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Agile Marketing Series: Character, Plot and Hypothesis Testing Part 1

What’s the Story Behind the Stories?

In their book Rework, authors Fried and Hansson suggest that,between two job candidates ceteris paribus —or, all other things being the same—you should hire the better writer. Why? Because of story.

For all our visual multimedia, words are still the seedlings of new ideas. Words are the best way we organize,  express and vet. Writing things down is still the best way to make initial sense of what we think—even before we know what we think.

It always pays of to invest in your agile marketing team’s ability to tell a captivating story. “That’s because being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate,” write Freid and Hansson.


As you collaborate on your marketing team, always ask yourself “who are our customers, our vendors, and our partners—in fact, who are we?” Try to see the world from those different perspectives, the same way you might see the slanderous Foghorn Leghorn from the perspective of the pomegranates.

(Why on Earth am I talking about a fruit’s perspective? See my previous post on brainstorming 🙂

Browsing different, pre-defined segments from companies like Nielsen won’t answer all your segmenting questions. It will however, spark debates in your group and get you started on characterizing all the different people your company comes in contact with.

Are your customers “Young Digerati” or “Fast-Track Families”? Do they “order from Expedia and go water skiing” or “order from and watch Country Music Television”?

The segment names alone elicit powerful characterizations and images: “Gray Power,” “Shotguns and Pickups,” “Beltway Boomers”—fun stuff!


Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces says our human narrative repeats itself. Whether in a cave in Sumer Valley or in a cube in Silicon Valley, we repeat the same stories.

If we have a mythology in the U.S. today, it most certainly runs (for better or worse) through Hollywood, and our huge cultural export based in repeated narrative: the movies.

As you think about characters involved in your business, put them in context using the same narrative plots that Hollywood uses over and over. In no particular order those narratives are:

  • Love—boy meets girl, loses girl, wins her back
  • Success—the lead character has to win at all costs
  • Cinderella—an ugly duckling is transformed into a perfect human being
  • Triangle—three characters in a romantic entanglement
  • Return—an absent lover, father or spouse returns after wandering off for years
  • Vengeance—a lead character seeks revenge
  • Conversion—bad guy turns into a good guy
  • Sacrifice—the lead character gives everything up for someone else’s benefit
  • Family—the relationship of character in a single place or situation (e.g. hotel, office, prison)
  • Forbidden liaison—social taboos, gay relationships, adultery
  • Jeopardy—a life-and-death situation calls on the survival instincts of lead characters

Think of that partner CEO at Eraser & Sons as, say, a “Gray Power” character in a “Jeopardy” narrative. Give him a setting and a stride. Though authors Strunk and White lament the businessman’s language in The Elements of Style, they also touch on the glory of why he yearns to be cast in story:

“The executive walks among ink erasers, caparisoned like a knight. We should tolerate him—every man of spirit wants to ride a white horse.”

Isn’t the zeal of business often “spirited” to a fictional level of life-and-death? “Capturing revenue.” “Cutting overhead.” “Leveraging against the buying power of purchased in-process R&D.” Etc, etc…

Agile marketers know fiction when they see it, and they use it to their advantage.

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