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Pixar’s 22 Rules for Storytelling – Applied to Software Marketing

These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coates, Pixar’s Story Artist.  Looking at the list, it comes as no surprise how every movie at Pixar becomes such an incredible hit, and their characters genuinely finding their way into our hearts, minds and wallets.

Regular readers of my blog and those who have worked with me in the past know that I have a penchant for using emotional movie or TV theme based music and video in events, presentations and messaging. I believe that good marketing connects with its audience, much the way a feature film such as Pixar’s Toy Story or Up does. So I view developing compelling product and solution marketing messages to have much in common with the 22 rules listed by Emma below. Following Pixar’s rules are my adapted list and how it could applied from a software marketing perspective, with related edits in bold and CAPS:

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. 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.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

22 Rules Applied and Adapted for Software (and technology) Marketing

  1. You admire THE RESULTING BENEFITS OF YOUR PRODUCT more than for the FEATURES.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to THEM as a BUYER, not what’s fun to do as a MARKETER. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for TAG LINE is important, but you won’t see HOW YOUR PRODUCT TRULY DIFFERENTIATES til you’re at the end of YOUR VALIDATED MESSAGING PROCESS. Now rewrite.
  4. Use this as the Elevator framework for you and your buyer: Once upon a time there was A FINANCIAL SERVICES ORGANIZATION. Every day, THEY STRUGGLED WITH INCREASING DATA VOLUMES, COST OF INFRASTRUCTURE AND COMPLIANCE. One day THEY DISCOVERED XXX. Because of that, THEY WERE ABLE TO COMPRESS DATA TO 1/40TH ITS ORIGINAL SIZE. Because of that, THEY WERE ABLE TO SAVE 90% ON INFRASTRUCTURE COSTS AND MEET COMPLIANCE. Until finally THEY SAVED SO MUCH IT MORE THAN PAID FOR THE COST OF THE LICENSE.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine AND GROUP MESSAGES. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your PRODUCT good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? IF THEY DON’T DEAL WELL ON PAPER, DON’T PUT YOUR SALES TEAMS INTO UNWINNABLE SITUATIONS BY INCLUDING THOSE USE CASES JUST TO INCREASE MARKET OPPORTUNITY
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. CAN YOU DISTILL YOUR CORE PRODUCT MESSAGE DOWN TO THREE WORDS OR LESS?
  8. Finish your MESSAGING, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time. HOME RUN WILL OCCUR ONLY WHEN IT RESONATES WITH THE BUYER. 
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of WHY SOMEONE WILL NOT BUY YOUR PRODUCT. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the MESSAGES FROM SUCCESSFUL (non-software) PRODUCTS/COMPANIES you like. What you like in them COULD BE APPLIED WITH A FEW TWEAKS (Like we are doing here) TO YOUR TARGE T MARKET ; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone. COLLABORATE AND MARKET TEST.
  12. Discount the 1st PRODUCT FEATURE that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. FIND DIFFERENTIATION BEYOND PRODUCT FEATURES.
  13. Give your PROSPECTS AGGRESSIVE OPINIONS. Passive/malleable Q&A might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the SALES PERSON WHO WILL BE HIT WITH THE TOUGH QUESTIONS.
  14. Why must you SELL THIS PRODUCT? What’s the belief burning within YOUR COMPANY that your SALES TEAMS feeds off? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your CUSTOMER, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty BACKED UP BY REFERENCES AND PROOF POINTS lends credibility to unbelievable METRICS AND OUTRAGEOUS CLAIMS.
  16. What are the stakes? Give YOUR PROSPECT A REASON TO ROOT FOR YOUR PRODUCT. What happens if they don’t BUY? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later. WITH TECHNOLOGY  AND MARKETING MESSAGES, WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN (Examples: Mainframes to Client-Server to Server-Based Computing to On Premise Appliances to Cloud)
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. MESSAGING is testing, not refining. YOUR BEST MESSAGE IS NOT WHAT YOU OR YOUR COMPANY THINKS IT IS. IT’S WHAT YOUR CUSTOMER AND BUYERS TELL YOU IT IS.
  19. COMPETITIVE JABS to get YOUR COMPETITION into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of THE CURRENT MESSAGE OR YOUR COMPETITION’S MESSAGES YOU DON’T LIKE. How do you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your PROSPECT, can’t just CREATE ‘cool’ MESSAGES. What would make THEM BUY?
  22. What’s the essence of your MESSAGE? Most economical telling of it? DISTILL IT DOWN TO A FEW KEYWORDS. If you know that, you can build out from there.

 

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