Plot v Story

Last week my youngest son, Sam spent the weekend at a local Methodist camp. He had a chance to escape his obnoxious parents and spend a little time away with friends. Instead of chores and homework reminders, he was looking forward to some Capture the Flag and a few campfire s'mores. Most of all, he was looking forward to the high ropes course—one of Camp LouCon's biggest draws. Now, Sam is a large boy. He's not just fluffy, he's BIG. Because he's still growing, his cost-conscious (i.e. cheap) parents have chosen to outfit him in a wide range of sweat pants. They aren't exactly stylish, but they are flexible and "fit" for more than a few months at a time.

Anyway, on Ropes Day the camp counselor divided the kids into pairs and helped squeeze Sam into a safety harness and hoisted him skyward. As he slowly rose, a little problem occurred. No, it wasn't that his spotter was all of 100 pounds and required another kid's help to keep her from being pulled off the ground with him. That was easily remedied. No, it was the interaction of the safety harness with Sam's sweat pants. Let's just say that the black straps framed a part of his anatomy in such a way that it was clear that he was a boy. Explicitly. The crowd was uncomfortably aghast.

The awkwardness built until one girl let out an extended "SAAAMMMM!"

Sam knew that he was stuck. He was literally dangling overhead for all to see and couldn't do a thing about it. That's when inspiration struck. He simply shouted out "Feast your eyes!"

Nice story, eh? Actually, what you just read is a nice plot. A story would be more along the lines of "a quick-witted teenager finds himself in an awkward situation and diffuses it with humor." Simply put, a plot is what happens while a story is what it's all about.

In the business world, it's easy to get wrapped up in plot when customers are really only interested in the story and vice versa. While selling, always remember "it's about the customer and their needs." Tell your story so that a potential customer has a reason to trust you over someone else but don't get caught in the trap of talking about yourself ad infinitum. That's why every salesperson has their 30-second elevator speech ready for the "tell me about your company" question and a quick segue way into "tell me about your needs."

When branding, plot matters. The Holy Grail of brand-building is an emotional attachment with the consumer and for that you need story AND plot. Engage the reader with detail. Be relatable. Be human. The bicycle enthusiast wants to know about that time your company president took a mountain bike prototype into Telluride to work out the final kinks in the gear ratios. If bears are involved, all the better.

Finally, nothing brings a good story/plot home like a powerful image. I spent about 35 words describing my son's unfortunate predicament above, but a single image would have led the reader from "feast your eyes" to "gouge your eyes" almost instantly. In this case, words worked by themselves. What's your brand's story?