Storytelling methods: how to tell stories in marketing that actually work

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Woman smiling in front on laptop

How do you define a story worth telling? For your neighbor, it might be that they missed bin day. You might laugh, but the stories your brand is telling could be just as dull. If you’re not using classic storytelling methods and structures to engage audiences, you’re missing out on finding the special sauce in making any story worth telling. But, you might be thinking, is it cheating to start from an existing structure? Do I not compromise my creativity if I use a template? Actually, not at all. Let’s dive in. 

Storytelling: How to build your narrative

The best storytellers of all time didn’t need to reinvent the wheel: they followed clear narrative structures, and readers came back to turn page after page. Jealous? Don’t be. Follow narrative templates in your storytelling and: 

  • You’ll save time by using narrative templates
  • You’ll use structures that have been proven efficient again and again 
  • You can evoke creativity with given structures, rather than kill it 
  • You can add everything that’s important with narrative templates
  • And, you’ll be able to remove the stuff that isn't as important 

Here’s a list of storytelling techniques that work just as well for a lecture as for a video or Facebook post. Read through and you’ll have your audience hooked on every word in no time. 

THREE ACTS, OR “TELL IT LIKE STEVE JOBS”

Steve Jobs needs no introduction (but we’ll give you one anyway). As one of the most successful commercial storytellers of his time, he’s a crash course in how to tell stories about your brand and product without driving your audience away. We’re advocates for borrowing content and so was he – in fact, one of the most classic storytelling structures in his speeches was borrowed directly from Hollywood. 

Steve Jobs divided his storytelling narratives into three acts: “Setup”, “Confrontation”, and “Resolution” 

  1. Setup: Here, we’re introduced to the existing world and why there’s a problem with the status quo. Then we meet some kind of hero. 
  2. Confrontation: In act two, challenges arise and an event forces our hero to solve a number of problems or to overcome an obstacle to reach his goal. 
  3. Resolution: In the last act, the hero finally defeats the antagonist or solves the problem, which makes the world a better place. 

A MARKETER’S VIEW - HOW DID STEVE JOBS TELL SUCH GREAT STORIES?

The marketer Dave Gerhardt at Drift sat down and studied Jobs’ lectures and created his version of Jobs' storytelling structure.

  1. Tell a story: Start with a story or a hook to reel the audience in. This can be something personal, like “this morning, when my daughter spilled milk, I realised that…”
  2. Pose a problem: Clarify the problem. Keep this short and simple by focusing on one single problem. 
  3. State the solution: How are you going to fix the problem?
  4. Proof: Proving that you’re telling the truth is important at this stage. You might use the voice of a customer, a talking head or some jaw-droppingly good statistics to reinforce your point. 
  5. CTA: What is the viewer supposed to do with this information? What does it lead to? Be clear and obvious – and you’ve just reeled your audience right in! 

HOW TO GO DEEP WITH YOUR STORYTELLING ARC: SIMON SINEK’S GOLDEN CIRCLE

If you haven’t seen Simon Sinek's TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” then now’s the time. With his storytelling method, you can quickly notice what type of story ‘goes deep’:

  1. Why: Think like Sinek and “start with the why.” Why are you there? What do you want the audience to feel? 
  2. How: How do you fulfil your why? 
  3. What: What do you do to fulfil your why? Here’s where you mention your products and services. 

BUILD A BRIDGE WITH YOUR STORYTELLING: USE THE BAB, OR BEFORE - AFTER - BRIDGE

We’re pulling the curtain back on this classic copywriter trick. Best of all, it’s actually easy to use in any type of storytelling: 

  1. Before: Describe your current world and its problems. 
  2. After: Describe what your world would look like if the problem was solved. 
  3. Bridge: This is how you get there.  

PAINT THE PROBLEM PAINSTAKINGLY WITH YOUR STORYTELLING: USE PAS, OR PROBLEM – AGITATE – SOLVE

This is another excellent trick borrowed directly from the copywriter world. You can use it to paint a picture in your story: 

  1. Problem: Identify the problem 
  2. Agitate: Amplify the problem until you make it uncomfortable. 
  3. Solve: Solve the problem.


TELL A STELLAR STORY WITH STAR – CHAIN – HOOK 

This model is great – and best of all, it’s so easy to remember too. Imagine three things: a star, a chain, and a hook. Now you’re ready to tell a stellar story. 

  1. Star: Open with something that catches your viewer’s attention; something positive. 
  2. Chain: The chain is a series of compelling facts, advantages, sources, or evidence proving that your introductory “star” is trustworthy. 
  3. Hook: The hook is your powerful ‘Call To Action.’ What should the viewer do next? 

Another way of looking at this structure is that the ‘star’ catches the audience's attention, the ‘chain’ loops them in by their need for the solution and the ‘hook’ drags them into the net and shows how they can find the solution. 

Like a fine wine, Aristotle’s storytelling method has aged beautifully with time. Thousands of years ago, he mused that a story is composed of three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. And it sounds obvious, but it’s critical to use this to underpin your video storytelling: a really clear beginning, middle and end should create movement, feels familiar to your audience and gets to the point. Unless, of course, you’re a neighbour telling us about bin day… then there really is no end to the bin story!

Structuring your storytelling video

“But surely a 30-second video can’t be a story?”, we hear you ask. Of course it can, and if you want to write a great script, you’ll have to regard it as just that. 

If you think of all your content as stories, it’ll help drive every piece of content forwards along the way. Think of billboard ads; they tell entire stories in either a single picture or in just a few words. You know why? Because they start with the story. Now it’s your turn! 

How to structure your video storytelling

  1. Make a list of what to include in your video’s storytelling. 
  2. Put everything into the order from the perspective of the viewer. If you start with a question, end the video with the answer. 
  3. It’s crucial to think of every video as a whole entity. You want the target audience to understand the overarching message and the necessary information that branches from it. If you create a series of different videos, you shouldn’t expect that anyone who watches video 1 also will see video 2, or that someone who watches video 5 already has seen video 4. Confusing? Imagine how confusing it would be for your audience!

How to tell your story using two clever journalist tricks

Journalists perfect the art of expressing themselves concisely while still getting people to engage. Here are two clever tricks that most journalists use and how you can apply them to your storytelling and content. 

The most important information always comes first 

If you’re reading an article, you should be able to understand what it concerns simply through reading the headline, first paragraph and a section of the running text or a quote. Don’t leave anything to the imagination. 

The core of this storytelling method is based on the pragmatic fact that people seldom read an entire article or watch an entire video. If your message is at the end, there’s a great risk that no one will ever see it. 

This is a great trick for any situation where you are trying to tell your audience a message. This trick is less useful in such instances when the audience has to understand the chain of events or in instances when there are arguments and counterarguments. But when it comes to straight news, the trick is unbeatable. 

Work backwards 

Do you like documentaries? Or longer articles? If so, chances are that you’re already familiar with this storytelling trick. 

Simply put, this method consists of two steps: 

  1. Start with how something ends, or how the situation is today, "Sam is in prison." 
  2. Then, jump back in time and tell the events that led up to that point in chronological order, “This story begins at 10.14am, when Sam met a Sherlock Holmes impersonator.” 
  3. This method even works well for short videos; especially if you want to explain the reasons behind an event or a fact. 

Give us a few minutes and we’ll show you just how easy life can be when you Storykit it.

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