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Storytelling Basics for Marketing

Brand narrative storytelling

Picture yourself around an ancient campfire. Deep darkness crowding all around. Some of your people still not back yet from the hunt. Nocturnal animal sounds barely muted by the crackle of wood burning.

A familiar figure stands there illuminated by the flames, wrapped in the pelt and head of a very large cat, acting out a hilarious accounting of finding the fierce animal so many seasons ago, caught in the mud trap and unable to fight or flee the hunter’s spear.

Suddenly the darkness doesn’t seem so threatening. The monsters can clearly be killed. The support and ingenuity of your friends and family offers hope and protection, and you’re able to sleep more soundly. Meaning you’ll be more effective the next day, contributing your talents to the common good.

Multiply that by 10,000 generations and here we are. That’s the ancient power of story—and every single one of us bears that torch within us.

Why do we tell stories?

Obviously storytelling is a versatile tool whose effectiveness stretches well beyond entertainment and marketing. At the most fundamental level, our very lives are stories—strung together from memories of experiences that help us determine our choices and explain who we are.

Storytelling is how we make sense of the world and create meaning out of the mathematical chaos of the physical universe. It’s how we carry the past into the future—because otherwise there’s just this endless sensory Now.

The stories we hold guide our decision-making and our interactions with others. They inform how we evaluate our surroundings and situations. And connect us to other people through distance and time.

The purposes of storytelling

  • Chase away fear

  • Explain unknowns

  • Pass down knowledge & experience

  • Track the seasons & ritualize time’s passage

  • Remember ancestors

  • Develop mindfulness & awareness

  • Share lessons & emotions

  • Persuade others

If you’re an entrepreneur, you are a storyteller. You imagined a story of a better life for a set of people, and you worked your ass off to make it come true. And marketing is how you spread that story to those who need it.

Only in 2020 your audience isn’t around a campfire—it’s around a screen. Meet them there

Every story includes these 3 things

No matter its purpose, no matter who’s telling it, no matter what language or medium or era it’s in, for any story to have an effect it must be woven around 3 essential elements.

A story must have:

  • Character

  • Stakes

  • Arc

That’s it. Everything else derives from or contributes to those elements. Plot? That’s the arc. A graph of change. Conflict? That’s character vs stakes—whatever they may be. Setting? Shows us things about the character. Or sets the stakes in terms of weather or danger. Or illustrates the arc by undergoing changes.

What does a good story arc look like?

  1. Introduce character & stakes

  2. Develop character & connection

  3. Raise the stakes

  4. Introduce opportunity

  5. Big decision/climax

  6. Resolution

Storytelling for marketing

The very first salespeople were shamans slinging fixes for the various maladies real and magical that afflicted early human societies. If it wasn’t herbs for physical ailments, it was story-based cures & curses for psychological effect.

Then along came the traveling salesman carting wares all over the region, swapping stories and news and fashion and telling anecdotes of miraculous healing with just a few applications of this here elixir.

Then someone thought to put the story of that better life up on a sign for all to see, and marketing was born. Fastforward a bit and now it’s a high 12-figure industry driving the world as we know it.

And at the heart of it all is storytelling. Making emotional connections with an audience and illustrating for them what a better future looks like if they just buy this one thing.

Here’s how those 3 essential storytelling elements break down for marketing purposes:

Character = Ideal Customer Avatar

The focal point of all your marketing efforts is your Ideal Customer Avatar, a profile depicting your best possible potential customer. The better picture you have of your ICA’s backstory, fears, motivations, reservations, goals, and the like, the better you can tell the story of what their life looks like post-purchase.

Stakes = Pain points & benefits (not features)

The most effective way to tell the story of a better life is to build up the idea of how miserable life can be the way it is now. Pain points catch people’s attention. Often they’re front of mind—if not, you’ll make it so.

Then you tell them how much better life could be. That’s called the benefits. Show what they stand to gain and what they’re leaving behind.

Arc = Call to action (CTA) strategy

Just as every entertaining story must move somehow—even if just in a circle—so must every piece of marketing material lead somewhere. Each CTA is another step in your customer’s journey.

If you’re not careful, it’s also where you can lose them. If you haven’t set the stakes clearly enough, if you’ve lost their attention with too much irrelevance, if you didn’t paint a vivid enough picture...they won’t feel compelled to take the next action.

What does an effective CTA strategy look like?

  1. Intro pain points & problem

  2. Relate to Ideal Customer Avatar

  3. Describe solution & benefits

  4. What happens without change

  5. Offer/opportunity

  6. Call to action

As a brand, your narrative is unfolding whether you’re controlling it or not. The fire is blazing merrily and you have plenty of wood ready to feed it. Question is: Are you the wide-eyed listener? Or the shaman?


Ready for some brand magic? Download my FREE Ideal Customer Avatar template & microcourse and start your story today.


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