Identifying the Characters in Your Business' Story
Shakespeare – love him, hate him or resent him for bringing down your grade in high school English – was right about one thing, at least.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” goes the opening lines of the monologue in the Bard’s play “As You Like It.”
We talk a lot about authentic business stories here at WordWrite. It’s at the very core of what we do. Perhaps the most important vehicle to telling those stories is identifying the characters behind them, the figures to anchor narratives and stand in the spotlight on the world’s stage.
When we hear the word “characters,” we often think of famous fictional figures: Mickey Mouse, Homer Simpson or Wonder Woman. They’re some of the most recognizable faces around and the perfect vehicles for telling stories in advertisements, movies, TV shows, theme parks, television shows and even business pitches. They’re also imaginary.
If we want to tell a truly authentic story, the best characters are real people.
Those figures aren’t necessarily easy to find. Not every business has identifiable characters, or they just might not seem significant at first. But a character doesn’t have to be a person. We project personalities and human characteristics on non-human things all the time.
After identifying the right ones, these characters are who – or what – will be the best vehicles for sharing a business’ story, just as they are in a novel, movie, comic book or any narrative. Let’s look at some successful, real characters and what makes them work.
- Jay-Z: Aside from being an absurdly talented rapper, he has a rags-to-riches tale of going from drug-dealer in the Bronx to billionaire entrepreneur. Any business he begins or attaches his name to instantly gets a boost, simply because people know his story and admire his accomplishments. It’s the American dream with a thoroughly modern twist. People don’t know him personally, but elements of his story are relatable, and he projects an undeniable aura of “cool.
- Oprah Winfrey: She’s such a powerful presence that she’s achieved that rarified spectrum of celebrity where the entire world knows her on a first-name basis. After getting her start as a barrier-breaking television news anchor, Oprah’s uber-popular talk show ran from 1986 to 2011, and in that timeframe, she became the undisputed “Queen of Media.” While she has her own successful ventures, Oprah’s endorsements of products, businesses and entertainers simply by hosting them on her show made her part of their own story. An author’s status and sales could explode with an appearance or being a part of Oprah’s Book Club. The wildly famous (some may say infamous) Dr. Oz even got his start by being a regular guest of Winfrey’s – her star power is that impactful on others’ stories.
- Steve Jobs: The late co-founder of Apple had as big an impact on our world as anyone in the past half-century. As CEO of the ubiquitous tech company, he helped develop such hardware as the iMac, iPod and iPad. Imagine a world without them today and just how different it would be.
As the years have passed, we’ve learned more about Jobs’ volatile behind-the-scenes behavior in his business and personal life, but for millions, the only image they’ll have of him is as a slight, black turtleneck-garbed innovator who could command the stage and hypnotize an entire theater with the introduction of a new piece of tech. Apple didn’t (and still doesn’t) need a mascot with Jobs at the helm. Today in the world of tech, it’s still the CEOs and creators who are the biggest celebrities. Like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein, we still honor big thinkers.
- Paul Furiga (yes, him): Closer to home, look at our own CEO here at WordWrite. Paul was a journalist for two decades, covering it all from Cincinnati’s city hall to the White House. He dropped it all to get into PR. Then he dropped it all again to create his own thriving agency with his wife, Brenda, in a pink-and-white-striped office. When we talk about our agency, how we dig deep to discover a company’s story, Paul’s tale plays a role in sharing our values and goals.
- Pittsburgh: Places can be far more than the setting of your business’ story – they can have a starring role. Anyone who lives in Pittsburgh and most people who visit with open eyes will say the city has character, so much of it that it practically is a character. It’s the Steel City, filled with blue-collar people, champion sports teams, rolling hills, rivers and hundreds of bridges. It’s also the city that rebounded from a tremendous economic collapse in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, taking pride in a comeback that includes a strong base in the medical and tech industries. Pittsburgh’s dual personas coexist surprisingly well – yinzers are fiercely proud of their past, present and future. Depending on their industry, businesses can take advantage of either or both when using the city’s roots or renaissance as part of their own story.
Rich characters are everywhere around us. Look at your own life. Some people in your circle are probably smart, others funny and another might be the life of the party. These people absolutely exist in the workplace, too, and if they match your business’ values, they could be the perfect people to help tell your story in marketing materials, ads or internal communications.
Just remember: When stepping onto the world’s stage, don’t forget the players.