Last week we shared the FOUR types of stories you can tell to create truly effective marketing emails. That’s critical. But it’s just as critical to understand the structure of a story-based email.
People have an intuitive grasp of what a good story feels like, but they don’t necessarily know how to break it down. Story structure is a critical part of a great story-based marketing email, and we’ll show you the components you need to understand.
The Structure of a Story
The structure of marketing stories is a little different than fiction stories. In a fiction story, the point is to entertain. In a marketing story, the point is to get people to take action. That usually means a structure based on the hero’s journey (also known as “Campbellian story” or “the hero with a thousand faces”).
The original hero’s journey structure leaned on a lot of mythology, and it’s outdated for a lot of modern stories — but the underlying idea spawned a number of useful structures.
In this case, we’re actually going to use the three-act structure, one of the modern simplifications of the hero’s journey. It’s a useful structure for marketers for a few reasons:
- It ends on a high note. Something like Freytag’s pyramid is designed for tragedies, but when you’re writing a marketing story you want people to feel good when they finish.
- It lets you put the problem up front, the cause in the middle and the solution at the end. This naturally lends itself to a marketing story.
- It’s very familiar. Most Western media uses the hero’s journey or some variation of it for storytelling. Other structures are usually simplifications of or retellings of the original idea.
We’ll walk through it act by act and show you how it applies to marketing stories. There’s one caveat, though: for marketing purposes, we’re going to add an additional fourth act and a CTA.
Act 1: The Setup
In the setup, you establish the scene, describe the incident that starts the story, and show when the protagonist engages.
To illustrate the three-act structure, let’s use the “Henry Ford’s $250,000 X” email that we sent last month. It had a 75% open rate and over a 5% click-through rate. This was the setup in that email.
“Henry Ford once paid the equivalent of $250,000 for a single X in chalk.
“And it was worth it.
“When one of the gigantic generators at his plant broke down, Ford sent for Charles Steinmetz, one of the greatest scientific minds of his time, to figure out what was wrong. Steinmetz spent two days and nights listening to the generator and running calculations.”
It has an attention-getting opening line, then a quick exposition of the material to get the reader to engage with the problem.
Act 2: Confrontation
In the second act the protagonist (in our example, Charles Steinmetz) is tested. Something upends the situation and creates more issues. It’s unclear whether the protagonist will prevail. Again, from the Henry Ford email:
“On the second night Steinmetz climbed a ladder up the generator’s side and marked an X in chalk on one of the access plates. ‘Remove the plate and replace sixteen of the windings,’ he said. Then he went home.
“The generator worked. Ford was thrilled.
“Until he got the bill.
“Steinmetz billed him for $10,000 — the rough equivalent of $250,000 today. Ford was unpleasantly surprised. ‘Send me an itemized bill,’ he said.”
Act 3: Resolution
The third act sees the protagonist face the situation and make a choice that leads to success. The loose ends are tied up and the story ends with the protagonist having overcome and established a new status quo.
“Steinmetz sent the following:
“‘Making chalk mark on generator $1.
“‘Knowing where to make mark $9,999.’
“Ford paid the bill.”
“Steinmetz was one of the giants of his field, a man known as the “Wizard of Schenectady,” one of the main catalysts for General Electric’s rise to power. He knew where to make the X. And Ford paid it — because he understood the value of expert help.”
Steinmetz is the hero of the Henry Ford email we’ve been featuring here, and the story closes with him succeeding. You resolve the story and make the point you were trying to make — in this case, the value of expert help. And this is where a marketing story diverges from the traditional three-act structure.
Because you’re not just here to entertain. You’re here to drive action.
The Extra Act: Drive Action
You’re a marketer. Your story was chosen to make a point about something — something you can provide a solution for.
The story is being told so your brand can become the hero:
“Ford knew that it would cost him less in the long run to call in an expert than it would to rely on his own people.
“What about you?
“Rainmaker Digital Services knows content marketing. It comes from our roots with Copyblogger, where content marketing was the backbone of everything they did. And that legacy continues today — even as the company has grown and changed, that experience is the foundation of everything we do.
“We know where to make the X.”
In this section, you draw the parallels between your brand and the protagonist of the story.
Your extra act lays the groundwork for your CTA. Now you want to get people to take action.
“Don’t miss out — sign up before March 11, 2022 to take advantage of this landing page deal.
“Click here to get started.”
Get through your three acts, tell the story, then show how your brand can be the hero for your customer. Make their action clear.
And you can apply the same structure that I used to your own emails. Begin with the setup, move to the confrontation, then the resolution, and finish by driving action. You’ll see your open and click-through rates rise.
A Story That Gets Results
The type of story you tell matters. So does the way you tell it. Use the FOUR types of email marketing stories, then apply this story structure to them. You’ll see a difference in your engagement. And if you need a little assistance with your email marketing, feel free to reach out. We’re here to help.
Rainmaker Digital Services