The Storytelling Advantage Part 2
C3SG: The tactical narrative
Today, a quick roundup of some major tech news. Then we’ll continue the “story” from our last newsletter, and get into a more tactical storytelling framework that you might find useful.
Let’s start with some big headlines in tech.
Fringe tech & law
Apple of my eye(s)
Big story of the week was dominated by Apple. Of course, I’m talking about Vision Pro and it’s Spatial Computing reality (notice how they didn’t acknowledge AR, VR, or the metaverse)?
But they still have a huuuuge problem to deal with. Imagine a future where dads are capturing those special moments with fat goggles on, being one more step removed from their actual children.
Uh dad, you’re weird
Anyway, at nearly $4,000 (assuming with tax), Apple still hasn’t solved the problem of “goggle eyes”. But maybe this is meant to be a solo experience. We’ll see in 2024.
Everyone next year
EU’s AI Act could soon become law
Want to slow down AI doomsday scenarios? Regulate it. Or at least try to. The EU is working on making its AI Act law, which would eliminate some questionable uses of AI. These include:
AI systems using subliminal techniques, or manipulative or deceptive techniques to distort behavior
AI systems exploiting vulnerabilities of individuals or specific groups
AI systems used for social scoring or evaluating trustworthiness
AI systems used for risk assessments predicting criminal or administrative offenses (hello Minority Report)
AI systems inferring emotions in law enforcement, border management, the workplace, and education
This news, coupled with the Statement on AI Risk, signed by AI luminaries and experts, should lay some ground work (maybe?) for AI regulation in the US. You know, as long as it doesn’t interfere with making $$$$.
Content Labeling AI
The EU isn’t finished! They want Google, Facebook, et al to start labeling content as AI to combat disinformation and fake news. Of course, Elon is going to Elon, and Twitter quit the EU’s voluntary code of practice, which could lead to a potential ban, and at the very least, hefty fines.
“Twitter has chosen the hard way. They chose confrontation,” said Věra Jourová, a European Commission vice-president.
Do you want to know if content is AI generated? Do you care? To what extent should it be regulated, if at all?
Things are changing fast.
Tactical Narrative Skills
Back to storytelling. Again, you may want to revisit part one, if you missed it. Storytelling remains one of the most underrated, yet foundational skills to have in business. Yes, it can be used to either sell fictions, or to bolster fact-based case studies.
Stories often sell better than just having data alone, and nothing gets past unconscious bias faster than a good old fashioned story.
Last week, we talked about 3 different frameworks:
Intuitive Storytelling (something you just do instinctively)
Andy Raskin’s Strategic Narrative
And C3SG (today’s topic)
Let’s break it down.
Key Story Elements
When you think of the elements that make up a great story, what do you think of? I asked that question many years ago, and I realized that there’s always a framework behind every great story.
Kurt Vonnegut even said that stories have shapes, and that they’re universal shapes, like this one:
Cinderella: The most popular story “shape” in western culture
Intro to C3SG
C3SG stands for:
Characters: protagonist, antagonist, mentors/guides, supporting, neutrals, etc.)
Character Flaw: what internal or external flaw that will help define the character’s transformation in the end)
Conflict: This is the event or situation that sets the story in motion. Without conflict, there's no story.
Struggle: This refers to the journey towards the goal, with all the trials, tribulations, and twists that the character encounters along the way.
Goal: The end objective that the character is striving towards. The goal can often change throughout the story, and many times the end goal wasn’t the originally intended goal.
Remember the ultimate goal of a story? Character transformation. It’s not always strictly about one character’s transformation, obviously Lord Of The Rings proves that.
Who’s the real Walter White?
But in business, it’s generally about one character, even if that character is the brand itself.
Let’s breakdown a few examples of how to apply this framework to your business.
1. Marketing and Advertising: Use C3SG to develop compelling narratives about your customer and how they use your product or service.
Remember, if your customer is the hero of the story, then how does your brand serve as a supporting character (or their sword to slay whatever dragon they face) that helps them overcome their flaws and manage their struggle.
And you’re mine…
This can be especially effective in content marketing, social media campaigns, video ads, or category-based marketing.
2. Sales Presentations: Structure your pitch around a customer's journey from recognizing a problem (Conflict) to finding a solution (Goal), with your product or service playing a key role in this journey (Struggle).
3. Product Development: Understand and articulate your user or customer journey, their pain points (aka their Character Flaw), and how your product can help address those (Overcome Struggle to reach their Goal).
4. Customer Testimonials and Case Studies: Use C3SG to structure testimonials and case studies, focusing on the customer's initial problem (Conflict), how they used your product to address it (Struggle), and the outcomes they achieved (Goal).
5. Internal Communications: You can structure narratives for internal communication, such as explaining a change in company strategy or introducing a new product line.
6. Company Culture and Brand Story: Tell your company's story in a way that connects emotionally with your audience. This can involve outlining the company's beginnings (Conflict), its journey (Struggle), and its mission (Goal).
As a business owner or leader, using C3SG doesn't need to be complicated. Start by identifying your key characters (these could be your customers, your company, or your products), their flaws or challenges, the conflict they're facing, their struggle, and the goal they're trying to achieve.
And you should love your customer’s flaws, too
Remember, people connect to relatable characters with relatable struggles. Too often I see business storytellers skip over character flaws and shortcomings (even though that’s what brought them to your business in the first place.
I get that people just want to focus on the “positive” — but humans are hard-wired to focus on problems, imperfections, and generally bad things. The conflict, the struggle, and ultimately overcoming flaws is the heart of every story, and cannot be glossed over.
Look at Pixar. They’re pretty good at telling emotional stories. Their 22 Rules for Storytelling has been making its rounds on the internet, but I want to draw your attention to Rule #1: You admire a character for trying more than their successes.
From Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling
In the end, your aim is to connect with your audience on an emotional level, and to do that, your story needs to be genuine, relatable, and compelling.
Here’s a few examples of fictitious customers and businesses, although I pulled them from real life examples.
Non-Alcoholic Beverages example
Character: A woman who has successfully overcome her struggle with alcohol and is now leading a sober lifestyle. She is proud of her sobriety but sometimes feels left out at social events where alcohol is present.
Character Flaw: She sometimes feels self-conscious and slightly alienated at social gatherings where she's the only one not drinking alcohol. But she also doesn’t want to feel pressured to drink alcohol again.
Conflict: She wants to attend social events and enjoy them without feeling out of place. She doesn't want to drink alcohol, but she also doesn't want to be limited to water or soda.
Struggle: She has to navigate social events where drinking is the norm, often having to explain her choices and feeling slightly disconnected from her peers.
Goal: To find non-alcoholic beverages that look and taste great, allowing her to blend in and enjoy social events while maintaining her sobriety.
Her transformation comes when she discovers the non-alcoholic beverage company at a party. The host himself had a battle with alcohol, and now proudly serves both types of drinks at his events. His story is an example for our hero.
With the range of sophisticated, tasty, and attractive non-alcoholic beverages, she's now better able to enjoy social events on her own terms without feeling out of place.
She gains a renewed sense of confidence and freedom, allowing her to fully enjoy her sober lifestyle without feeling alienated (even if it’s self-inflicted). And now, she has no problem requesting non-alcoholic drinks in advance from upcoming events or parties.
Organic Coffee Lover example
Character: Our environmentally-conscious coffee lover who is concerned about the impact of traditional coffee farming practices on the environment and local communities.
Character Flaw: Despite her strong beliefs, she often finds herself compromising on her values due to lack of availability or higher cost of organic coffee.
Conflict: The coffee lover learns more about the negative effects of non-organic coffee farming practices. She wants to switch to a sustainable alternative that doesn't compromise on the quality and taste of the coffee.
Struggle: She has to navigate a market where truly organic and fair-trade coffee is not easily accessible. Plus, there's the additional challenge of finding organic coffee that matches her taste preferences.
Goal: To find a source of high-quality, tasty, organic coffee that supports sustainable farming practices and is reasonably priced.
Her transformation happens when she discovers an eCommerce organic coffee business. It not only provides the high-quality, tasty, organic coffee she's been looking for, but also upholds the ethical and sustainable values she cares about.
This aligns her daily coffee ritual with her environmental values, making each cup of coffee a reaffirmation of her commitment to sustainability.
Character: Our busy professional values comfort and quality in clothing. She spends long hours at work and often finds herself uncomfortable because of her ill-fitting and very uncomfortable underwear.
Character Flaw: She always prioritized other aspects of her wardrobe and never given much thought to the importance of comfortable underwear, often buying cheap, poor quality underwear without thinking twice.
Conflict: After yet another long day at work filled with discomfort, she’s had enough. But where to start? She struggles to find a brand that offers the perfect balance of comfort, quality, and style.
Struggle: She embarks on a quest to find the perfect underwear. This involves trying different brands, understanding the types of materials that offer the most comfort, and finding a brand that offers sizes and styles that fit her well.
Goal: She wants to find underwear that is not just comfortable and high-quality, but also makes her feel confident and supported throughout her busy work day.
Her transformation comes when she finally discovers the business that offers the most comfortable underwear. The brand not only resolves her daily discomfort, but also adds a subtle boost of confidence in her everyday life.
She just feels more at ease during long working hours and realizes the importance of investing in good quality basics.
Some things to keep in mind:
Story is about transformation. Nobody really cares about incremental change (unless that half of a percent led to millions of dollars in sales). What’s the transformation of your character you’re trying to influence?
Think of Character Flaw as the thing your product or service supports, improves, or eliminates entirely. Can’t code? Well, there’s no-code apps for you. Can’t design? Well, there’s Canva. Bad with math? Take a class on Khan Academy. Terrible at grammar? Grammarly will make sure you won’t misspell or write another bad sentence again.
What are your customer’s flaws? How does your product help them overcome them and struggle “well”, versus struggle poorly to their goal?
Again, highlight the Flaw and Struggle part of the story. We don’t bring this out enough. You’ll find that the flaws and struggle to their goals are pretty universal, and more importantly for your audience, relatable.
Irony can bring out the best in your story, and makes for more powerful headlines.
Big Story Tip: Find The Irony
Irony happens when audience expectations are subverted in a surprising, and often thought-provoking, way. Here are 10 examples of ironic headlines in various business contexts:
"Leading Cybersecurity Firm Falls Victim to Major Data Breach"
"World's Most Popular Fitness App's CEO Found to be Unhealthiest Man in Office"
"Skeptic Reads Self-Help Book for a Dare, Becomes Inspirational Speaker"
"Popular Sleep Aid Company's CEO Battles Insomnia"
"Junk Food Lover Orders Healthy Meal by Mistake, Loses 30 Pounds"
"Famous Chef Admits to Disliking His Own Signature Dish"
"Most Comfortable Underwear Brand's Employees Complain About Uncomfortable Office Chairs"
"Man Accidentally Subscribes to Language Learning App, Becomes Fluent in Spanish"
"Couch Potato Buys Fitness Tracker for Style, Runs First Marathon"
"Renowned Life Coach Struggles Uses AI For His Therapist"
If you look close enough, you’ll find irony in the most beloved stories of our time. Why does it work? Because it upsets expectations. And upsetting and resetting expectations, featuring relatable characters, are just more memorable stories in the end.
You should have a solid understanding and applicable frameworks now. Let me know how it goes. Or reach out to me at [email protected] if you need an outsider’s perspective.
And thank you
To anyone and everyone who supported Rep AI’s launch on Product Hunt last week. Rep was the #2 product of the day:
And thanks to Kurt Vonnegut
For explaining Story Shapes in his irreverent and humorous style:
“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”
Until next week.