4 Core Elements of Stories That Can Boost Your Marketing ROI

There may be no more popular buzzword in the marketing landscape right now than ‘story’. Countless marketers claim the title of ‘storyteller’ and promise to capture audiences with a brand’s story.

Much of this development is good and genuine. But a lot of it is fluff.

Stories are more than a series of events or a collection of information—much more. And as marketers, if we are aren’t clear on this then we end up misleading our clients and not getting the results they’re looking for.

The problem occurs when we slap the ‘story’ tag on any kind of marketing collateral without actually understanding what stories are, how they work and what they’re for.

Here we’ll walk through 4 core elements of stories—and now they need to make their way into your marketing.

1. Stories impart survival information

As Jesse Bryan at Belief Agency puts it, the ultimate purpose of stories, since their inception, is to impart survival information.

That is to say, their point is to communicate something that helps the listener survive and thrive in the world.

This may seem reductionistic or oversimplified—until you think about the stories that have stood the test of time.

  • Three little pigs → Hard work pays off
  • Tortoise and the hare → Slow and steady wins the race
  • Snow White → Vanity is dangerous

The best stories stick with us because they tell us something true that helps us live our own lives better.

So what does this mean for your marketing? It means you absolutely must communicate how your products or services help your customers survive and thrive in the world.

This can look a lot of different ways. 

  • A real estate company communicates how the right home helps your family flourish
  • A manufacturing company communicates how their process’ time savings enables your business to make more money
  • A water filtration company communicates how water treatment improves health outcomes

2. Stories utilize structure

No story works if it wanders aimlessly, bringing in characters and events at random and leaving the audience confused as to why they’re there. The reality is that all good stories utilize the same basic structure, and the best stories adhere to it religiously.

For some creatives, this is a hard pill to swallow. It feels formulaic and dry.

But when structure is done well, it gives the story focus and direction. And most importantly, it facilitates clarity and connection with the audience.

Here are a few helpful models of story structure:

As it pertains to your marketing, many of us simply write whatever sounds good in the moment or overwhelm our customers with information. We have no system or strategy to guide our communication.

The next time you sit down to write that blog post, or add that new page to your website, or draft that email campaign:

Run your content through a story structure:

  • Start with a main character (aka your customer)
  • Identify a problem
  • Agitate the problem
  • Enter the story as a guide who provides the solution
  • Paint the picture of our hero’s happy ending

3. Stories give clarity and depth

Stories have a twofold effect of bringing order and meaning to information. They demonstrate in a compelling way how things fit together and why that matters.

The 2021 film Being the Ricardos does this beautifully. The story portrays a week in the life of I Love Lucy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. 

It orders events beautifully into this weeklong timeline that centers around the production of an episode of the show. This ordering clarifies for the viewer the information and events being presented by helping them see how things are fitting together and developing.

But the movie offers a magnificent depth by centering everything around one key development: Lucy and Desi’s strained, crumbling marriage. This choice by the writers anchors the story in a heartfelt (albeit painful) concept that makes the audience care much more deeply about what’s going on.

This has major implications for your marketing and communications. All your collateral needs to have these two goals in mind: clarity and depth.

Your materials need to be clear enough so customers can quickly understand the information you’re presenting. But it has to have a depth that makes people care.

The head and the heart—great stories engage both, and so does great marketing.

4. Stories are anchored by a central concept

As mentioned, the stories we forget are the stories that wander aimlessly, adding developments and people that more often than not leave us wondering, “What was the point of that character? Why did they have that scene?”

But the stories we remember tie everything (yes, everything) into one central idea that guides the whole plot. Nothing is ancillary, out of place or unnecessary.

Some call this a theme. Brian McDonald calls it an armature. Donald Miller calls it the controlling idea.

Whatever you want to call it, your marketing needs to abide by the same principle. Your brand needs to clearly define the theme/armature/controlling idea of your story and obsess about tying all your communication back to it.

Some examples:

  • A brewery builds its brand around the idea that beer brings people together.
  • A software company obsesses about the fact that saving time means saving money.
  • An orthodontic office centers its messaging around the idea that a confident smile breeds confident living.

When you clearly communicate your central concept, people remember you. And no one can do business with you without remembering you first.

As the amount of marketing noise in our world increases, it’s imperative to dial into real storytelling so that your brand sticks out from the crowd. Need some help? Give us a call!

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