As her colleagues anxiously watched from their cubicles, Lisa walked slowly toward the CEO’s room with a pile of documents her sweaty palms could barely hold.
She stopped for a moment as she approached the room, took a deep breath, and nervously smiled at the CEO’s secretary waiting to take her inside.
Through the glass walls, Lisa could see Chris, the CEO, head in hands, staring at his laptop and not looking happy.
She knew the inevitable was coming...
I know you’re curious about what happened next.
But that’s not important.
The real question is, why do you care? You only read a few lines about a character you knew nothing about, but she still had your undivided attention, even for just a minute or two.
Why? Because the human brain loves stories.
In a world where complaints about distraction, lack of focus, and information overload, are common, great stories are the only things people still remember.
In short, you could call it a superpower these days.
In this article, we’ll tell you how to master the art of storytelling and use it to create more compelling marketing campaigns and day-to-day business communication.
What Is Storytelling?
Storytelling, as the word suggests, is the process of telling stories. It is the act of painting a picture with your words, using fact and narrative to simplify deeper concepts, and helping your audience understand the true meaning of your message.
Storytelling is as old as the human race itself and is found in every culture and community. But the first ancient signs of visual storytelling date back to almost 30,000 years, when people used stones and leaves to carve images, describe events, and tell stories.
For centuries, storytelling has played a critical role in narrative building, shaping the thoughts and beliefs of nations and communities and motivating people to leave lasting legacies behind.
Storytelling exists in different forms in all cultures, societies, and human communities. This universal appeal for interesting and engaging stories has paved the path for numerous industries and professions such as fictional writing, filmmaking, documentary design, advertising, content marketing, acting, etc.
On an individual level, storytelling is an extremely valuable skill that allows people to engage their audiences, communicate more effectively, build communities, and design more persuasive marketing and PR campaigns.
But before diving deeper into storytelling and its types, let’s understand why storytelling is so critical for nations, organizations, professionals, and regular people.
Why Is Storytelling Important?
Humans have been telling stories for centuries to entertain, educate, persuade, or sell. Today, storytelling has become a part of our day-to-day communication and impacts the quality of our interactions with other people at various levels.
For example, countries use storytelling to create patriotism, manage international relations, and position themselves as the torchbearers of progress and justice.
Similarly, brands and organizations use stories to associate their products with a bigger cause, create brand loyalty, and align themselves with their audience’s values.
Let me quickly share a few other reasons storytelling is vital to modern-day communication.
Stories Make Dry Information Memorable
“A vegan diet helps drastically reduces your cholesterol levels, improves your metabolism, and helps you lose weight faster than any other method.”
“How Suzy lost 30kg in 5 months, found the love of her life, and became a top Instagram model.”
Which of those statements is easier to remember? If you’re like most people, you’ll remember Suzy and her transformation longer.
Here’s another example
“Lack of sleep is detrimental to health and can lead to various cardiac problems even at a young age.”
“Super-fit 32-year old CEO dies of a heart attack. Reason? A lack of sleep.”
Again, you’re likely to forget why lack of sleep is dangerous if you only read the first statement. But you’ll probably remember the passing away of a 30-something super-fit CEO due to a lack of sleep (I first read this story in 2009 and still remember it.)
Those are small examples of how stories make dry and uninteresting information more engaging and easier to remember.
Whether you’re an individual wondering how to make your conversations more interesting or a brand looking to share information with your audiences, storytelling is your best friend.
Instead of throwing dry stats, data, and tons of information at your audience, create a story around it to make it more memorable, engaging, and easier to understand.
Stories Inspire And Motivate
Stories make people dream, inspire them to be the best versions of themselves, and make the most of their talents. It shows them what’s possible and how others like them achieved things previously thought of as impossible.
This is why some of the world’s most influential brands use storytelling in advertising to inspire their audiences and make them feel a part of a bigger movement.
Nike’s famous “Worth The Wait” ad is an excellent example of inspirational storytelling in advertising.
Stories Convince And Persuade
Storytelling is a powerful persuasion tool that helps you communicate your perspective and convincingly answer your audience’s objections in a non-confrontational way.
By using hypothetical scenarios that mirror your audience’s challenges and problems, you can use storytelling to paint the perfect picture aligned with your audience’s desires.
This is why case studies and success stories are such effective content formats for selling expensive and technically advanced products.
Instead of marketing your product features or telling prospects what your product can do, use case studies to show how someone used your product to succeed.
You can find several examples in our case study section.
Stories Bind Us Together
In a divided world, few things bring us together, like stories. They allow us to empathize with others and see things from unique perspectives.
Stories have universal appeal. This probably explains why Hollywood movies and television dramas are popular across the globe. We all admire a hero, back an underdog, and despise a villain irrespective of our cultural, social, or religious beliefs and backgrounds.
Smart brands understand this better than most people. This is why they align themselves with stories that attract people from diverse backgrounds towards a common goal.
Unilever’s “Farewell To The Forest” ad campaign is an excellent example designed to highlight the company’s efforts to reduce its environmental footprint.
All of these benefits of storytelling come down to one thing - stories make your message more interesting and engaging.
Whether you’re an individual, a professional, a brand, or a community, your public image and the effectiveness of your message are determined by the quality of your storytelling skills.
You can use various mediums to tell your stories depending on your audience, your personal preferences, and the nature of your stories.
Let’s discuss the most popular storytelling mediums and how people use them to narrate stories.
This is the oldest and most prevalent form of storytelling that has been around since the early days of human existence. It is how we connect at a personal level and build human connections.
You’ll find it everywhere, from personal conversations and bedtime stories to corporate communication and everyday interactions with regular people in your life.
For centuries, oral storytelling was limited to personal connections and closed communities. However, with radio, online streaming, podcasts, and digital platforms, stories can now be narrated to millions of listeners around the world with the same personal connection.
This is why brands, corporate leaders, and communities now use it as a critical part of their communication strategy.
Shopify’s eCommerce podcasts are excellent examples of oral storytelling for branding and marketing. They feature stories and interviews of successful entrepreneurs who overcame different challenges to build thriving eCommerce businesses.
Oral stories had limited reach since they could only be narrated personally. However, with the development of language and the written word, oral stories slowly transformed into articles, passages, and books. These written mediums were used to conserve oral stories and publish them on a massive scale.
Written stories revolutionized storytelling and turned it into a multi-billion dollar industry that has survived centuries and still has massive appeal.
The digital revolution has only amplified the significance of written stories. Amazon, the world’s largest collection of books and eBooks, is a prime example.
Despite all the technological advancements, text is still the primary communication medium on the internet. Blog posts, articles, eBooks, case studies, and content marketing still primarily rely on the written word. The same goes for long-form sales pages, emails, squeeze pages, and website copy.
All of them use written storytelling to engage their audiences, build communities, grow brand influence, and sell more products.
Visual storytelling goes back several thousand years, when cavemen used stones to craft stories on walls. Today, it is the most engaging storytelling medium in the form of videos, animated movies, and images.
Research shows that the human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text content and retains visual information much longer than any other content format.
This is why brands are investing more in video content creation than ever. The most popular social networks like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, etc., are all video-first platforms where billions of users watch different types of videos every month.
However, video-based storytelling takes many shapes and forms.
For example, the most popular video storytelling format is film. Then comes advertising and short films brands use to engage their audiences.
Use Async Communication To Tell Stories
There’s another video storytelling format called asynchronous video. These are recorded and on-demand videos designed for one-way and two-way communication. They’re often used for internal corporate communication, but with the rise in remote teams, async videos are used to minimize meetings, onboard employees, share organizational vision, and a variety of other reasons.
You can also use them to create product tutorials, demos, sales presentations, recording customer stories, testimonials, etc.
For example, MetaLab used Loom to create personalized content for its team that dramatically reduced meetings, increased efficiency, and helped them communicate a consistent message across the company.
The biggest advantage of an async video platform like Loom is its scalability. You can record a Loom once to cover a specific topic or answer frequently asked questions, and it can be passed around your company and watched by hundreds of employees, team members, and partners with the same personalized experience.
Similarly, as a manager, you could record an onboarding video that describes your company’s story to new employees and helps them understand the organizational values. This video could be made a part of your onboarding process and shown to every new team member.
Elements Of A Good Story
So far, we’ve discussed a brief history of storytelling, why it’s so crucial, and the various storytelling formats you can use to communicate your message more effectively.
But what exactly makes a good story? What elements do you need to create an engaging story that helps you achieve your goals?
Let’s find the answers to these questions.
What makes a good story?
There’s no universal criteria for calling a story good or bad. Your favorite story might be a waste of time for someone else. Similarly, you might find a story boring and unengaging even if the whole world is crazy about it.
So, it's hard to come up with the definition of a good story.
However, there are certain factors and qualities a good story always has. So, when you’re crafting a story for your audience, make sure it has the following characteristics.
A good story is easily relatable to your target audience. It’s not made-up alien concepts and terminologies and tackles problems that your audience actually cares about.
If a story isn’t interesting and engaging, should you even call it a story? Stories should spark curiosity and keep your audience guessing what happens next. If the story plot is too simplistic or predictable or doesn’t build enough hype around the core problem, you’ll struggle to keep your audience engaged.
A well-written story totally captivates the audience and makes them feel a part of the plot. Research shows that adding emotion to a story generates the same neuro response from the audience as if they’re experiencing the story themselves. For example, when your story talks about the smell of coffee, the part of your listener’s brain related to the sense of smell lights up.
Emotion is also the most significant factor in making a story memorable. Whether it’s horror, excitement, pleasure, love, happiness, or anxiety, the emotions in a story are attached to the audience’s brains and keep reminding them about it every time they experience those emotions.
Engaging stories aren’t random works of inspiration that just happen by accident. Instead, they’re well-thought-out plots that follow a specific structure.
In fact, your story’s structure makes it interesting in the first place. For example, the story structure dictates when a particular character becomes a part of the story or when specific information will be revealed to the audience.
If you get the structure wrong, even the most captivating story plot can lose its charm.
Every story has a goal. The storyteller must ensure that the story remains aligned with its purpose otherwise, it won’t achieve the desired results.
For example, if a brand invests in a video advertising campaign to improve its image as a socially responsible company, the ad’s story and content should be intentionally designed to achieve that goal.
Otherwise, the audience might enjoy the ad but would struggle to associate the desired qualities with the brand.
The Key Components Of A Good Story
The qualities we've just discussed determine the engagement and interest a story generates. But what are the actual building blocks of a story? Let’s quickly discuss them one by one.
Your story’s theme is its overall purpose or goal. It determines where it fits in your brand’s marketing strategy and how it serves your business goals.
For example, the theme of Shopify’s eCommerce podcasts is to highlight rags to riches stories that were made possible thanks to Shopify’s platform.
Similarly, Mailchimp, a leading email marketing automation platform, published a video series that highlighted the daily life struggles of entrepreneurs.
So, before anything else, you need to have a clear theme for your story so that the other components are aligned with it.
The setting of your story describes its surroundings and the context in which your characters exist.
It represents both the physical setting of your stories, like the background, the place, and the physical surroundings of your characters, and the circumstances in which your story plays out.
For example, a corporate video or a brand’s advertisement which depicts a professional meeting should ideally exist in an office setting.
Similarly, The Story Of Sales by Salesforce is an excellent example of a well-made video series in a corporate setting.
So, once you decide on your story’s theme, visualize its settings to provide your audience with the necessary context of your plot.
Every story has one or more characters around whom the plot revolves. Most short stories have one or two primary characters and multiple secondary or supporting characters. But stories with just one character are also quite common.
Your characters are the bridge between your story and its audience. They’re the figures your audience empathizes with.
The more your audience relates with your main characters, the easier it becomes to move them towards your desired goals.
Conflict is the challenge or problem your main character needs to overcome to achieve success. The bigger or, the more significant the conflict, the more compelling your story becomes.
But conflicts don’t always need to be overly dramatic. In fact, in brand stories, conflict is often an everyday problem that the audience can relate to.
For example, TOMS has a CSR initiative under which it donates a certain percentage of its profits to refugee rehabilitation and other initiatives promoting equality.
In most of its stories, the conflict revolves around the challenges refugees face when settling into a new country and blending in with a new culture.
Similarly, Nutella Originals, a short film series, regularly features stories of people driving social change with personal or community initiatives. In most of these films, the conflict revolves around the challenges of ordinary people striving for basic necessities.
As I said, the bigger the conflict, the greater impact your characters make on your audience.
Resolution is the final chapter of a story that outlines how a character overcomes its challenges. But it doesn't always have to be a positive end. In some stories, the resolution shows how the character failed to achieve something.
Ultimately, it's your goal that determines the nature of your story’s resolution.
A resolution aims to provide a logical closure to your story and move your audience towards your call to action or the takeaway from your story (or whatever you want to achieve from it).
How To Tell A Good Story
Storytelling is a specialized skill that requires practice. You can’t become a master storyteller in a day. But you can understand the steps involved in telling a good story effectively.
Knowing these steps will help you understand the storytelling process and ultimately become an excellent storyteller yourself.
Step 1: Understand Your Audience Needs
Who are you writing for? What is your ideal audience? Who will respond excitingly to your story? What are their needs, wants, desires, fears, aspirations, and problems?
Before writing a single word of your story, you need to answer these questions to understand if you’re writing for the right audience and if they will respond to your story.
For branded stories, buyer personas come in handy at this stage. If you have well-defined personas, you can identify the exact needs, interests, or problems you can target in your story.
But even without a persona, you should perform some basic research to align your story ideas with your audience's interests.
Step 2: Finalize The Purpose Of Your Story
What do you want to communicate with your story? What’s the end goal in your mind? What do you want your audience to do after watching, reading, or hearing your story? And most importantly, how does your story align with your business goals?
When finding the perfect story ideas, the sweet spot often lies between your audience’s needs and your business goals. The perfect story seamlessly connects the two and brings your audience closer to your brand.
Step 3: Create Your Story’s Main Components
Remember the key components of a story we discussed earlier? Well, it’s time to finalize them for your story.
Start with your story theme and settings, and then identify your main primary and secondary characters. Next, develop your plot, which outlines the conflict your character needs to overcome. This is the core part of your story development process so add as much depth to your character’s plots as needed.
Finally, bring your storyline to a logical end by developing your character’s resolution.
Step 5: Choose Your Storytelling Medium
We’ve already discussed the main storytelling mediums in detail. At this point, your should carefully choose your storytelling medium based on your target audience, your story’s goal, and your plot settings.
Step 6: Create Your Story
Finally, it’s time to put all the pieces together to create your story. Depending on your story medium, it can take you anywhere from a few weeks to several months to fully execute your storyline.
Are You Ready To Tell Your Story?
Storytelling is an incredibly effective way to make your communication more engaging, interesting, and memorable. In fact, it is the only way in the age of information overload to stand out and be heard.
But as you’ve seen in this article, storytelling isn’t a simple skill that comes naturally to everyone. Thankfully, with the rise of video content platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Tiktok, and async video platforms like Loom, even ordinary people are now telling their stories and communicating more effectively than before.
Don’t believe me? Record your first Loom today and see for yourself.