Are we playing the wrong role in our stories?

Hero2 Think back to the days when you played pretend.  Given a choice between safety pinning the towel around your neck or being the damsel/dane in distress about to be rescued, who did you pick?

I don’t know about you, but I was all about being the "Toweled Crusader!"  (I never wore the rubber gloves, I must admit!) It was much cooler being the smart, strong, resourceful one.  Wasn’t it?

It still is today.

I’ve talked a lot (and will keep doing so) about the power of storytelling.  One of the ways that many of us tell our stories is through case studies and testimonials.  Most often, because we want to demonstrate our capabilities, we assume the leading role.  Client X was struggling with Y, but we swooped in with Insight Z and their sales tripled.

Sound familiar?  Basic story construction, right?  We have a hero, a problem/villain, a victim and a glorious solution. 

Uh oh.  If we’re the hero, guess who we’re casting in the role of victim?  Yup. Our client.

Remember that the goal of the case study or testimonial is to get prospects to identify with the clients in the story.  "Wow, if they can solve that problem, they can probably tackle mine too," is what we want them to think.

While the prospect might identify with the challenge and be heartened by the solution, do they really want to see themselves in the victim role?

If we gave them the same choice we had as kids, would they opt for hero or victim?

What if we twisted our tale in those case studies or testimonials, so that our clients were the heroes?  We shift to being the glorious solution.  (Not a bad role to play) But we give the credit, spotlight and heroine’s role to the client.  They are smart enough to see the problem and devise a solution.  And, in the end, everyone lives happily ever after.

Perhaps it’s time to re-write the stories.

* This post was inspired by a chapter in Harry Beckwith’s You, Inc.  I am telling you — you’ve got to read it!

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10 comments on “Are we playing the wrong role in our stories?

  1. Hmm, but what if you didn’t want to be the hero or the victim? I always wanted to be Eve Arden or Thelma Ritter – smart, sassy women … best friends to the heroine/hero … who steals every scene :=)

    Seriously tho, I don’t resonate with the hero/victim dichotomy. Rather, I view my clients in partnership with me and I with them as we move together toward agreed upon goals and definitions of success.

  2. Mario Vellandi says:

    I like the idea. At least in principle from moving away from the ‘poor victim company’ ‘we as superhero’ ‘we did this’ ‘we did that’. I like the 3rd person story approach better and making the story more about the client than rather about ‘us’.

  3. Pardon me, but damn, that’s good. I hadn’t really thought of it from that perspective before. And yet, when you state it that way, it makes great sense. I can see where I’ve made my client’s the victim in the story. Now it’s gotta stop.

    And, as you said on my blog recently, I detect post coming.

  4. Andrew Clark says:

    Alfred is the true hero. If the client can’t depend on their communications partner for true, loyal support, then the villans will win…

    Another great point, Drew. And great imagery. Love it! It actually inspired my latest post.

    Keep cooking!

  5. Roberta —

    Okay, you can be the sassy sidekick. Every story should have one of those.

    I am sure there are some marketers who always create case studies or present themselves in the partner mode. But I’ll bet its the minority.

    It’s natural to want to portray ourselves in the best light possible. But to your point, maybe that’s just not the leading role.


  6. Mario,

    Ahh, writing it in the 3rd person. That would solve a lot, wouldn’t it?

    We talk to our clients about making their marketing customer focused. We should probably follow our own advice!


  7. Irene,

    Well…I am pretty sure the client would rather be a victim than the villian!


  8. Dawud,

    Never have to beg my pardon when you follow it up with a “damn that’s good!”

    I think its a mistake that’s easy for all of us to make.

    I can’t wait to see your follow up post!


  9. Andrew,

    Ah, Alfred. You’re right. He’s a utility player. Someone you can count on, day in and out.

    That’s better than a super slugger who strikes out 1/3 of the time!

    I loved your post. It was a great build off of this one!


  10. Nancy,

    By making our clients’ look stronger and smarter, it sure makes us look the same.

    Nothing wrong with that.


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