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How to Save the Cat in Your Business

Storytellers and entrepreneurs alike gravitate toward proven formulas. As someone who straddles that pair of worlds I can testify that we really can’t help it. A Quixotic quest, searching for a perfect template, but I’ve seen it more times than I can count. Chased windmills myself a few times.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder stands out (particularly among screenwriters) for its clear roadmap to engaging and disciplined storytelling. A screenwriting guide that outlines a structured approach for crafting compelling narratives by ensuring characters perform relatable or admirable acts early on to win audience sympathy.

But that structure should be a beacon, not a bind; it guides without constraining, because true artistry lies in the spaces between those story beats.

Successful entrepreneurs understand the power of narrative, and Snyder’s titular concept — ensuring your hero performs an act that endears them to the audience — translates seamlessly into the business world.

Every brand has a story, and every product a protagonist.

Let’s understand the basics of what Save the Cat accomplishes as a formula, then move into structure with the story beats.

Understanding the Stakes
Save the Cat illuminates the critical nature of stakes in storytelling. Every customer stands at a crossroads. Does your map leads to their treasure or away from peril?

Paint a vivid picture of what customers stand to gain or lose to transform a mere pitch into an interesting story where your customer feels invested in the outcome.

What does your customer stand to gain or lose? By clearly articulating the stakes — solving a problem, enhancing quality of life, or offering an unparalleled experience — you’re not just making a pitch; you’re weaving a narrative where the customer becomes vested in the outcome.

Building Empathy and Trust
At its core, saving the cat is an exercise in empathy. The art of stepping into your customers’ shoes, understanding their journeys, challenges, and what lights up their world. More than recognizing needs, this is about connecting on a human level, acknowledging their fears, hopes, and dreams.

When customers feel truly seen and understood, not as just another sale but as individuals, loyalty is a natural outcome. Customers become advocates, champions for your brand because they believe in what you stand for and trust you to deliver.

Creating Memorable Moments
Great stories have scenes that stick with the audience long after the tale has been told. Make your brand interaction the kind of scene that leaves an indelible mark on the canvas of your customer’s mind.

Exceptional experiences stand out in a way that makes it easier to connect with your customers. These are the instances where your brand goes above and beyond, turning ordinary interactions into extraordinary memories.

Whether it’s through unmatched customer service that makes a customer feel valued and heard, product innovations that surprise and delight, or marketing campaigns that touch the heart and ignite the imagination, these moments are the essence of your brand’s story.

Transitioning from theory to practice, let’s break these beats down and examine how each can be leveraged to craft a compelling brand story.

Save the Cat Beats: For Business!

Opening Image
This gives the audience its first glimpse into the story world, setting the tone and expectations for what’s to come. The mysterious landscape of Pandora. The vibrant halls of Hogwarts. The haunting emptiness of space in Gravity.

Consider a customer’s initial impression of your brand. Through its website, product packaging, social media presence, or any point of first contact. That opening image is critical, because it lays the foundation for the customer’s perception and relationship with the brand.

Make the shot memorable, striking, and, most importantly, reflective of your brand’s core values. A well-conceived opening image can enthrall customers, inviting them to join your brand.

Theme Stated
This beat weaves the overarching theme or message into a story’s narrative fabric, often subtle yet impactful, setting the stage for moral and thematic exploration. The Matrix hints at its theme of reality versus illusion when Neo feels something is fundamentally wrong with the world. The theme of love transcending time and space is hinted at in the bond between Cooper and his daughter Murph in one of Inception’s early scenes. The theme of destiny versus chance is subtly introduced through Forrest’s feather floating on the breeze.

Early and clear articulation of your brand’s mission or value proposition is a crucial beat ensuring that every interaction, product, or communication echoes and reinforces this central theme from the onset of your customer’s journey.

Like a guiding star, your brand theme helps align the customer experience with your core values, fostering a deeper connection and understanding of what your brand stands for and is trying to achieve.

This foundational scene introduces the audience to the story world. Its characters and the stakes involved. A critical phase where bricks are paved for the narrative ahead. Jurassic Park lays the groundwork by introducing dinosaur cloning, the architects of this nightmare, and the skepticism of invited experts. WALL-E presents a desolate Earth, littered with waste and one lonely robot. Only a few minutes into Back to the Future we’re introduced to Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and one time-traveling DeLorean.

Establish the context for your offers in business. Effectively setting up the problem your product solves, presenting your characters (your team, company ethos, or the product itself), and making it clear why the stakes are meaningful for your target audience.

This phase is about drawing your audience into the narrative you’re creating around your brand, making them care about the journey and the outcome by highlighting the relevance and urgency of the problem you’re addressing.

This moment of change serves as a turning point, propelling the narrative into action. It disrupts the status quo, presenting a challenge or opportunity that the protagonist must respond to. Morpheus offers Neo the red pill; Luke finds Leia’s message in R2D2; Carl Fredrickson’s house ascends to the sky, tethered to thousands of balloons.

The catalyst in a business context is that pivotal moment when a customer realizes the need for your product or service. That spark moves them from passive interest to active consideration or even immediate action.

Content or marketing strategies that serve as this catalyst is essential. An insightful piece of content that shifts a customer’s perspective, a compelling offer that’s too good to refuse, or a story that resonates on a personal level.

This is where the hero wrestles with their decision to embark on the journey. Luke Skywalker resisting Obi-Wan Kenobi’s call to adventure because of responsibilities on Tatooine. Bilbo grapples with the comfort of the Shire against the call to adventure with Gandalf and the dwarves. Peter Parker’s initial hesitation to use his powers for the greater good

This is the short era (from a blink to an I’ll come back to that later) when a customer is weighing their options, considering the various pros and cons before deciding whether engaging with your brand is worth their time, money, and trust.

To navigate this phase effectively, businesses must provide ample information, reassurance, and incentives. Detailed product descriptions, customer testimonials, FAQs, and flexible return policies all mitigate perceived risks and encourage a positive decision.

Break into Two
The protagonist boldly ventures into uncharted realms. It’s a pivotal commitment to their quest, testing their resolve while promising growth and discovery. Captain Jack Sparrow stealing a ship to rescue Elizabeth, definitively casting his lot against the British Navy; Katniss Everdeen volunteering as tribute, stepping into the arena and altering her destiny; Jake Sully fully committing to the Na’vi, leaving his human body behind to fight for Pandora.

This moment is mirrored when a customer decides to purchase or engage with your service. It’s a critical transition that shifts the customer from consideration to action. Always ensure the purchasing process is as seamless and intuitive as possible.

Clear calls to action, easy navigation, and straightforward payment options can pave a smoother path that turns contemplation into commitment.

B Story
A secondary narrative, often revolving around a relationship supported by the main theme. The romance between Han and Leia deepens the saga’s emotional impact; Cobb’s mission in Inception collides with his battle with guilt; Marlin’s search Nemo drives his budding friendship with Dory.

Consider the customer service experience or development of community around your brand. This secondary narrative supports the main value proposition, enhancing the customer journey with additional layers of engagement and satisfaction.

Cultivating a strong, supportive community through social media, offering sterling service, and building relationships beyond the transaction can enrich the customer experience, with the depth and interconnectivity of a well-rounded narrative.

Fun and Games
Damn. Now the protagonist is living deep in that new world they’ve stepped into. The heart of a story is stuffed with trials and triumphs. Jumanji characters are thrown into a wild game world, where each level brings new challenges and comedic mishaps; Marty McFly is adrift in the 1950s, where any move might alter his future in hilarious and heart-stopping ways; Indiana Jones on a rollercoaster of archaeological escapades, from booby-trapped temples to high-speed chases, in any one of the movies.

What is your customer’s post-purchase journey look like? This phase is crucial for delivering on your brand’s promises and exceeding customer expectations.

Highlighting unique selling points, engaging through innovative marketing, and enhancing user experience with exceptional service all play into this narrative beat. It’s about making sure the customer not only feels satisfied with their decision but delighted by the benefits and joys unique to your brand.

Everything changes. Neo says, Whoa. The stakes are escalated or fresh information pushes the narrative in another direction. Dorothy discovers the Wizard’s mundane nature. Truman starts noticing inconsistencies in his world. And, of course, Neo realizes that he is The One.

Your midpoint could be the introduction of a new product feature, a loyalty program, or an unexpected bonus for your customers. Any strategic enhancement reinvigorating interest and reinforcing the customer’s decision to choose your brand, because of an implicit or explicit promise of an elevated experience.

Bad Guys Close In
The narrative screws tighten, pushing the protagonist to a brink that demands a reckoning with their inner demons or external foes. Rocky doubts his ability to knockout Apollo Creed; Michael Corleone faces the collapse of his family amid his decaying morality; Mark Watney struggles against isolation and the daunting odds of survival on Mars.

Competitive challenges, customer objections, or internal issues that threaten to undermine customer trust and satisfaction, are all bad guys closing in on your business.

Addressing these challenges head-on with proactive customer service, transparent communication, and swift resolution can turn potential negatives into positive opportunities.

All Is Lost
This pivotal moment plunges our protagonist into an abyss where they must face their deepest fears and failures, and wonder about their purpose. Luke learning that Vader is his father. Tony Stark confronting his mortality and failure as a hero, despite wearing Iron Man’s armor. Andy Dufresne enduring betrayal and loss on the razor’s edge of his hopelessness as a prisoner in Shawshank. Only by facing the darkness can they climb back into the light.

A critical customer service failure or a product flaw that significantly impacts customer trust is an all is lost moment for sure. The key to navigating this beat is not avoidance but preparation and response.

Crafting a recovery strategy that emphasizes accountability, remediation, and sincere efforts to make amends can transform a low point into a powerful statement about your brand’s integrity and resilience.

Dark Night of the Soul
In the shadow of uncertainty, heroes face their innermost demons: Frodo’s burden in Mordor tests his will; Bruce Wayne’s fall pits him against his fears in the pit; Neo’s choice in the Matrix confronts him with the reality of sacrifice.

In business this could symbolize a period of introspection following a significant challenge, focusing on what truly matters to your brand and your customers. It’s an opportunity for growth, reaffirming your mission and values, and possibly redefining your approach to ensure alignment with those ideals.

This introspective period can foster a stronger, more authentic connection with your audience, laying the groundwork for renewed engagement and loyalty. A compelling narrative is the roadmap for building a resilient, empathetic, and memorable brand that resonates with customers.

By aligning your business strategy with the emotional and structural beats of a well-told story, you can craft a brand narrative that captivates and endears customers into being loyal fans and advocates that turn a corner coffee shop into a daily ritual.

Break into Three (Choosing a New Direction)
After grappling with their darkest hour, the protagonist discovers a new path or solution that reignites their resolve. Neo chooses to believe in himself as The One; Dorothy realizes the power to return home was with her all along; Tony sacrifices himself by wielding the Infinity Stones to defeat Thanos and save the universe.

A pivotal strategic pivot or innovation that propels your company forward. A groundbreaking product launch, a shift in service delivery, or a new marketing strategy, this is where you turn challenges into opportunities for growth and renewal.

Find the silver lining in setbacks and use insights gained from adversity to strengthen your brand and deepen customer engagement.

The protagonist confronts their main conflict with newfound strength and wisdom as all the threads come together. Harry defeats Voldemort with the power of love and sacrifice; Erin Brockovich wins the case against Pacific Gas and Electric Company; Remy achieves his dream of becoming a chef, despite being a rat.

Your brand finale is where your strategic pivot pays off, resulting in increased customer loyalty, market share, or brand reputation.

This beat emphasizes the importance of perseverance, creativity, and customer focus in crafting a successful resolution to challenges. Celebrating these victories not only internally but with your customers can reinforce trust and solidify your brand’s narrative of resilience and innovation.

Final Image (The Transformation Complete)
The final image mirrors the opening but shows how the characters have changed or what they’ve achieved. Red and Andy reuniting in Zihuatanejo after their time in Shawshank; Michael fully embracing his role as the Godfather; Mia and Sebastian trading a knowing look at the end of La La Land.

The final image represents your brand’s evolution and its lasting impact on your customers, reflecting how your company has grown, adapted, and succeeded in creating meaningful connections and delivering value. This final beat should leave your customers with a lasting impression of your brand’s journey, values, and the positive changes you’ve made, encouraging continued loyalty and advocacy.

Applying the principles of Save the Cat to your business means going beyond transactions to create stories that resonate, build trust, and foster loyalty.

Reflecting on your business narrative, consider: How does your brand ‘save the cat’ in the eyes of your audience?