If stories work so well in marketing, why not put them to work in other areas of your business?

After all, stories arouse attention, engage interest, and ignite feelings… so why miss out on those emotional accelerators when it comes to your actual product or service?

I wrote a few weeks back how you can use the story-thinking to develop a first-rate product.

Once you have it in hand, you can then deliver your product using story.

That’s just what my friend Jesse Stoddard does in his fitness bootcamp business.


I met Jesse a few decades ago at an audition for A Christmas Carol. I had long since moved past my Tiny Tim days, and now I was ready to sink my teeth into a bigger role.

My target?

Fred — Scrooge’s cheerful nephew.

I was pretty sure I had the role in the bag (I knew the competition.)

Or at least thought I knew it …

But a new kid had just moved to town – Jesse.

But I shouldn’t really say “kid” … Jesse was a man-child, while I looked and sounded like every bit of my 15 years.

Jesse spoke in a deep baritone and his chin sported not a few copper colored whiskers. (At that time, I shaved once a fortnight. Just for fun.)

And he was a good actor.

So, the bastard got the part of Fred.

… And I landed the part of “Fred’s friend.” (Yeah, you know you’re second string when your character doesn’t even have a name.)

But thankfully, life mirrored art and we became friends in real life – besties, in fact.

We went on to act in and write plays, skits, and speeches and got to know story pretty well.

Which is why it’s no surprise that Jesse found a way to use it in his business.

Jesse runs a fitness bootcamp and one of the ways he sets his camp apart is by delivering an amazing experience.

And one of his secret weapons is using story.

Jesse uses story to transform an ordinary workout into an emotional journey. This is the storytelling alchemy that transforms a commodity product or service into a unique experience (with the resulting higher profits.)

He applies story structure to each workout … so it’s not just a workout, but a story journey. With Jesse as the guide.

(Sometimes it’s an actual physical journey, with harassed-looking neighbors running ragged throughout the hills and avenues of his sleepy northwestern town.)

I cornered Jesse for an interview the other day to get his lessons on using story in his bootcamp workouts (he teaches this in greater depth, along with all the other nuts and bolts of running a bootcamp business here)

Here’s how he does it:

First, Jesse structures the workout to have a definite beginning, middle, and end — the essence of the journey.

The Beginning is the “warmup” … not just a time to get the blood flowing, this is where the “Cast of Characters” is introduced and reinforced.

For example, Jesse will call out certain folks who’ve made great improvements … and respond to the groans of “What will Jesse make us do today?”

(He’s also known by his moniker “Mr. Pain.”)

He also introduces the Theme. This might be workout related (“Welcome to The Abathon!”) or it might relate to what’s going on in the world (a twist on the Academy Awards, for example.)

The use of a theme helps to elevate the experience beyond the ordinary, to make it special and create anticipation for the journey.

Jesse also creates anticipation for the workout by framing the experience to come. He lets them know what the “Challenge of The Week” is for that day (e.g. how many pushups can you do in a minute) and talks about the main workout they’ll be doing – which is tied to the theme.

(This is important, because it makes you feel like there is a purpose to all this, not just random exercises.)

Then comes the Middle  – the “Act II” of the movie – the moments of greatest conflict and struggle.

In a movie or book, this is where the story really takes off, when the hero faces her uphill climb. (For Jesse’s clients, that might literally climb uphill!)

This is the part in the story when John McClane wages a one-man war against the terrorists in Die Hard … or when Indiana Jones struggles against snakes, double-crosses, and Nazis to find his father and the Holy Grail.

At Jesse’s bootcamp, this is where you push yourself to the limit in the central workout that Mr. Pain has dreamed up for you.

He guides you through harder and harder tasks … leading you on a journey of testing your limits, and ultimately taking you to a new place.

Finally – when he observes that the class is almost spent – he brings the journey to a climax with the “workout finisher” — where they spend their last ounce of energy.

Then comes the End, or Resolution. Act III.

Physically, this is a “warm down” where class stretches and return back to normal.

This gives the tired (but satisfied) souls a chance to take stock of what was accomplished that day … to help frame it and give it meaning.

See what we did. How we’ve grown.

This is also where Jesse uses cliffhangers to tease the journey for the next class, so his members stay engaged.

Now, the cool thing about the resolution is that it mirrors the start of the journey – the warmup – and in so doing, it shows that this whole experience was really a journey away from ordinary life to a new place and back again.

The warmup is the transition between ordinary life and the Story Journey – the central workout – and then the warmdown is the transition back into ordinary life.

Like when Bilbo leaves the Shire, braves the terrors of dragon and war … and returns to his hole on the hill a new hobbit.

So you’re not just doing a workout – anyone can do that on their own – you’re immersing yourself in a drama.

Jesse is your guide – your Gandalf – and you will journey to “slay the dragon” of your old training plateaus.

Stories add meaning to ordinary life. A workout is ordinary. A journey has meaning. (Especially a journey taken with others.)

This experience goes beyond just basic physical goals like losing 10 pounds or increasing your strength. Those things are important, but they don’t have the same magic pulling power as the meaning that story helps create.


Use Story principles in the design and delivery of your products or services – give it a beginning, middle, and end for starters. (With cliffhanger endings to lead to your next offer.)

Is there a way you can use story to enact the drama of what your product or service provides?

Let me know in the comments below.

Stay Tuned For Next Time

In which I steal like an artist from a Hollywood script doctor


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