The Narrative Arc of Your Brand Story
by Geoff Hineman
It would be an understatement to say COVID-19 has upended the way we do business these days. History shows us that many of these changes will be temporary, but some will become the new normal going forward. While the uncertainty of the current situation can undermine your growth strategy, it would do good to remember that COVID-19 is just uncertainty in a mask we haven't seen before. In fact, your brand has faced uncertainty before and adjusted accordingly.
This is how life works. We face challenges, adjust, and keep going. It's the very foundation of every good story we have ever heard. The reason this type of story resonates is because everybody can relate. Every individual has faced uncertainty, had setbacks, adjusted, moved forward, faced new challenges, re-adjusted, and so on.
Right now, cause for uncertainty is more universal than most causes we see. It's permeating our work, our schools, our hospitals, our home life, and more. One thing that brings comfort to uncertain times is the sharing of stories. Through the sharing of past struggles and triumphs, we can maintain our confidence that we will, again, make it through uncertain times, no matter how overwhelming it may seem.
In this post, we are going to examine a classic story to see how the ups and downs of the narrative allow us to see ourselves and our own struggles in the telling. When done well, your brand's story of overcoming challenges can resonate with your customers in a way that deepens loyalty.
The Wizard of Oz and the Classic Story Arc
Ever since I first saw it as a little boy, The Wizard of Oz has been my favorite movie. The characters are so memorable, the journey is a roller coaster, and the resolution is so comforting. In the current global environment, the timeless line—"There's no place like home."—is more relatable than ever before.
We are going to look at the ups and downs of the story to illustrate how the best stories feature challenges and victories again and again on the way to resolution.
Along the way, consider making notes about the challenges and victories your brand has faced since its inception through the current challenge.
The Journey Begins
Dorothy, who feels like nobody has time for her at home, decides to head out on her own to get away from her unsympathetic family and Elmira Gulch. In short, her goal is to make things better for herself.
It's a Twister!
Before she can make it too far on her journey, a cyclone forms in the distance, which sends her back home and, frustratingly, back to square one. That's a bummer.
The Land of Oz
Caught up in the cyclone, Dorothy later finds herself waking up in a brand new world. Nothing looks familiar. Soon, however, many people (Munchkins) come out to show support for Dorothy and thank her for what she has done so far, even if dropping a house on a witch was not part of the original plan. They become the cheering section she needs to continue pressing on.
The Wicked Witch of the West
Wow. It turns out that not everybody in this land is so welcoming. In fact, the witch would like nothing more than to take Dorothy out and claim what she believes belongs to her: the ruby slippers.
Wait! Another Witch?!
As wicked as the with from the west is, Glinda, the good witch of the north is just as powerful—maybe more so. In fact, it's a pleasant surprise that Glinda, who knows how to deal with the likes of the Wicked Witch of the West can help provide Dorothy with direction to reach her goal: to the Emerald City!
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
While Dorothy may not have a complete map to the Emerald City, she does have a path in the yellow brick road. Once again, Dorothy is heading off into uncharted territory. While she's not sure how far the path goes or how long it will take to reach her goal of meeting the wizard and getting back to Kansas, she forges onward because she knows going back the way she came is not an option anymore.
Along the way Dorothy finds an unexpected ally in the Scarecrow. He has his own needs, of course—a brain. We all have our own needs. Still, they hit it off right away and vow to stick together to get to the Emerald City so they can both reach their goals.
Gosh. Amid all this uncertainty, Dorothy's pushing forward has yielded her another friend in the Tinman. Since she was able to help get him mobile again, he vows to repay the favor by helping her get to the Emerald City. The Tinman also knows that there is something in it for himself—a heart.
With friends like this, reaching the Emerald City should be easy!
Crikey! It's the Wicked Witch Again!
Just when Dorothy thought is was smooth sailing, that troublesome witch shows up again and poses some serious challenges. She even launches some fire at the Scarecrow to remind them all that, no matter what kind of help they have to offer, Dorothy and her friends are not out of the woods yet.
Hello Cowardly Lion
More determined than ever to get to the Emerald City and leave that wicked witch in their rear-view mirror, Dorothy and her new partners press on—even if they are a little more timid than they were before. That's when they come across the Cowardly Lion. At first, he seems like a threat. As luck would have it, he's actually a very good ally who, like the others, vows to get to the Emerald City where their fortunes will surely change for the better.
Hooray! They Made It!
When Dorothy and friends make it to the Emerald City, we cheer because they have reached their destination. They get carriage rides and makeovers. People sing songs to them. They are practically superstars. They made it. It doesn't get any better than this.
So Close, Yet So Far
Just when it looked like success was in their grasp, it turns out that the one fellow who is supposed to be able to help them won't help them. At least not yet. He has conditions. He has new challenges for them. In fact, for the wizard to help, he insists that they must go back and face that challenge that has been hindering them all along: that witch!
Flying Monkeys! Armed Guards! Kidnapping! Oh My!
Well, if Dorothy and pals thought the Wicked Witch of the West was playing hardball before, they sure get a rude awakening. The witch pulls out all the stops. She sends an air force of flying monkeys that kidnap Dorothy and leave her friends for dead in the forest.
When Toto leads the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion to the witch's castle, they quickly realize that the legion of armed guards is going to make this rescue much more difficult.
Kill the Witch!
By adapting to the change in their environment, Dorothy's friends penetrate the castle and rescue her. Therein begins a chase. They are cornered by forces greater than themselves. All hope seems lost. It looks like curtains for Dorothy and her friends. Still, they refuse to go quietly. As the witch once again tried to set the Scarecrow on fire, Dorothy fights back against the immediate threat and, in doing so, is able to melt the witch and defeat the foe who had caused her so much grief since her journey started.
A Good Man, But a Very Bad Wizard
As Dorothy and friends return to the Emerald City with the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West, they are confident that their troubles are finally over. What a relief as the end is in sight! As misfortune would have it, the wizard turns out to be a bit of a blowhard who established a goal he thought was unattainable so that his own lack of power wouldn't be exposed. Talk about a letdown.
Still some kind words to the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion make them all feel better about their own wants and needs. And, because they all stuck together, they got what they wanted from the wizard, even if it really was something they actually had all along.
The Power Lies in You
Just as Dorothy and the wizard are finally in the basket of the hot air balloon and ready to head back over the rainbow, it accidentally takes off when Dorothy steps out to get Toto. Once again, she was so close to getting to reaching her goal, only to see it float away.
Fortunately, Glinda returns with some sage advice for Dorothy. As it turns out, Dorothy had the ability to make it to her destination all along. Yet, her trials—all the ups and downs—have made her stronger. With each step, her resolve grew. She surrounded herself with good people and they carried the load for her when she needed them most. In the end, she is finally reaching her destination as a wiser, more caring, more courageous person than she was when she left the family farm in the first place.
There are many stories that follow this arc. The arc works because it reflects reality. We see ourselves in the struggles of others because we also struggle. We cheer for their successes because we also know the joy and reward that comes from finding success on the other side of struggle.
So what's your story? How did your brand get here? It's worth sharing.
Right now, we are looking for little wins along the way to help shore up our resolve to get through current challenges. When you share your previous struggles, you can reiterate to yourself that this current challenge is just the next one in the series of challenges. It's not the first and won't be the last. But you adapt and grow.
These are also the stories that show your humanity to your customers. It builds trust in your brand and in your ability to handle change. It gives your customers some peace of mind that they are not alone in uncertain times. It let's them know that, the fire that started your journey still burns in your heart as you are determined to come out on the other side of this challenge a little different and a little stronger than when you went into it.