illustrates are: 
• overcoming the monster
• rags to riches
• the quest
• voyage and return
• comedy
• tragedy and
• rebirth.

With the exception of tragedy, all of these plots can be used as a model for exporting stories. The quest, for example, is well suited for those people who try to find the perfect solution to a customer problem, such as a cure for a disease.

I’ll just illustrate one plot in this article – the comedy – which has the power to disarm and unify.

Booker writes that the essence of a comedy always has three stages:

• we see a little world in which people have passed under a shadow of confusion, uncertainty and frustration, and are shut off from one another
• the confusion gets worse, until the pressure of darkness is at its most acute and everyone is in a nightmarish tangle
• finally, with the coming to light of things not previously recognised, perceptions are dramatically changed. The shadows are dispelled, the situation is miraculously transformed and the little world is brought together in a state of joyful union.

Now watch this series of short comic videos developed by IBM featuring their own people. See if you think they successfully follow the plot of a comedy.

When The Art of the Sale series first began, it showed IBM wasn’t afraid to poke a little fun at itself. The first video has been watched on YouTube by a quarter of a million people. How else could they have got so many people to learn about their mainframe, and soften up their image?
 Watch video



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