The Setting for Your Story

Playing Super Heroes with Daddy

As creators (or marketers), our role is to tell a story. Quite often, we make the “hero” of the story the focus of our time and our attention. If our customer is the hero, we talk about him or her. If we make our company the hero, we try to personify that experience that makes it worth it. If we write about ourselves, that’s probably the easiest kind of hero to write about.

What we miss, most times, is the importance of setting.

The Setting For Your Story

Spider-man swings from building to building in New York City. Can you imagine what it would be like to fire those web shooters and try to swing around in Billings, Montana? Hint: there aren’t enough skyscrapers to make it easy for Spidey to chase after the bad guys. Tarzan either gets to hang out in the jungle or the big city, depending on the telling of the story. He rarely hangs out in Pittsfield, Maine. Settings, as it turns out, are every bit as important to what we feel about characters and the plot as anything else in the story.

What does this have to do with marketing and business? Everything. If you think for a moment that your business exists without some kind of setting, even if it’s an online-only virtual business, then you’re missing a very important element to how you tell the story of your business to buyers and other important people. When we listen to a story (or watch it, or retell it), the setting is just as communicated as the characters in the transmission.

What is AJ Bombers if it’s not the local area place to gather and have fun with a side of burgers? Owner Joe Sorge just proved that you can have more than one AJ Bombers and still deliver that destination effect of fun, but he did it by making the setting of the restaurant be every bit as well-considered as the grass-fed beef he chooses for his burgers.

What are the Elements of Your Setting?

In a western movie, you know there will be gunfights. You know there will be wrongs that need righting. You know there will be a setting pairing off law enforcement with someone who feels they are above the law. Those are the promises of a western’s setting.

If I were restoring a classic old hotel in Tallahassee, Florida, and turning it into a destination boutique hotel, with a happening rooftop bar and an award-winning steak restaurant, I would do a few things to make this story sing. One, I would cast the guest as the hero of the story. No one comes to a hotel to meet the owner. It’s not the same as a restaurant. Two, I would tell the story from the front desk, through the lobby, into the elevator, down the halls, and all the way into the room, such that my guests understood what the “promise” of this setting would be.

Beyond the promise, there’s interaction. At AJ Bombers, I interact with their p-nut bombs: metal bomb-shaped containers that travel on rails from the bar to various tables, “bombing” guests with peanuts. The whole thing is absurd, kid-approved, and unique. Settings have interaction.

After promise and interactive elements, there’s the ways in which the setting helps or hinders the hero. In my hotel example, perhaps the setting helps me feel more metropolitan. In the western, the creek might rise and cut off Mother McCluskey’s farm, requiring me to ride out with my men to get her to safety (thus, a hinderance).

But Why Think About All This When Thinking About Business?

Because we humans build this in, whether or not you supply it. What is the iPod? It’s the opportunity to be the salvation DJ at some party, where you bring your tunes to help fix the setting of a sleepy party about to fail. That’s the story we might consider, whether or not we do it consciously. What is the setting for the car you drive? If you’re a Prius owner, you’ve set yourself as a hero who saves the planet and a few bucks at the same time, and so the setting of your vehicle travels through is a world seeking answers about making the world better. As a Camaro driver, my setting is the unintentional race course.

I’m saying that we all fill in the gaps in a setting, whether or not you’ve considered them to be part of your business. If you’re a PR company in Des Moines, how do you tell the story to your buyers such that it incorporates your locale? Maybe you do it by talking about how important community development opportunities are for your business. Maybe if you’re a business technology firm in Tallahassee, you talk about being situated deep in the heart of the growing Midtown area, which is cutting edge and trendy.

What About You?

How do you view setting? What does it mean for your business? How does it impact what you do or say about your company or yourself? And how replaceable is setting to your story?

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