Storytelling In Marketing: All You Need To Know

Writing black text on white page with a typewriter

You’re in the office and its mid-day. You’re feeling low and head to the coffee machine. Your colleague Dee Dee was already standing there with her mug of coffee.

She looks at your long face and asks- Hey, how is it going?

Oh, hey! I did not notice you- You reply.

After a pause, you add- you know Dee Dee, I am having a terrible day.

Dee Dee inquires- Your face does look gloomy. What happened?

What Dee Dee is actually asking when she’s asking what happened is- tell me a story.

Storytelling has been a part of our culture since we have existed.

We used pigments to paint on cave walls, gathered around campfires. Now we write literature, take photographs, tweet to each other.

In this article, we’ll explore the distinct parts to creating charming narratives.

Let’s get wild.

What Is Storytelling?

Storytelling is the process of conveying a message to your audience. It helps storytellers express themselves.

It creates a canvas for the audience that they can fill with the colors of their imagination. 

Just as falling in love makes us feel good. Brilliant stories have similar effects on our brain.

It releases a cocktail of happy hormones- dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphin.

Watch this TED Talk video to learn more:

Importance Of Storytelling In Marketing​

I’m sure you’ve heard the famous quote by Bill Gates- ‘Content is king’.

But what makes any content king is its ability to captivate the targeted audiences with a story.

Storytelling is to content what content is to inbound.

The art of storytelling has become an unignorable part of marketing. Right from brand stories to Instagram stories to advertisements.

It is a critical ingredient of most marketing campaigns that becomes successful.

Stories bring promotions to life and lend a personality (and edge) to any brand. 

Let’s take the example of Dove. This Unilever brand has always positioned itself as a home of real beauty.

So they came up with this heart-touching campaign that perfectly incorporates storytelling with their brand identity.

Through this film, Dove explores the gap between how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. Each woman is a subject of two portraits. One of her own description and the other using a stranger’s observation.

Have a watch:

The Power Of Storytelling In Marketing With Pixar​

In the world of storytelling, Pixar has been a queen. They have always grabbed the attention of its viewers. So, what makes their stories so successful?

Pixar has 22 rules of Storytelling. Here are the top 5 (according to me) that turn an average story into a great one.

01. Introduce An Action Taker

Man jumping off a pier into blue and green water

Pixar tells us you admire a character for trying. More than for their success.

Give people a character they resonate with. An underdog with all odds stacked against them.

02. Write For Your Audience

A large crowd of audience cheering and hooting

What’s interesting to you as an audience and what’s fun to do as a writer is often different. In this battle, the former should win.

Empathize. Keep yourself in the shoes of your customers.

03. Show Some Passion

Man jumping from one bench to another on a cliff

Give your characters an opinion. You may think being neutral is the way. But the audience loves a piece that takes a stand.

04. Make It Universal

A group of diverse people looking in macbook and smiling

No matter who you write for, make the heart of the story relatable to all your readers.

Keep the essence of your story simple and focused. You can then flavor it with improvisation, theatrics, or embellishment.

But the core should be universal.

05. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Metal Paper pin on white background

Find out your story’s MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Establish the essence of your story and build it from there.

Think of any fairy tale, their essence is similar.

‘There was a prince. There was a princess. They fell in love. They got separated. The Prince undertook a long, tiring journey. Together they defeated the enemy.

They married and stayed happily ever after.’

Examples Of Formulas For Storytelling In Marketing

Let’s look at some time-tested essences that can transform any storytelling experience into a masterpiece.

01. Freytag's Pyramid

Pyramid with blue sky behind and camels standing in front

19th-century German playwright Gustav Freytag analyzed several ancient Greek and Shakespearean stories.

He then created this five-part model:

Exposition– Set the scene and establish background.

Rising action– Introduce a series of events that add complications to the plot.

Climax– Add the greatest tension point of the story and then turn the plot around.

Falling action– Continue the action from the climax leading to the resolution.

Denouement– End the story by tying up the loose ends.

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle for Storytelling applied to a finance app in green

02. Simon Sinek's Golden Circle

American author Simon Sinek introduced this concept in his TED talk ‘How great leaders inspire action‘. It tells us to start with ‘why’.

Why- It represents why something exists. Its purpose, cause of belief.


How- It represents how it fulfills its why. Its strengths, values, or guiding principles.


What- It represents what it does to fulfill its why. The services it offers.

03. Dale Carnegie's Magic Formula

A wizard reading from a magic book and creating a potion that is overflowing with smoke

Dale Carnegie tells us that this formula provides a basic structure to build an engaging story. A skeleton that we can leverage to build credibility, capture attention, and call people to action.

Open with an incident: Share a vivid personal experience relevant to the point. This hooks people in and opens them up to persuasion.

Illustrate the action: Share a specific action taken to solve or prevent a problem. You need to simplify the message for effective persuasion.

Use facts and evidence: Start with a stat before explaining the message. This allows the audience to form a logical response.

Explain the benefit: Emphasize the benefits of taking the recommended action.

All stories should end with a positive result because of the action taken.

04. Kenn Adams' Story Spine

The playwright and theater teacher Kenn Adams created the story spine in 1991.

Pixar later adopted this formula as one of their narrative rules.

The beginning: Once upon a time__. Everyday__.

The event: But, one-day __.

Middle: Because of that__. Because of that__. Because of that__.

The Climax: Until finally__.

End: And, ever since then__.

The Incredibles - Storytelling formula by Kenn Adams

05. Nancy Duarte's Secret Structure Of Great Talks

Presentation expert Nancy Duarte examined several powerful talks. She then introduced these steps in her Ted Talk ‘The secret structure of great talks’.

What is (the beginning): Paint a picture of the current realities of the audience

What could be (call to adventure): Create an imbalance by stating what could be vs what is. The gap between the two should be big enough to invite awe.

New bliss (call to action): End the presentation on a higher plane than it began. The audience should leave the presentation committed to taking action.

How To Use Storytelling In Marketing? [Step-By-Step]

You can configure and follow set steps to create impressive stories. There is always room for experimentation, after all it is a creative pursuit. In fact, a tweak here, a change there will only enhance the process.

Let’s look at a framework that will help channel your thoughts in the right direction.

01. Understand Your Customer

A store representative smiles while explaining the features of a phone to a customer

Before you start writing, ask yourself some important questions. Who are you writing for?

What are their needs?

Who will receive the highest value with this content?

By understanding your audience, you can craft interesting stories to fit their needs.

To do this, build your target personas. Personas are a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer.

They help you attract high-value prospects that are likely to consume your content.

I recommend using the free make my persona tool by Hubspot to build your personas.

02. Establish The Emotions You Want To Evoke

Brown eggs with faces drawn depicting various emotions like sad happy goofy joy wicked

Once you know exactly who will read your story, it’s time to focus on emotions.

Determine how do you want them to feel and what do you want them to do.

Do you want them to laugh, or incite change, or educate? Have a clear aim in mind. This will help you focus and create an impactful narrative.

03. Find Your Story Essence

Red molten lava core and blue grey ash outside

Establishing the essence of a story is like laying the foundation of a building. You can’t build a sound structure without it.

Explain your story in 10 or fewer words– that’s your core idea. Refer to the storytelling formulas to do this.

04. Define Audience Action

A man raise his hand out of a crown of businessmen to ask a question to the presenter

Outline your end goal. What exactly do you want your audience to do? Do you want them to subscribe to your channel, buy an e-book, donate for a cause, or sign a petition

Then create a call to action (CTA) that aligns with your goal.

For example, if your goal is to increase your Twitter followers. Include a CTA that says ‘Click the button below to follow us on Twitter’. 

05. Pick Your Channel

Four way intersection of a road with red white blue cars and taxis and gardens by the pavement

Stories are not symmetrical. Storytelling differ in structure, motive, and target audience.

A channel that works for one type of story, may not work for another.

Depending on the audience needs and resources at disposal, we create stories differently.

  • Stories that you read– Blog posts, articles, and e-books
  • Stories that you hear– Audiobooks and podcasts
  • Stories that you hear and see– Videos, animations, and games

06. Draft Your Story

A woman with a ring writing on a book with a black pen on a wooden desk that has black coffee and half eaten croissant

Its finally time to put pen to paper and start crafting your masterpiece. This step is about using your imagination to add details. 

You have your personas, story essence, and audience action in place. Now drafting a superb story becomes much easier.

07. Revise, Edit, Finalize.

A small boy in working on the computer while a lady with long curly hair standing behind gives instructions

Once the initial draft is ready, you can send it for editing. It is where the magic happens.

Deleting things that are not required. Emphasizing the ones that are.Using words that connect with your audience.

This is a vital step that adds vividity and brings your story to life.

Over To You

Everyone has a story to tell and share with the world. So, open your diary (or any word processor) and start writing.

Here’s a small exercise to tickle your storytelling bones.

Rewind to the unfinished story at the top and take over. Don’t forget to share it with me (and the world).

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