A Crash Course in Marketing With Stories

A Crash Course in Marketing With Stories

Reader Comments (108)

  1. That 1984 commercial only aired once, and is probably the most famous commercial of all time. Why? Just like you said, it tells a story. Even if you look at the latest Mac vs. PC commercials, they tell a story that makes us laugh and think at the same time. The best campaigns keep us involved.

    • Very true Nick. And not only do they keep us involved, but they also get their marketing message across effectively. There are many commercials that tell great stories, but which people can’t remember the product.

  2. The use of storytelling makes sense. Apart from using storytelling in commercials, are there other examples of how conventional businesses use storytelling as part of their marketing?

    • Adarsh, stories are used all the time in effective marketing, so much so that you don’t register it — it just resonates. It can be telling the story of a customer (think Jared of Subway) which small businesses do all the time. It can be the story of the business owner, if that story causes people to identify with, like, and trust the storyteller. Check out this post by Jon Morrow for a great example.

      • I remember Seth Godin book Marketers are Liars, the one who is a better story teller wins the game. When it comes to telling stories, marketers got to understand that the best stories are one that convince your customers. If they don’t, you are missing the whole point of the story. Remember Fables? They convince you that morals are good (not that they aren’t)…

    • In addition to what Brian said, a simple use of stories are case studies. They’ll show a client (protagonist) who is facing a problem (antagonist) and discuss how they went about doing it. If they do it well, it reads just like a story. And the best case studies I’ve read can actually be entertaining.

  3. Exactly what made the Chrysler/Eminem/Imported From Detroit Superbowl commercial so powerful that it overshadowed all the other gimmicky ads. It told a story. And for those of us who live in or near Detroit, it meant even more.

  4. Awesome post! Thanks for the reminder! Oftentimes, customers need to be inspired to take action and stories are some of the best platforms for motivating folks.

  5. Again, another great post from Copyblogger. As an artist, this post speaks to me beyond marketing and as the core elements I use for an illustration or painting. This was a yummy snack for creativity before going into the studio this morning, I just love your blogs…. Thank you!

  6. I spent the evening last night free-flowing a description of a new social good startup I’m building, but I left much of the story out. I included the stats, why and how, but didn’t include all elements of the story. So true. The emotional connection is key. I’ll be reworking it now. Thanks for the timely reminder.



    • Congrats on the startup Zack, and definitely include the story. Even for startups considering pitching ideas, a pitch that includes stories gets investors to perk up and listen. Everyone uses stats, few use stories.

  7. When I hear Hercules I think of the dusty old book, but that’s because the stories in those old books came alive for me. Which also proves your point 🙂

    • To each his own Mike. lol. I read mythology by Edith Hamilton, and for me it was painful. But when I saw Hercules the movie, or someone TOLD ME the story of Greek myths, it was much more enjoyable.

      Likewise, I enjoy reading business books, while others would rather die before reading a business book.

  8. Thank you for sharing this form of communication that sells audiences in a different way but yet achieves the same thing in a different manner.

  9. Very timely post indeed! I just ordered Made to Stick from Amazon yesterday (based on a recommendation by Jon Morrow in my guest blogging class). I love storytelling and the fact that it works so well for marketing and blogging makes me like them even more! Thanks for this great post.

    • You’re welcome Trish. If you haven’t already, you should read Tipping Point as well. The Heath brothers say Made to Stick is like a sibling to Tipping Point: they go hand in hand.

  10. Right now, I feel like my blog is a PC manufacturer… but hey, some people like PC still, right? 😉

    Either way, this is great post and I am feeling pretty inspired to change up the way I write and maybe mix it up here and there.

    Thanks for the awesome post!
    Gabriel Johansson

    • Very true Gabriel. There are people who live and die by PCs. There’s nothing wrong with that. I grew up with people who found programming more entertaining than a story.

      Really, what it comes down to is what will engage your audience? From what I’ve seen, my audience and a lot of the Copyblogger audience is engaged by stories. By no mean does it mean everyone is.

  11. When creating a story strategy for a company it is important to not lose sight of the fact that the protagonist is necessarily representative of the customer, not the business. The business is the quest’s answer, the way to achieve the desire. The antagonist is the blockage that keeps the customer from achieving the desire. It’s very simple, but what we see in a lot of advertising is a confusion where the protagonist is the company telling the story, and the customer is the answer. That may be internally true, but it is not the story that a customer needs to know about. The consumer must always relate him or herself to the protagonist of the storied campaign.

      • Kiss. We storytellers have to stick together. 🙂 Thank you for acknowledging way down below that just because it works, doesn’t mean it is easy.

    • Excellent point. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of writing from the perspective of the company/product as the “hero,” but as you say, Amanda, that leads to a far less effective and engaging story. Readers want to relate to the hero and their struggles, not read a lot of pompous posturing about how great the writer thinks their company or product is.

  12. Great post about storytelling Brandon.

    Using your model, if you tell the story of a happy customer, the satisfied customer is the protagonist, the customer’s challenge is the antagonist, and the plot becomes the customer’s overcoming of those challenge’s with the help of the vendor’s solution.

  13. But, it would also be wrong to assume that every story is told FROM the protagonist’s point of view…for instance…All State’s Mayhem tells the story, and Mayhem is the antagonist…Old Spice Man is also the villain telling your man that while he can’t be the villain, he can smell like him. 😉 Even the answer to the quest can tell the story in a fun way — the Progressive woman is the ultimate customer care answer, but the hero’s are the buyers…:) So, it doesn’t have to be a BOX that is uncomfortable.

    • True Amanda. Storytelling doesn’t fit into a box. And there never are rules. As soon as someone states a rule, you’ll come across an exception. While I laid out rules/principles here, it’s what I observe most commonly works. But it doesn’t always. People should do what works, not what they are told works.

      • Robert McKee is great, but maybe not where I would start to understand story…because he’s very complex. I would start with John Truby’s 22 building blocks or story, and Walter Mosley’s “This Year You Write Your Novel.” Because both are very short, and sweet and to the point without stepping all over a new storyteller’s ego…:)

  14. Another element that makes storytelling effective is the fact that people always want resolution. If the story is written well, customers will keep reading to find out how it ends. That’s good for marketing.

    Brandon, do you agree?

    • Hey Joseph. I agree completely, and wish I included this point.

      Think about all those horrible Lifetime movies you may have seen. You sit there saying how much it sucks, but you can’t switch channels. It’s because you want to see how the story unfolds.

      As soon as a story begins, we as humans want to see how it concludes. The cool thing is, even if your marketing isn’t 100%, if you use a story, people will still be engaged.

  15. Hey guys…

    I have heard other people use it the past. For example many years ago I was in AMWAY….they were people there who used story telling if I remember correctly.

    Having a hard time with this, how do I apply this to real estate investing, our target market is home owners who must sell their home due to a distressful situation.

    Also we will provide training to real estate investor newbies who want to get started in the near future, so how we can use story telling need an example. I am stuck ?

    • Wow, You have many, many opportunities for stories.
      First–are there examples of people in this same situation whose homes you HAVE sold? Tell their stories! There are plenty out there. Tell their stories of how desperate they were, how they decided they had to sell, then the happiness they felt having sold. If you can get it in THEIR words, much better. That is called a testimonial. It should be not too long, but hitting the major points–problem, on the road to their solution, then their solution (the sales). Even better if there is now better stuff happening in their lives because they got their house sold. Helps if you can use their name, their city, state and have a picture (like a little gravatar like on this reply post area)

      Next, find some relatively new investors (like 12-18 months) who’ve had great success. Tell their stories of how investing has changed their lives. Then write something like “If you’d like to learn how to do this, grab your seat for this seminar . . . ” It would be best if the investors had been to your seminar or something like it that you offer.
      Again, name, city, state, picture.

      That is exactly what the Amway people were doing in your example at the beginning of the post.

      Where do you put these stories? Everywhere–on your website, in your emails, FB Page posts and Tweets. Get them out there! And good luck!

  16. It’s not always easy to do this storytelling instead of just listing the facts. However, I do see some possible ways of implementing this into my own business. Thanks for that!

  17. As you say, stories are remembered. To me, this “fact” is ubiquitous and yet I see ad campaigns, landing pages, blogs etc where a story would be powerful and important yet they’re not used.

    I facilitated an in-person workshop for people who wanted to tell their story on an ABout Page. I was surprised by the difficulty many people had in doing this. It is a still that still needs to be learned and this post will help get people there.

    • RIght on Cherry. I’ll admit, there are times when I forget to use stories. It’s so much easier to just state things and get on. But crafting a story is much more effective.

      Your workshop sounds way interesting. Would love to hear more about it, if you could shoot me an email:

      brandon [at] blistmarketing [dot] com

      • Often I find people get overwhelmed by details and trail off into a million directions when you ask them to tell their own story. I ask a lot of questions to arrive at a simple basic premise. With screenwriting, I’ve learned to write the same story in 100 different ways for a premise line *before* I ever start outlining much less screenwriting, and I would think that would translate very well to brand stories.

  18. A very tough methodology I suppose. It is very very difficult to build a story & market a business with the story. Although a new methodology to market!

  19. Let’s not forget the importance of the audience in your story. Or rather, how as a storyteller one must always keep their interests in mind. If the audience can see themselves in your story, then the need to persuade disappears. They’re hooked – they believe. But if your story doesn’t resonate with the audience, even if it has all the right parts, it won’t move their hearts and minds (and wallets) towards your idea.

    Make sure you take the time to research and understand the audience’s needs in order to craft your story appropriately. Apple’s commercial was so effective because they knew the audience had felt this oppression by PCs seemingly dominating the market and they felt they had nowhere to run.

  20. Hi Brandon, great post. You’ve really captured the power of brand storytelling.

    One thing I would add is that a brand story needn’t – and shouldn’t – necessarily be compressed into a single piece of marketing communication (the Apple 1984 ad, for example).

    A brand story is something bigger, a wider narrative that can be communicated in sections at different touchpoints, from ads to websites to packaging, then re-assembled by the consumer so they take ownership of the story and pass it on.

    So that Apple ad, although it was a story in itself, represented something larger: an introduction of a product that would shatter what had come before in the personal computer market. In effect, it was the first chapter of the Apple story.

    I’ve written some posts about brands that have told their stories well (http://www.aesopagency.com/index.php/blog/how-to-beat-coke/) (http://www.aesopagency.com/index.php/blog/brand-storytelling-at-glastonbury-the-50p-tea-tent/) that you might be interested in. Thanks!

  21. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I know “stories sell,” but I wasn’t sure how to write a story for *marketing*. I didn’t know it’d be similar to writing any other story. And I’m a writer, so I can do this! I’m excited to incorporate some of these into my editing service. Thanks!

  22. Awesome post Brandon! Stories are the best way to introduce yourself and if the story is good it will stick. Made to Stick is a great book too. Highly recommend it as well. Thanks for bringing the value here in this post. Have a good one Brandon!

  23. An intriguing post. I like the idea of story telling but I guess it’s only useful in certain situations, to create a particularly compelling advertisement or YouTube video.

    Often in web content or brochures, etc there is no real room to create a great story other than the classic you need this (protagonist) because of this (antagonist) and we can help (hero).

    • I disagree. There’s no room for boring stories. If it’s interesting, and catches attention, people will read.

      If it’s boring, then yes, keep it short.

      • Brandon, this whole thread has been interesting to follow. I find this comment section the most intriguing. Boring stories do abound everywhere. Hollywood even has a penchant for making brilliant stories boring when they adapt them badly. So how do you suggest people test the strength of their brand stories?

        • I wish there was an easy way to say what’s interesting. It depends on your audience. The stories programmers find interesting won’t be the same that moms find interesting.

          Now, there are basic structures that can help a story be more interesting. This article was meant to outline a few. But also just basic story structures such as cliffhangers work.

          Bottom line: learn the techniques, test them, modify, then try again.

  24. I like your analogies and stories. I have been developing my own marketing blog with slow but steady increases. I hope to be to your level soon.

  25. Any mention of Apple’s “1984” spot is A-okay in my book. I saw the thumbnail image on the main page and decided to give this article a shot. I’m glad I did!

    It’s easy to forget the simple things in writing, especially when it comes to copy writing or blogging. Telling a story — or even offering a brief summary of a story — can be essential in capturing the reader’s attention. Remembering Apple’s classic ad will probably help me keep this point in mind.

    Thanks a bunch!

  26. Better late than never reading this terrific, inspiring post, Brandon, and dozens of comments.

    Story telling is what my work is all about, but my method takes the opposite approach. I ask people a question and then help them (through posts filled with tips & how-tos) answer it by writing their own short, true story.

    I’m not really sure how to make your marketing work for me, but I just tried it on my blog. We’ll see what happens…

  27. With the first question of this note (“think about the first image that pops into your head …Hercules. What’d you think about?) I’ve been making a sort of focus group with my job partners. They are mostly females. All of them have answered me: “Brad Pitt performing Achilles”. I’m feeling a little bit misunderstood.
    Never the less, I totally agree with you and a I strongly recommend that you read about the bardic function.

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