Beyond Movies: Why Stories Matter in Business – Story Archetypes


Content WordsThere are many different story genres.  And there are even more ways to tell those stories.  But if you step back and examine the basic structure of how stories are told, you’ll start to recognize patterns.  These basic archetypes capture the broad types of stories we tell and the way that we tell them.

Let’s look at these basic story archetypes and examine how we can apply them to content marketing and business presentations.

Monsters Under the Bed

The Monster can be anything in your story.  It can be any kind of problem that is unknown and terrifying.  In movies, it’s almost always life threatening and the main character must defeat it in order to survive.  Examples include: Alien, Jaws, The Exorcist and every horror movie ever made.

In a business, “the monster” is anything that prevents you from changing your existing state into the one you desire.  In a good monster story, the hero’s path to victory is discovering the monster’s own intrinsic flaws.  In business, the solution to the obstacles you want to overcome is often found in how you define that problem.  The key to using this model is to frame your problem in a way that enables your to inspire your audience to take action and “defeat your monster” by responding as you would hope.

Coming of Age / Rags to Riches

In the Coming of Age scenario the main character acquires all the trappings of what he or she wants – wealth, power, fame – but realizes that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be.  In the end, they either lose it and don’t care or they walk away from it because they have learned an important lesson about what they really want.  Either way, they come out a better and wiser person as a result of their experience.  Examples include: Pretty Woman, Slumdog Millionaires, Rocky, even Scarface is a version of this tale.

This story is most effective when it is personalized.  Telling the story of a specific person — real or a fictional — demonstrates how that person was able to succeed with the help of your product, message or service.  In the process, sharing the lessons learned from your subject’s journey enables your audience to bond emotionally to your story and view your product or service as a transformational element that can help them achieve their goals as well.

Big Adventures

Big Adventures include any kind of quest where an individual or a group of friends set out to find something of importance.  Along the way they face obstacles that test their mettle and enable them to acquire the skills needed to reach their destination.  This is every action film and crime movie.  Examples include Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, The Italian Job and Oceans Eleven..

This story can be used to inspire people by framing their decision to take action inside a larger context of courage or nobility.  It’s also a strong way to present the evolution and importance of your subject.  By demonstrating what has been accomplished so far, you are telling your audience why something has value to them and how much more can be achieved if you work together.

Rites of Passage

Any change-of-life story that includes a character triumphing over seemingly unattainable odds is a Rites of Passage story.  Often these are sports stories, family dramas and other sagas that test a character’s inner fortitude.  Examples include Ordinary People, Rudy and The Revenant.

Every case study and every testimonial is a Rites of Passage story, especially when using a video component.  Don’t just have a customer tell us how much they like your product.  Introduce the character, have them state what their problem was, then tell us how they were helped by you or your product.  As long as it is compelling, it can be one sentence or 10 mins.  The more emotion you work into the story, even better.

Deep Mysteries

Every thriller, detective story and non-heist crime story where an investigator is the main character is a Deep Mystery.  Examples include Chinatown,  Three Days of the Condor and Michael Clayton.

Everyone loves a good mystery  In a mystery, a question is established at the beginning that needs to be answered at the end.  Some of us like to try and guess the answer, others like to be surprised.  While we’re curious to know who committed the crime, the real answer we’re looking for is why the crime was committed.

The question of “Why…?” becomes a powerful tool for holding an audience’s attention.

As you pay out the clues in your story, you have the opportunity to present information and ideas that are tangential to the topic as long as you keep reminding the audience to ask themselves “Why…?”

As long as they are asking “Why something happened?,” your audience will continue reading, listening and stay engaged.  That allows to you get them to ingest the information that you want them to have and to put your subject in the center of that mystery.  If you can demonstrate how your “character” is the answer to problem at the heart of the question asked, you’ll create a branding impression that’s guaranteed to last.


Often derived from graphic novels, but not always, this is any movie where the main character has any kind of super powers.  Examples include Superman, Batman, Unbreakable, The Incredibles and Chronicle.

Seen in advertising more than in content marketing and presentations, this is used whenever a spokesperson with extraordinary talents or traits represents a product.  Think: Mr. Clean, The Most Interesting Man in the World or Flo from Progressive Insurance.

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As you can see, there are as many ways to convey your message and as you can imagine.  And there just as many ways to label how you do it and define it.

If you understand how each of these archetypes works and why they have the power to influence and compel, you can apply these techniques to your own work.

In the next essay, we’ll see how using the techniques can produce concrete results for real people with real business needs.

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