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Rags to Riches (live session)

Rags to Riches (live session)
ℹ️ Skip to key parts of the session by clicking on the chapter dots along the timeline.

Steve Rawling, Author of Storyteller Tactics, is joined by members of the Pip Decks community for a run-through of the Rags to Riches Storyteller Tactic. This is a Structure card, which helps you organise your ideas in a story-ish way.

The chapters of the video match up with the subheadings below (if you skip between sections then the three examples used throughout the session are Cinderella, Rocky and Harry Potter).

We love a good rags-to-riches story.

In one version, you’re Cinderella - you’re on the way up! It’s the classic tale of an underdog making it in the world. Or, you can be the Fairy Godmother - where it’s someone else’s journey, but you’re giving them a helping hand.

Rags to Riches is a story arc - probably one of the most simple story arcs going. It starts in the gutter and improves over time. It’s very popular in sales: problem > solution > happy ending. It can be expressed in just a few words… but you can take it deeper. That’s what Steve’s here to tell us about.

Side note: lots of copywriters in the (virtual) room! If you’re a copywriter, or create the content for your business, these Card of the Month sessions are dynamite.

The story arc

The character - whether it’s you or someone else - starts off at the bottom. Physically, emotionally, financially… but there’s something inside them (think Rocky, or Cinderella). Something special.

If they stay in the pits, there’s no story. No one wants to hear about that. So to turn it into a story, there’s a trigger. Usually, it’s a huge opportunity, but one that’s fraught with risk. It can’t be easy (because that’s also not a story).

That’s the problem when this tactic is used in short form, in advertising. If you make it sound too easy then it’s dull and hard to believe. People want to hear about the struggle! They identify with struggle. Enemies are a common theme in life, so are competitions.

Then you’ve got the end - the key point. And, surprisingly, it’s not about money. It’s not about getting rich, it’s about being recognised.

Underdogs - we love to root for them! We’ve all been underdogs, Steve says. We were children - the ultimate underdogs. When you start school, there are bigger kids around you. As a two-year-old, you get picked up and moved around and there’s nothing you can do about it. We all know the feeling of powerlessness, and we don’t like it.

Consultant, or Fairy Godmother?

Tune into this section of the video for Steve’s story about a truck driver-turned-manager who, with a little help from a consultant, went back to his roots. The value of this example is that it shows how the story can be applied in your professional life - if you’re a consultant, sure, but this story arc can work in lots of different service-based industries (as well as product-based ones, too).

Riches to rags (the hard sell) 

One of the attendees, Eve (a dog trainer who writes her own content) commented about not making customers feel bad. In this case, that could be by highlighting how the customer is in the gutter, or that they might stay there if they don’t get help!

Interestingly, as Steve explains, this is a complete reversal of the story arc and is what we all know as the ‘hard sell’ (or Pride & Fall, when used appropriately). Steve gives the example of insurance companies: “Nice business you’ve got there.. wouldn’t it be a shame if something happened to it?”. You can avoid falling into using this approach in the wrong way by focussing on the ‘something special’ inside that makes these underdogs succeed.

The next section focusses on examples given by attendees during the breakout session, so there is no corresponding chapter to watch in the video. Here’s how the group suggested using Rags to Riches to tell each others’ stories.

Rags to riches; dog training

Eve’s dog training business tells a classic rags-to-riches story:

  • Rags; it starts in the gutter: “Are you struggling with your dog’s behaviour?” or even “Is there something your dog is struggling with?”
  • Something special inside: all dogs are good dogs, really!
  • Trigger: something happens to make the dog owner snap. “We must get a trainer and sort this out” - for example, the dog snaps at a family friend or refuses to come back when called and gets itself into a scrape.
  • Hard work: the owner has to put in the effort, follow instructions and be patient.
  • Riches: the outcome after all that hard work? Happy dog, happy owner! The dog knows what is expected of it, the owner gets complimented on their dog’s behaviour.

This story could be used to format really powerful case studies, reviews and testimonials. But it also works as website or advert copy. Think along the lines of:

Struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Have you tried every tool, book and online course? Starting to wonder if your dog is just… well, a bit naughty? Don’t worry! We know there’s a good dog in there - all you have to do is learn how to speak its language. With a bit of training (for you) and a bit of practice, you can have a dog that knows what you want it to do, and does it!

Did anyone else notice the “You SHALL go to the ball” moment at the end there? Just like in Cinderella - it is possible to achieve your dreams when you use this story arc.

Teachers’ Fairy Godmother

J Roger shared his role as a teacher who also runs a mobile tech lab. He can be Cinderella, or the Fairy Godmother.

He’s looking for teachers with creative ideas, but no time to research - so for example, they want to use 3D printers to create games with their students, but don’t have time to research those machines or the health and safety aspects. They typically work 20 hours overtime a week! So the mobile tech lab validates, researches, carries out and showcases their ideas. It’s a classic example of the riches being recognition rather than financial reward.

  • Rags; it starts in the gutter: “Do you not have the time or money to produce the fantastic lessons you dream up for the kids in your classes?”
  • Something special inside: all teachers are doing a wonderful, selfless job that doesn’t get enough recognition (or pay) - there’s something special about teachers.
  • Trigger: that one, fantastic idea (3D printers) that deserves to come to fruition, despite the challenges.
  • Hard work: in this case, it’s that research and time required to gain the funding - which is all taken care of by the Fairy Godmother (tech lab).
  • Riches: the teacher’s great idea is put to use, and the kids get to benefit from something really special.
And we’ll close out with a top tip from Steve. Throw in a ‘bump in the road’ or a setback and it makes an even better story. It makes it more credible. This is far, far better than making things too simple. Throw in an opponent or enemy who tries to stand in the way! Check out No Easy Way for this idea in more detail.

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