Brands are increasingly using storytelling as a means of engaging their audience, entertaining and informing them, generating leads and ultimately increasing sales. The technique can be used in many ways such as to describe the journey of a founder or the service provided by a business to a customer and the positive impact that this had. It should be of interest to anyone looking for a highly effective method of building trust that leads to stronger decision making and a more decisive call to action. In this post we’ll look at one of the oldest known storytelling techniques and how you can employ it to boost your conversion rates.
Gustav Freytag was a 19th Century German writer who was interested in Greek tragedy and Shakespearean plays. He observed patterns in these and subsequently created a straightforward way of organising narrative and providing dramatic structure known as “Freytag’s Pyramid”. It’s a technique that continues to be employed by writers and filmmakers today and has seven key elements as detailed below.
Exposition. In this first stage, the scene is set and we’re introduced to the key characters and the central protagonist. We’re presented with the current situation, a backstory and even some flashbacks. From a business perspective, this could be a leadership team and their experiences of running a business, their aims and objectives and their historical issues, challenges and pain points.
Inciting Incident. At this point our protagonist reacts to something which then sets off a chain of events. This could be a leader looking to achieve a specific objective such as creating a new sales channel, opening an overseas office or launching a new product.
Rising Action. The story begins to build, often including complications or unforeseen obstacles and with the specific objective becoming more challenging and harder to complete. In a business this might involve attempting to implement a strategy but discovering that there’s insufficient skills, technology, staffing and finances.
Climax. This is the point of greatest tension or pressure with the protagonist recognising their weaknesses and finding it too challenging to continue without some form of help or support. This will often involve someone externally, an antagonist, stepping in to help resolve these challenges. In the business world, this could be a coach, marketing expert, sales training organisation or some other third party equipped with the skills to really make a difference. Occasionally, in some storylines, the protagonist and antagonist are one and the same person if they’re able to reflect on the situation and develop the inner strength to continue.
Falling Action. At this stage the protagonist and antagonist work together and, as with the rising action, may encounter further complications which they have to successfully overcome together. In business, this ability to overcome problems creates a strengthening of the relationship between all parties and demonstrates the customer-centric, quality driven values of the third party.
Resolution. Here, the protagonist and antagonist have been able to fully resolve any conflict or problems. The business working in partnership with the third party is able to successfully achieve the desired objectives or outcomes. Statistics can be included to further demonstrate the impact of the support provided by the third party.
Denouement. French for “the action of untying” where the end of the story is fully explained. In this final stage the impact that the third party has had on the business is highlighted and the leader reflects on their experiences, what was learnt and what they might do differently in future.
In the video below Scott Harrison, founder of Charity: Water describes his incredible journey from nightclub promoter to creating a non-profit organisation providing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. The storyline is very powerful and engaging and uses Freytag’s Pyramid. It’s hard to watch in places, emotionally charged but has a great conclusion.
Freytag’s Pyramid storytelling framework is a great concept to use when creating marketing material such as website copy, case studies, brochures and video content such as for crowdfunding projects. You can even use it in sales presentations and when networking. It’ll improve engagement with your target audience, raise awareness of your brand and ultimately help you to win more new business.
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