The Play’s the Thing
Sometimes you’ve just got to find a new rut and plunk yourself into it.
As it happens, my wife Janet and I discovered a good one this spring: Theatrical plays. Not the fancy Broadway kind, but performances by local community and professional companies.
In the last few weeks we took in two plays from the 1930’s: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and the Kaufman-Hart comedy, You Can’t Take It With You. And just recently, it was the 1960’s classic, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Now all three were written by different playwrights and have different plots and themes. And one of them is a musical. Yet, they all have one huge thing in common: They’re old.
Because they were written in the heyday of the theater, they don’t rely on daring acrobatics, pyrotechnics, mega-hit musical numbers or co-marketing agreements with McDonalds. They rely instead on good ol’ fashioned character development and storytelling…
And let’s face it, as a marketer or communicator who’s been around for a while, you’ve met your share of characters and have plenty of stories to tell. So why not turn them to your advantage?
I mean, for starters you’ve got your company history, executives, inventors, customers, strategists, visionaries, partners, distributors, products, community affiliations, and customer and professional services. Those are some mighty powerful sources for story ideas.
With that in mind, what can these three plays teach us about how best to tell those stories?
Let’s go backstage to find out…
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them. In his opening speech, Our Town’s principal character, the Stage Manager, introduces the play’s three acts and hints at what’s to come. Similarly, Forum’s star opens the show by introducing all the cast members who let you know in song that there will be “Comedy tonight!”
Right up front, let your audiences know the point of your story, why you’re telling it and what’s in store. It’ll capture interest and establish an outline that you can hang the details on as you go.
- Show your character. A story that includes diverse personalities — and even a little conflict — can often illustrate a point more succinctly than a straight narrative. For instance, You Can’t Take It With You features a “normal” young couple trying to moderate the eccentricities of their respective families.
So instead of writing the standard corporate biographies, tell stories that emphasize the role each of your company founders played in the early days. Include moments of crisis or challenge along with their resolutions. Create some tension in your customer case studies (if you’re able), and encourage a little disagreement among your company’s bloggers.
- Tell the back story. A back story is what happened before the curtain goes up. At the beginning of the play, the Forum actors fly through a five-minute synopsis. Both Our Town and You Can’t Take It With You reveal their back stories in pieces throughout the play.
Your back story is what happened before your buyers and customers became aware of you. In most cases, they don’t know what you’ve been up to all those years, aside from the list of names, dates and events posted on your About Us page. Weave stories into your marketing materials that explain where you’ve been and why you do what you do.
- Tell them what you just told them. Our Town’s Stage Manger sums up the play’s theme that life is what happens every day. And Grandpa in You Can’t Take It With You reminds us that life is short, so “don’t do anything that you’re not going to enjoy doing.”
Think about your company’s brand or tagline. Maybe it’s, “We put customers first.” Most companies let the line speak for itself, showing little evidence that it’s true. Instead, use stories from different organizations that demonstrate the million ways you do it. Then connect the dots for the audience so it’s unmistakable and memorable.
Storytelling in B2B marketing breathes life into products, services and people in ways that traditional approaches to collateral don’t. It teaches and helps answer those lingering questions and doubts in the minds of your buyers and customers. And best of all, it fits into your existing channels and communication formats.
So if you’re looking for a new rut and want see your name in lights, consider the story.