February 15, 2021
Looking for inspiration on how to win the hearts and minds of your customers,
investors and employees? Fraser Allen offers eight tips from true storytellers
who know the way to capture an audience’s imagination.
1 People never forget how you made them feel
The film-maker Steve Sabol once said: “Tell me a fact, and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth,
and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever.” Stories have
the power to stop us in our tracks, building trust between you and your audience.
Yet, as marketers embrace customer segmentation, algorithms and SEO-driven
content, it can be easy to lose sight of the power of human connections. Make sure
that authentic human voices shape your brand storytelling. People like quirky details.
They like emotion. And they will remember the impression that your story makes on
As the poet Maya Angelou (pictured) put it: “People will forget what you said, people
will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
2 Are YOU excited?
For your marketing and comms strategy to stand any chance of success, your brand
content should be either interesting or useful to your target audience – ideally, both.
That should be obvious but the reality is that so much content pumped out by
brands, large and small, is neither.
A few years ago, a Pixar storyboard artist called Emma Coats (pictured) used Twitter
to reveal her 22 rules for storytelling. One of her rules was: “Why must you tell this
story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off?”
If your story doesn’t excite you, and everyone else driving your brand forward, it’s not
going to excite your clients, investors, stakeholders or employees.
3 Stories build communities
“Stories are a communal currency of community,” wrote the author and filmmaker
Tahir Shah (pictured). As a brand, you have a community of stakeholders who will
happily share your story if it excites them. Organisations that inspire customers to
become their brand ambassadors have a big advantage over the competition.
Take the Scottish beer company Brewdog, which has shown an instinctive spirit for
storytelling and community building from day one, however wilfully controversial.
Many others, such as the temporary tattoo brand Inkbox, have proved adept at
encouraging their customers to share their brand story across social media. And
Harley-Davidson was saved in the 1980s by embracing a brand community
philosophy that made its customers key to its future.
4 Is your story a graph?
The late American author Kurt Vonnegut presented an entertaining lecture in which
he drew the basic shapes of stories as graphs. Like all great writers, he knew that
every story is underpinned by a strong structure. Grab your audience’s attention
upfront, keep them on board and deliver a satisfying ending. Build your way towards
wowing the audience. As the author Margaret Attwood (pictured) said: “Word after
word after word is power.”
5 The seven plots
There are lots of theories about how stories work. Here’s one by Chris Dee, one of
the authors of the Batman stories. “The principles of storytelling do not change.
Going home. Coming of age. Sin and redemption. The hero. The journey. The power
of love. They are hardwired into us, just like our taste buds process sweet, sour,
bitter, and salt.”
The journalist and author Christopher Booker came up with another theory that he
turned into a massive doorstopper of a book called The Seven Basic Plots. In it, he
argued that there are essentially just seven types of story and that every story we tell
is merely a variation on one of those basic plots.
Here is Booker’s list, together with an example of each one:
•Overcoming the Monster (James Bond)
•Rags to Riches (Cinderella)
•The Quest (Watership Down)
•Voyage and Return (Alice in Wonderland)
•Comedy (Much Ado About Nothing)
•Rebirth (Sleeping Beauty)
Try thinking about your brand story in terms of these models – it may spark some
6 Leave the door open
Rules are all very good but it also pays to consider challenging them where
appropriate, and listening to other voices – particularly those of your
audience. Another author, Stephen King (pictured), once wrote: “Write with the door
closed, rewrite with the door open.”
7 Keep it short
The author Elmore Leonard once wrote a piece for The New York Times called 10
Rules Of Writing, which has since been published as a book. It’s both tongue in
cheek and wise. Take Rule 10: “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”
8 Put your trainers on
In his book Predatory Thinking, Dave Trott wrote:
Two explorers are walking through the jungle.
Suddenly, they hear a tiger roar.
One explorer sits down and takes a pair of running shoes out of his backpack.
‘You’re crazy, you’ll never outrun a tiger,’ says the other explorer.
‘I don’t have to outrun the tiger,’ he replies. ‘I just have to outrun you.’
People love a twist – Roald Dahl knew that in his Tales of the Unexpected; Agatha
Christie knew it in the denouement of her ‘whodunnits’. Be authentic to your brand,
but try to think a little differently from the crowd. Delight your audience with good
surprises. Make sure that your brand has the trainers.