The 3 acts of story marketing that’ll make your content king (or queen)

When was the last time you retold a listicle to a friend?

How many parties have you owned by sharing an infographic?

Who have you regaled with a Tweet as of late?

But hear a good story – or better yet, tell one – and you experience how stories bewitch humans.

Business and brand storytelling is the ultimate marketing strategy, and story marketing is the trigger. It beckons your audience into your life and turns your story into their story.

REI did this with their #OptOutside campaign on Black Friday.

story marketing REI | story marketing

Red Bull built the entire energy drink category by giving their brand wings through story.

story marketing Red Bull

Charity Water, Virgin Airlines, Uber, AirBnB, even Donald Trump channeling PT Barnum have moved the masses through the compelling use of story marketing.

story marketing Donald Trump

Not convinced? Check out how Sock Club elevated something as commoditized as stockings with its inventive story marketing.

Is story marketing really a thing?

I define story marketing as a strategic marketing approach that creates a brand experience through audio, visual and immersive storytelling whereby the customer becomes the center of the story to drive profitable engagement.

I use “audience” and “customer” to mean the same thing. A story recipient who is meant to be moved to action by the storyteller.

Regardless if your audience is leadership, staff, employees, vendors, shareholders, stakeholders or customers, you’re always selling something with business storytelling. A new direction. Innovation. Camaraderie. Mission, Vision, Values. Efficiency. Product. Service. You.

Story marketing is a strategic marketing approach that creates a brand experience through audio, visual and immersive storytelling whereby the customer becomes the center of the story to drive profitable engagement.  – Park Howell

Story marketing is about transporting your audiences through a well-crafted brand story strategy.

The 3 acts of story marketing

The primary elements of story marketing are captured in three phases: or three acts, as I prefer to think of them.

Act I: Clarifying your brand story

The four primary story elements are a unique market position, emotional promise, authentic personality and compelling purpose. The six other strategic narrative elements of our proven Story Cycle system include audience, stakes, disruption, antagonists, journey, moral and ritual.

Act II: Story capturing

The second element of story marketing is what I call story spotting: finding stories in the wild that support your brand story through actual events, moments and aha experiences that are products of your customer engagement.

These stories, found both internal to your organization and external with your customers and vendors, are real-world examples of how you live into the promises your brand makes and keeps with your audiences.

It’s not as easy spotting stories as you might think. We were raised on rote learning and are so conditioned to features-and-benefits communications, that our default is facts, stats and jargon. In fact, most of us tell stories in a dissertation of “this happened and then this happened and then blah, blah, blah…”

This is NOT a story but a linear recounting of events.

A story, as outlined in Shawn Callahan’s book Putting Stories to Work, typically have a specific time stamp (when something happened), a location stamp (where it happened), a central character (protagonist), action (something specific that happened) leading to an aha moment (a lesson).

The last point is a biggie. Because yes, your business and brand stories should actually make a point. After all, when was the last time you were bored into buying anything?

Once you’ve clarified your brand story, and then captured stories in the wild to support your new business narrative, now its time to reveal them to your audiences.

ACT III: Your story marketing theater

Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz was a Prussian general and military theorist who coined the term “Theater of war” to define important areas in land, sea and air where military events occur. Now you and your brand may not be at war, but make no mistake that it’s dog-eat-dog out there in the Attention Economy.

Story is your secret weapon.

Equip yourself for the story marketing theater by building a library of the stories you need to engage with your audiences and move them to action.

Start by recording your stories in short two-minute videos for your Facebook group, YouTube channel and website. Then atomize the content as social media wizard Jay Baer recommends.

Feature the audio from the video on a platform like SoundCloud for use in podcasts, blogs or a library of stories your sales team can call upon in a pinch.

Transcribe the audio and use the dialogue in blogs, white papers, email marketing and other written forms.

Use pull quotes from your video, like the one above, in graphic memes on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. And all of the above content ideas can be used in sales presentations, newsletters, in-house social platforms and in any inbound or outbound marketing to help you rise above the fray and be heard.

Today’s marketing is evolving at a mind-numbing pace due to our technological advances. But our brains have essentially remained the same for thousands of years.

Therefore, it is the ancient and proven power of story that connects us with our fellow humans and moves them to action.

Story on!

About Park Howell 

Park Howell is a trusted brand story strategist, sought-after speaker on story marketing, and is the professor of storytelling in the Executive Masters of Sustainability Leadership at Arizona State University.

He has helped international brands, including Coca Cola, Beyer Pharmaceutical, Cummins Diesel, American Express, and United States Air Force. The Business of Story podcast is a widely popular and helps brands connect with customers and achieve epic growth. Contact Park to have him speak at your company event or conference.