Freytag’s Pyramid: Using Classic Storytelling Techniques for Successful Marketing

Whether you're developing summer blockbusters or niche videos, storytelling technique still counts. Use Gustav Freytag's tried-and-true structure to up your branded content.

One of the most unifying aspects of our human race is storytelling, when you really think about it. Telling stories cuts across cultural lines in every corner of the globe; it’s something that everyone on the planet can absolutely relate to. This is exactly why storytelling is such an ideal vehicle for marketing: It’s basically using an ingrained aspect of the human condition to tell people about your product or service.

In short, it’s a winner when it comes to marketing.

Each brand has a story behind it. For example, Nike, the company, shares its name with the Greek goddess of victory. The company’s famous Swoosh logo is actually based on this goddess’s wings; and the fact that Nike’s products help athletes win makes this a wonderful and brand story, not to mention an appropriate choice for company name. This illustrates how a story can take a brand and make it something memorable to be ingrained in the audience’s minds.

By using Freytag’s classic pyramid, you, too, can make your brand relate much better to your target audience.

What Is Freytag’s Pyramid?

Freytag’s Pyramid is essentially dramatic structure, as in the chronological unfolding of the events in a narrative work, whether that’s a novel, movie or other work of fiction. It takes its name after one Gustav Freytag, a German playwright and novelist who lived in the 19th century.

Graph of Freytag's Pyramid of Storytelling Structure

Freytag is notable for analyzing the different parts of a dramatic work, and his analysis is still referenced today. He distilled the parts of any dramatic work into these five arcs:

1. The Exposition or Introduction – Self-explanatory enough, the exposition is the beginning of a story that introduces all the vital aspects of the tale to the audience, which can include the setting, what happened prior to the main plot, and characters’ backstories.

2. The Rising Action – This refers to a succession of events that keep building up to the point of most interest in the story. The rising action is usually regarded as the most important part of the five dramatic arcs, because a story’s plot relies on the rising action to establish the climax and the resolution.

3. The Climax – The climax is the point during which the protagonist’s fate is changed. The turning point of a story, the climax works out well for the protagonist in a comedy, but takes a decided turn for the worse in a tragedy.

4. Falling Action – Here’s when the protagonist’s and antagonist’s conflict plays out, with the former either winning or losing to the latter.

5. Resolution – As the word implies, this is when the conflict gets resolved for the characters, and the audience enjoys a release from the suspense and anxiety of the plotline. In a comedy, this is called a denouement because the protagonist enjoys a better outcome (read: a happy ending) than at the story’s beginning. But in a tragedy, the resolution is a catastrophe, since the protagonist suffers a fate that’s worse than at the story’s start.

Now that you know exactly what Freytag’s Pyramid is all about, it’s time to look at specific examples of successful companies that are making this storytelling arc work wonders for their business.

Example 1: Harry’s

If you’re a guy and have looked for new ways to shave, you’ve probably heard of Harry’s, the shaving company that dared to change the face of shaving forever. The company’s value proposition is that it “gets” what shaving should be for regular guys because its products are made by real guys for real guys.

On the company’s insightful “Our Story” page, the exposition of its brand and vision are detailed when they explain that their philosophy is based on understanding and solving the problem of overcharging that happens with the big-brand shaving companies.

The rising action occurs as Harry’s explains its business model, which allows them to charge 50% less for their razors than the competition, as well as its revolutionary razor construction that’s the basis of its entire approach to fixing shaving.

The climax can be seen in the revelation that Harry’s was finally able to create the high-quality razors it wanted by purchasing a factory in Germany, which gave it access to a process that has been creating high-quality blades for almost 100 years.

The falling action and resolution are apparent in the reality that, today, Harry’s is so successful that it’s able to give a portion of all of its net revenue to charitable organizations.

This storytelling approach uses a long-form, sales-page strategy with a call-to-action button at the end of the page, which has been effective in past studies. For example, an experiment by Highrise, a CRM platform, found a 37.5% increase in conversions after using a long-form page design for its signups.

Example 2: Dropbox

Today, Dropbox is a household name and one of the biggest cloud services on the planet. Before the company made it big, it used an explainer video several years ago that featured intelligent storytelling as the catalyst for its popularity. The video used Freytag’s Pyramid to sell its service successfully to many users and is credited with helping to grow Dropbox to a service that’s today used by more than 100 million people.

Here’s how:

In the exposition, the video introduces Dropbox’s concept — keep all of your files, pictures and videos together in one place, across all devices—and the problem of disorder that it solves.

The rising action covers a character named “Josh” who’s about to embark to Africa… But all of his trip details are chaotically spread out across his different devices, forcing him to always use USB sticks or emails to send the info across devices.

The climax comes when Josh realizes that Dropbox lets him share the same trip info across all his devices and on the Dropbox website.

The falling action centers on his ability to always get to his files on any device, even if one device is damaged, thus protecting all his vital info.

The video ends with a happy ending, the resolution that Josh’s Africa trip was a stunning success and that he was able to share all this with his mom by simply sharing his Dropbox folder instead of emailing everything to her as in the past.

Example 3: Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club is a men’s personal grooming company that delivers razors and other hygiene products straight to its customers through the mail. The company’s received wide coverage in the media for its blunt and shocking explainer video called “Our Blades are F***ing Great,” in which its CEO makes a direct and no-frills pitch about its product right to consumers.

Its video also uses the dramatic arc.

First, the exposition introduces the problem of razors having too many frills and gimmicks, which raises their costs for consumers, who are the protagonists.

The rising action establishes the problem that razors are too expensive because many are sold with extras that consumers don’t need.

The climax takes place when the CEO says that Dollar Shave Club is able to direct-mail cheap razors to its consumers while still ensuring high quality, as this changes the fate of those consumers watching, who naturally want to give this service a try.

When the CEO makes it clear that consumers can expect to save a lot of money while not having to bother with remembering to buy new razors each month, the falling action leads to the conclusion.

The resolution arrives when the CEO, employee and company mascot all party at the end of the video to the great quality and deal behind Dollar Shave Club.

Just last year, Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club for a cool $1 billion.

The Dramatic Arc Is a Brilliant Marketing Complement

Marketing is the tactic of trying to persuade customers to buy your product or service. There are many ways you can approach marketing today — the digital age is certainly not short of a plethora of different strategies. Ironically, when it comes to successful marketing, the traditional story format — largely unchanged since the first humans roamed the Earth — is still unbeatable.

As the three examples above demonstrate, storytelling sucks your audience right into your brand. It tells them about your product or service in a relatable way that they will remember.

Tags: content marketing, storytelling

Category: Creation

About Marc

Marc Schenker is a copywriter who, fittingly enough, runs Marc Schenker Copywriter. An expert in business and marketing, he helps businesses of all sizes get the most bang for their ad bucks. Follow him on Twitter.

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