Simple Storytelling Formulas

brand storytelling for businessDo you have a story to tell?  Often people are excited to produce a video or write a book or make a presentation, but feel they have no story.  Rest assured, we all have a story or two and there are many ways to tell a good story. Plus the same story elements can be woven into multiple tales as in the great Japanese film, Rashomon.

Storytelling is an ancient art and  we’ve all met people who were better storytellers than others. Business brand storytelling is an increasingly valuable skill  in digital media. Some lump it into the “content marketing/PR” category, but brand stories are created a little differently, as this article from the Content Marketing Institute explains.

Stories make you memorable and unique since even two people telling the same story will have their own way of telling it. Telling really good stories about yourself and your business can captivate an audience and become a signature element of your personal brand.

Common elements in most stories are a central character, a compelling situation and a unifying idea or framework. This can work whether it’s a factual story or a fictitious one. Emotion is important to the storytelling process. You want your audience to feel something.  A great story takes them on a journey of discovery.  This Fast Company article makes several good points about why stories are so powerful.

Stories should be structured with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Anyone who has watched a few Hollywood movies is familiar with one of the most popular 3 step story formulas.

  • The Challenge (Beginning) — This is where the main conflict is set up.
  • The Struggle/Journey/Quest  (Middle) — What the character goes through to resolve the conflict.
  • The Resolution (End) — The breakthrough.  The conflict is overcome and everything works out.

A simple “David vs. Goliath” (small beats big) or Zero to Hero (failure becomes success) story will work 99-percent of the time in a business story. If you pay attention, you’ll see  a handful of simple story structures presented in movies and TV shows over and over in infinite variety. The settting can be ancient Egypt or outer space, but the story underpinnings of conflict-struggle-resolution are the same.

Audiences are used to this type of storytelling and expect these formulas.  You even see the script formula joked about this way:

  • Boy meets girl
  • Boy loses girl
  • Boy gets girl back (or some other happy circumstance)

When you really think about it, it’s not that hard to tell a story and business storytelling is a skill worth cultivating

Here’s an easy framework for a business video.

  • Beginning – Talk about the issue you (or your client) was facing and the pain it caused.
  • Middle – How you struggled to find the answer and it seemed nothing you did could help
  • End – The joyful feeling of finding the solution

I’ve been using my journalism storytelling skills for years to do what is now called “brand journalism.”  The term has its detractors and the definition is still evolving, but I think of it as telling the feature stories that virtually every traditional journalist has been assigned when they weren’t reporting “hard” news.

The late Don Hewett of CBS 60 Minutes was famous for urging his high powered producers to simply, “Tell me a story.”  Whether you’re shooting a video, giving a speech, writing an article or recording a webinar, a focus on crafting and telling great stories is worth the effort.