One of the great strengths of the movie company, Pixar is their ability to tell a good story – a fact that any parent who’s found themselves gasping in childlike wonder during one of their films, can attest.
One of their beautifully simple guidelines for this process, the formula...
Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
...serves as the skeleton of every great story they’ve created -- from Up to Finding Nemo to Wall-e.
It can also serve as a backbone for outstanding content marketing -- which is, in its own way, also an exercise in storytelling. For example...
Once upon a time there was [a brand, product, company]. Every day, [your reality]. One day, [a shift occurred]. Because of that, [a change was made]. Because of that, [a new kind of brand, product, company was created]. Until finally [a new reality was created].
The trick to making Pixar's guideline work for business as well as entertainment is to view your brand as a character instead of an entity, and to think of your story in its most basic terms (e.g. reality -> challenge -> change -> new reality.) With these suggestions in mind, here's how we might interpret some of Pixar's other storytelling guidelines through a content marketing lens...
Pixar Tip: "You admire a character for trying more than for their successes."
A brand story without conflict or challenges, isn't really a story anymore. It's a commercial. To get your audience to root for your brand, or become invested in your story, let them see the kinks in your armor, the struggles that led to your successes and the setbacks that keep you both humble and wise. These are the qualities in a story that lead to admiration and investment.
Pixar Tip: "Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front."
Generating content marketing for the sake of generating content marketing isn't providing a service to anyone but your own ego. Before you start developing, (and certainly before you start distributing) your content, you must first have a goal in mind. What is the purpose of the story you're about to tell? What do you hope it will inspire your audience to do next? Start with the answers to these questions and work backwards to ensure that your content serves a purpose.
Pixar Tip: "Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time."
It's easy for companies to get caught up in the quest of producing (or workshopping to death) the flashiest video or the most beautiful infographic. But, if that quest for perfection is coming at the expense of getting relevant info into people's hands in a timely fashion, it will harm you more than help you. As Seth Godin says, the most important part of the creative process is to "ship it." Tell the story, get it out there, iterate and evolve.
Pixar Tip: "Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself."
Your audience wants to be surprised, entertained and intrigued. If can you do all of those things in yet another infographic or white paper, then by all means go ahead and make one. Just remember though that the web is littered with the carcasses of the obvious. If you can't come up with a unique vehicle for your voice, presentation for your idea and spin on your topic, your content marketing will just get added to the pile.
Pixar Tip: "No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later."
There are many dead end roads in the storytelling process and many tales that just never find their voice. Sometimes though, that's a function of time, relevance and context, not the writer's skill. If the story you're telling is not right for today, that doesn't mean that it won't be right for tomorrow. Any idea that inspires you to sit down and start creating is an idea that is worth salvaging and stockpiling for the future.
Interesting in learning more tips? Check out the full list of Pixar's guidelines on how to create appealing stories, or the selection of tips that have recently been Legofied.
I’m a consultant, strategist, author, educator, and speaker with more than 30 years of professional experience. I’m passionately curious, fairly sassy, kinda dorky and seriously good at what I do.