One of the things I have found useful about being a certified Story Grid editor is how well the framework applies to business communications. After all, stories are how businesses get customers to know, like, trust, buy, then, hopefully, promote them. In fact, I would postulate that the nonfiction big genre silos, which are, academic, how-to, narrative nonfiction, and the big idea book, should include a fifth silo — business.
Why This Matters for Big Idea Business Book Authors
There are several of my fellow certified Story Grid editors whose clients want to write the next Tipping Point or Black Swan or Straight From the Gut. Most of these aspiring authors are successful entrepreneurs that want to synthesize their knowledge into a tangible form to pass on to the next generation. That’s a noble goal, but the problem most have is that they can’t articulate their Big Idea. This is where the below framework comes in.
If, as an entrepreneur or business person, you have had some success or overcome some challenge, then the method above can help you articulate your Big Idea. The power of this method is that you can start with what you’re comfortable with and build from there. Armed with your Brand, Business, or Big Idea (3B) narratives (yes it’s plural), you can then start to craft your Big Idea Business book. As you build these narratives, you’ll start to see a theme emerge. It might take a few rounds but the more similarities you see among your 3Bs, the more you can hone in on your Big Idea Business book. Who knows, you might just write the next Tipping Point.
Your 3B narrative is your elevator pitch. It’s the piece of content that’s going to get your customer or prospect or publisher to ask more questions, book a meeting, or ask for your book proposal. If it’s not clear, concise, and compelling, they will move on and not waste their time.
Time is our most precious resource. It’s easy to print money but impossible to print time. That’s why your 3B narrative has to deliver the goods quickly or people will move on to better things.
Every entrepreneur knows that their elevator pitch is meant to get the next meeting. It’s not the end all, be all of what they do. It’s meant to entice and entertain so that your audience will want to spend more time with you. That’s exactly what a 3B narrative does for a Big Idea Business author.
What About Story Grid for Business?
Business in the 21st Century will be driven by compelling stories (content) that make customers know, like, trust, and promote your 3Bs so that you can keep and grow your customer base. One of the best ways to build trust is to become an authority on a subject and one of the best ways to build authority is to publish a Big Idea Business Book.
Story Grid provides an objective measure of a working story that can be applied to any story — even business stories. The rub is that there are specific conventions and requirements (obligatory scenes) that each type of business has. The simplest example would be that a service business will need different conventions and requirements (obligatory scenes) than a product business. Like Story Grid content genres, business content has its own genres that need to be flushed out.
Does Story Grid Work for Business?
The age of the internet has seen the emergence of the power of content. Content is king and well-crafted content is the king’s gold that every business is striving for. The reason content is king is that in our digital age, most everyone searches for a solution to their problem on Google or DuckDuckGo. Those search engines rely on content to figure out if your offering is the solution to a customer’s problem. Combine this with customer reviews and you start to see why compelling content, written for both humans and machines, can make or break. The other powerful thing about well-written content is that it focuses your mind on what’s important. Too often, entrepreneurs and authors, jam so much into an offering or a book that it feels scattered and disjointed as opposed to clear, concise, and compelling.
Businesses are now hiring editors in chief or rather a head of content to keep up with all the digital distractions that take customers away from them. In fact, businesses are starting to write their own news and employ an army of PR professionals to make it happen.
I think it’s safe to say the brand or business or big idea author that tells the best stories will win customers, speaking gigs, or even a book deal. In the arms race for the best stories, a systematic method to turn out stories that work is the superpower all brands are looking for. Since Story Grid does that for books, why not for Business?
Before we dig into that Big Idea (thanks Joanna Penn for inspiring it), let’s take a step back and focus on the one thing that’s the hardest for brands, businesses, and aspiring big idea business authors to get right — their narrative
Brand, Business, and Big Idea Narratives
While it might seem a stretch to lump in Brands, Businesses, and Big Idea (3Bs) into one it’s actually not that big of a stretch. They all share the common aim of telling a clear, concise, and compelling story that inspires people/customers to take action. That’s precisely why business content is different than any other nonfiction content — its’ main purpose is to compel people to part with their time, talent, or treasure and give it to you.
All this talk of Brands, Businesses, and Big Idea narratives might seem confusing, so before we dig into the parts of a 3B narrative, let’s define the 3Bs.
A brand is the experience of a customer that distinguishes a product or service from its competitors. The goal of a brand is to be quickly identified by the target customer so that when the customer is looking for a particular product, they will pick your brand. Some examples include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Doritos (owned by Frito-Lay), and Kleenex (owned by Kimberly-Clark).
A business is a collection of one or more brands. These brands typically make up the overall business brand so that a customer can identify, by sight or sound, the narrative of the brand. At least, that’s the ideal case. Some examples include Apple, Google, and Amazon.
The big idea is what my fellow Story Grid editor Kim Kessler calls the “Meta Why” or the overarching big idea or what that makes the business tick. Ideally, the big idea concept transcends the particular business in which it operates. In other words, it applies to all businesses no matter the industry. I know, a lofty goal but when you hit that gold, it’s magical. Some examples include The Tipping Point, In Defense of Food, and Alphabet (the owner of Google among others).
Notice that these three concepts, brands, business, and big idea, build on each other and form a hierarchy with the lower concept making up the next higher concept, etc. This is important to note since, like most structures, the foundation has to be stable or the rest of the structure will fall down. Luckily, the building of narratives at each level follows the same structure — just like great stories.
The Parts of a Compelling Narrative
Compelling 3B narratives, like all great stories, have three parts — a beginning hook, a middle build, and an ending payoff. If you’re a Story Grid nerd like me, this should be no surprise to you. What might be surprising is the content of each of these parts.
If you want to do this for your own 3B (which I encourage you to do), then for each of the following questions, write 1-2 sentences and pick a word, for each part, that describes it. These 3-6 sentences and 3 words will be used later on to compile your 3B narrative.
Beginning Hook: Why Does Your 3B Exist?
Business content needs to be compelling for people to read it, just like a good story or bit of journalism. This is the why or rather, why do I care about what you’re about to say. The beginning hook also serves as the why for your 3B or specifically why you exist in the world. If you can marry why the reader should care and why you exist, you are on the path to the magical Goldilocks zone, which we’ll get to a little later. Here are some great examples of whys:
- Virgin Hyperloop One: Move people and things at airline speeds for the price of a bus ticket. This is a good why because it hits on the accessibility of fast transportation.
- The Hustle: The Hustle is a media company on a mission to inspire, educate, and entertain an entire generation of people. This example illustrates an unmet need for millennials — a source of news in their own voice.
- Vs. Cancer: Help kids with cancer. Simple and clear. No one can argue with it.
Middle Build: What Makes Your 3B Unique
Once you’ve gotten your customer to read past the why next up is sucking them into why your 3B is unique. The importance of being unique cannot be understated. There are a lot of 3Bs out there that are just “me too” and that makes them boring or rather unmemorable. This is the spot where most 3Bs wither on the vine because if you want to get above the noise of the internet, you must stand out in a meaningful and memorable way. Here are a few examples of uniqueness:
- Virgin Hyperloop One: It’s on-demand, energy-efficient and safe. This perfectly states the main reasons traveling far and wide is such a pain.
- The Hustle: A daily free email written specifically for millennials. A simple solution to the news gap for millennials is to write for them. It reinforces why.
- Vs. Cancer: Vs. Cancer empowers any sports team, athlete or community to help kids with cancer. Focuses on sports and athletes, which brings large amounts of people together.
Ending Payoff: What Pain Does Your 3B Solve?
If your potential customer has read or listened as far as your ending payoff, you’re 90 percent of the way there. Now, the only thing left is to prompt them to take action. You do this by simply stating the pain you’re going to solve for them. Here are some great examples of pain solved:
- Virgin Hyperloop One: Think: broadband for transportation. If high-speed transportation was as ubiquitous as broadband, then everyone could travel like everyone accessing the internet.
- The Hustle: Cuts through the bullsh*t to deliver the news and interesting content that you need to know. Millennials hate the “talk down to you” media and that’s a big pain for them to sort out.
- Vs. Cancer: Proceeds help fund child life programs in local hospitals and lifesaving pediatric brain tumor research. This specific focus on brain tumors makes the narrative specific and relatable as opposed to the broad brush of kids cancer.
I know, seems simple, but there are so many 3B narratives that don’t deliver the goods or rather the narrative is so buzzword bingo rich that it’s impossible for your grandmother to figure out what the heck she needs your 3B for. Yes, you heard that right. If your grandmother can’t understand your 3B narrative, you have failed. This goes for every single 3B narrative you can dream up — no matter what it is. The reason is simple.
Crafting Your 3B Narrative
Crafting your 3B Narrative is as simple as combining the beginning hook, middle build, and ending payoff in a way that makes a narrative that your grandmother can understand. In some cases, what you write for each part might need to be cut back or reworded to fit with the others. You should also try to include those three words as well. People love triplets. You want your reader to want to know more and ask more questions or read more of your Big Idea Business Book. It should also be your guide star for the additional content you develop.
In Story Grid parlance, you can think of your 3B Narrative as your novel’s Controlling Idea or Theme. The 3B narrative will be the tip of your content spear and should be incorporated into every aspect of your content — just like the Controlling Idea and Theme of a novel must be present at every level of a story.
Here are the 3B Narratives from the examples above:
Hyperloop is a new way to move people and things at airline speeds for the price of a bus ticket. It’s on-demand, energy-efficient and safe. Think: broadband for transportation.
The Hustle is a media company on a mission to inspire, educate, and entertain an entire generation of people. And it all starts with their daily email that cuts through the bullsh*t to deliver the news and interesting content that you need to know.
Vs. Cancer empowers any sports team, athlete or community to help kids with cancer. As a signature fundraising campaign of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation proceeds help fund child life programs in local hospitals and lifesaving pediatric brain tumor research.
3B Narratives Keep You On Track and Task
The great thing about a well-crafted narrative is that it’s the tip of your 3B spear. As I mentioned before, it’s your guide star that will help you stay on track and on task. That’s the most important thing to remember when creating a 3B. The more focused it is, the more universal it will come. It’s the concept of specificity breeds universality since a reader will bring their own experiences to your 3B which imposes their worldview upon it. Once a customer or reader makes your idea their own, then you know you have a winning 3B.
What do you think of this Big Idea? Is it worth pursuing? Let me know in the comments. Better still, why not craft a 3B and post it in the comments. I’d love to hear about what you’re doing.
Special thanks to fellow Certified Story Grid Editors, Rachelle Ramirez and Leslie Watts, for helping me craft this post.