Storytelling in B2B marketing: using the seven basic plots

Join us as we look at the seven basic plots that all stories follow.

A few weeks ago we looked at how to use a three-act structure as a means of incorporating storytelling into B2B marketing content. This time we’re going to explore the seven basic plots that almost all stories follow – and see how marketers are using them to engage and entertain audiences.


Why seven?

In his 2005 book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker theorised that almost all stories conform to one of seven – you guessed it – basic plots.

Each plot concerns a journey (literal or metaphorical) that the story’s protagonist must undertake. From Beowulf to E.T., countless films, novels, plays and other media make use of one or more of them. And now that storytelling is becoming an integral part of B2B marketing, they’re starting to crop up more often in marketing content too.

The plots are as follows – and just for fun, we’ve also tried to find examples of where they’ve been used by B2B marketers:

1. Overcoming the Monster

The essence of Beowulf, Gilgamesh and Jaws. One brave hero ventures forth and destroys a monster (not necessarily a literal monster).

The Definitive Guide to Taming the Email Monster

The Grossman Group’s ebook has a promising title, but sadly doesn’t follow through with a tale of one brave internal comms officer boldly slaying the email monster with a cunningly sharpened intranet. But imagine if it had!

2. The Quest

As seen in The Lord of the Rings and Ocean’s Eleven. A hero steps forth to perform a task, and usually has friends/allies around to help out.

(Please note that the above video is not available from Dell’s official YouTube channels any longer)

Dell’s marketing team fearlessly embraced the idea of The Quest with this all-singing, all-dancing, animated 2006 video, described thus:

“Clad in body armor and armed with his trusty sword, an animated Michael Dell leads down-trodden customers from Proprietaryville to the bliss of Global Standardopolis. Joining him on this musical journey are EMC’s Joe Tucci, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, AMD’s Hector Ruiz and Intel’s Paul Otellini. Can our band of heroes defeat the evil “Big Iron” dragon and lead their customers to the Global Standardopolis?”

3. Tragedy

From Hamlet to Spider-Man 3, every tragedy has a protagonist who wants something really badly. To get that something they have to lose part of themselves, and by the end are no longer themselves – they have become a monster.

This video we scripted for Oracle introduces Amanda, a HR director who desperately wanted a modern HR system. But unwittingly, her choice has put the whole company at risk. A tragedy waiting to happen?

4. Rebirth

A Christmas Carol and Groundhog Day both feature a main character who is almost on the path to tragedy, but something happens that allows them to see themselves from the outside and so do something about it.

5. Romance

Many of Jane Austen’s novels are good examples of this: two souls who are destined to be together, but are kept away from each other by fate, and so must work towards being together.

Cloud supply chain software company Kinaxis plays around with this concept by starting from the end of the story – the romance has been won and is now unbreakable.

6. Voyage and Return

In stories like Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels and The Devil Wears Prada, a hero finds him or herself in a world where nothing makes sense, with no understanding of who is friend and who is foe, but finally learns the ropes of the world and is able to act upon this knowledge.

Here, cloud software company AtTask [disclosure: we have written marketing content for AtTask, but we didn’t work on this video] imagines a marketer’s working day as a voyage into escalating chaos. Safe return is assured by choosing the right marketing collaboration management software!

7. Rags to Riches

Cinderella, Rocky and Scarface all depict a protagonist who through their own efforts (and maybe supernatural) is able to rise above their station in life and achieve what they desire.

That’s a lot of videos

Most of the examples we’ve presented here are videos, but storytelling techniques can be applied to all kinds of marketing content. A customer case study could be framed as an Overcoming the Monster or Rags to Riches-type story.  Even the humble product brochure can be presented as a journey that shows how the product can help the hero – the customer – to overcome the monsters lurking within the organisation, or to make sense of the chaos surrounding them.

The stories are already out there – it’s the job of marketers and copywriters to tell them in a way that engages and entertains audiences, and ultimately creates an affinity with the brand or product.

Header image “Kraken” by  David Lytle used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

More posts you might like…

Radix Copycast Episode 17 – Storytelling in B2B, the final frontier

Storytelling is back on the agenda for content marketers, but how can copywriters adapt storytelling concepts in copy for B2B marketing? Listen to find out.

Create B2B tech marketing content that really works

Get regular advice and insights from our team of specialist B2B tech writers and account managers, direct to your inbox.