April 20, 2016

Using The Comedy Plot

In 2013 I did an AdWords project for a client called George*.

George was in a B2B market where the sales cycle was potentially quite long. He maintained a spreadsheet of people who had made an enquiry, but beyond the initial flurry of follow-up from his overly-aggressive telesales team most of the leads were left to go cold.

At the very beginning of the project I had suggested that AdWords was only part of the solution he needed. I thought there was a big opportunity to build out an automated email sequence. I mentioned it once or twice, and eventually left it with him.

Two months later George sent me an email.

“Hi Rob. As per your suggestion I’ve set up a Mailchimp account. I’ve also hired [so-and-so] to write the emails for me.”

I can’t remember what so-and-so’s name was, but I can remember I almost popped a vein.

“George I @$✴#ing do email marketing!” I yelled at the email.

Later on when I had calmed down and got him on the phone George remarked: “I didn’t realise you did that. I thought you were just the AdWords guy.”

Just the AdWords guy. Pfft.

Anyhow, so-and-so eventually got to work on the emails. The popped vein in my forehead had just about healed over by the time I got to read the fruits of so-and-so’s labours. The opening email began:

‘At XYZ, we believe…’

Any time you start a marketing email with ‘at our company we believe’ a small part of me dies on the inside and withers away.

The email then proceeded to talk in tired clichés about levels of service and customer care. The last emails in the series were little more than reminders. I asked George what sort of brief he had provided to so-and-so.

“Oh, I just sent him to the website. It’s all on there.”

No wonder the emails were crap. I eventually had the opportunity to rewrite George’s email series, although I think he still harboured a little suspicion about letting the AdWords guy loose on his emails.

The second stop in our story archetypes tour is comedy. The word comedy in modern times evokes the idea of frivolous entertainment or hilarity, but this definition of comedy is very recent. Study a Shakespeare comedy such as Twelfth Night and you’ll find sections of humour, but the humour is a long way from being the point of the story.

The point of the comedy plot is the interaction between two or more characters who don’t quite see clearly. In some way the characters are blinded or unable to see their true situation or reality. At the end everything comes together of course in a single clarifying event to provide our happy ending. Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet do eventually run off into the sunset.

I think you can use the comedy plot in your nurture emails without anyone ever realising they are reading ‘comedy’, because what you are writing probably won’t be fall-off-your-chair funny.

Comedy should raise a smile, and it is the blindness of our actors that causes that smile. We as the audience can see through the blindness.

Like the ‘overcoming the monster’ plot, comedy requires a degree of humility to work. I’m discovering actually that all of the archetypes require a degree of humility because they all expose you in some way. Exposing yourself as imperfect makes you vulnerable, but the vulnerability allows your readers to connect with the story.

Common uses for comedy include misunderstandings (with staff, competitors, partners, customers, vendors), times you were unclear, or mistakes. I remember Perry Marshall talking about the time he gave away 1500 MacBook’s at an event, only to discover it was impossible to get hold of that many on credit. There was a happy ending of course, but he almost killed himself in the process.

There does of course need to be a happy ending. The absence of a happy ending means you have fallen into a different and more tricky archetype; tragedy. We’ll look at that tomorrow.

*Name changed for privacy.

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.