The Downstairs, the Upstairs, and the Ugly Back Room
Stories are like houses. Or at least like Downton Abbey’s mansion. The front parlor, or perhaps the Abbey’s “saloon,” is how we wish to be viewed: in all our pristine splendor. The back study or drawing room is where our true manner of living unfolds: all the dirt and hard work.
To tell a good story, then, is to tell it from the back study, to unveil the true nature of things. By being authentic and revealing an uncensored version of your brand, your customers will more likely identify and connect with you.
So how do you pull it off without boring people to death or sounding utterly unprofessional? Downton Abbey’s storytelling, with its upstairs nobility and downstairs servants, can tip us off in several ways.
Downton Abbey’s storyline involves the everyday lives of people and how they choose to deal with life’s ups and downs, including the transitions of a dying class system. The aristocracy is in jeopardy, and those who work for them struggle to survive.
Your story is also filled with everyday struggles, triumphs, and losses. What is the historical context of your story? How do current events relate to your story? Regardless of where you are on the ladder of success, you’ve got a tale to tell that involves details that only you can dare to tell.
The inherent drama
With so many inhabitants crowding the castle walls, it’s no wonder its pathos levels are off the charts. Combine the suffering with the various Hallmark moments, class clashes, and social status jockeying, and an endless saga of mini narratives is inevitable.
Every person has their story to tell, so ask those who are working for and with you to share theirs. People love being asked to share. Uncover their tragic, their epic, and their comical stories. Think about how these stories can reveal something worthwhile about your brand.
Storytelling is as much about listening as it is about telling. By sitting down and talking to people, you will unearth all the interesting tidbits that are hiding behind the front room.
The nefarious agents
What would life at Downton be without its villains? The ongoing intrigues of its calculating characters make for interesting stories with often hand-wringing dramatic tension.
This is essential to a good story. Everyone likes to root for the underdog, so introducing some conflict and resolution into your story will make for meaningful communication. Turn that obstacle into something your customers and fans can relate to.
The episode darling
Each Downton Abbey episode has its hero who is the darling of the show (at least for the time being). The only character that consistently manages to vanquish her foes is the Dowager Countess of Grantham, whose one liners tend to shock viewers into comic approval.
Who is the episode darling in your story? Think of your customers for starters. There’s also the employee who saved the account, the supplier who jumped through hurdles, or the resident cat hero.
You didn’t think I’d leave out cats, did you? Just because Downton hasn’t seen fit to adopt one of its own. It’s sheer madness, I tell you.
Every story should have a moral. Each Downton Abbey episode has a take-home lesson that edifies and informs us through its relatable heroes and their daily mishaps and misfortunes. We might not always agree, but we find ourselves embracing their foibles and failures and rooting for their success.
Whatever your lesson is, make it clear and direct, particularly if it’s something you want your customers to act on. Don’t leave them guessing what they hope to gain from the story. The Internet is too large and distracting to leave your take-home to chance.
With Downton Abbey to inspire you, telling your story just got easier.