THE ART & SCIENCE OF STORYTELLING

“Compelling storytelling is an art that, if perfected, can drive brand love and increase sales like nothing else.”

As a marketer, purposeful storytelling is one of the most powerful tools, for building emotional connections with consumers. I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the greatest storytellers in the industry, and one that particularly stands out is Michael Krapohl. In working with Michael, we always used the Art and Science of storytelling, a simple model that has been used to create some of the best brand campaigns in the world.

To help you better understand this process,, I want to share the steps and framework I have learned from him on building a purposeful story.

The key to being a master storyteller is a process that is built upon a clear consumer journey, with heroes, villains, climax moments, and it is called the Story Arc. This is the method used by Shakespeare to create some of the most iconic stories of all time, and the method that is still being used today by companies like Disney, Nike, Pixar, Coca-Cola, and Apple.

The Story Arc begins by familiarizing the audience with the main characters in a process called exposition. We must start the story by learning how our hero acts, interacts, feels, and thinks so that we can understand them. When creating your hero’s narrative, remember to keep a balance between perfection and flaws. It’s often those blind spots that will make your audience fall in love with your character.

These emotions grow deeper through the next two steps. There must be an inciting incident that jolts the main character from their everyday life and takes them on a long journey. The process of your character embarking on their journey is called the rising action. This character must complete this journey to achieve their goal or overcome a challenge. During these two stages, it’s vital to create tension. Give a glimpse of the struggle, glory, and potential failure — without revealing everything. Viewers will begin to feel as if they are the main character that this is their story.

The exciting part is, this isn’t just a mental sensation, but actually a physiological reaction. During this part of the narrative, a chemical response occurs in the brain where coupling neurons synchronize audience members’ brains with the main character's brainmain character's brain. This emotional connection also triggers the brain to release Oxytocin, the hormone of love.

Once that bond is established,, it's time for the climax, the turning point where the hero must finally face their barrier, enemy, or struggle. The audience will be on the edge of their seats as they watch moments full of fears, doubts, insecurities, and vulnerability unfold. This is the peak of the main character. The moment where excitement and thrill take over,, and the audience falls in love with their hero. Will they rise? It’s important to keep the audience guessing to really create strong emotions. There always must be a slight question as to whether or not the hero will overcome their struggles. Always leave a sliver of doubt.

  • Will the Knight slay the dragon?
  • Will Babe Ruth hit a home run to break the curse of the Bambino?
  • Will Cristiano Ronaldo come back after a serious injury to win the first-ever Euro Cup title for Portugal in 2016?
  • Will the world be ready for the greatest sports comeback post-pandemic
  • Will the marathon runner that everyone doubted break the world record time?

Building upon anticipation and surprise within the climax then releases dopamine in the brain, allowing viewers to retain more of what they experienced on the screen. This dopamine, combined with the Oxytocin from earlier, leads to a brain response that is vital to any story. The viewer will love, cherish and endear this experience with the story, and they will remember it. This cements a positive response with your brand,, which, in return, will nurture a critical need for more. An almost addictive feeling.

After the climax and tension release, there is a moment of sweet relief and bonding with the viewer. In the Story Arc method, this is called denouement. The denouement is a French word that means “untied.” The stress is untied, the anxiety is untied, the tension is untied, and the viewer is free to relish in the joy, triumph, or even sorrow with the main character as their fate is now finally revealed. The audience will live that euphoria with your main character, even during the failing moments and stay connected with the story until the epic resolution.

Okay, now we know how to tell a cool story. So what?

You might be asking yourself how your brand can play a role in all of this. First, we must address a prevalent mistake many people make when attempting to apply this method. Framing the product as the main character in the narrative when actually, the hero should always be the consumer. The product or the brand are the enablers the hero needs to overcome barriers to reach their goals. As a storyteller, you should always try to remove the consumers’ fears, limitations and act as a transformative platform for the hero (the consumer).

  • It’s the sword that helped the knight slay the dragon.
  • The bat that helped Babe Ruth hit a home run.
  • The winning and team-first mindset that helped Cristiano Ronaldo to instill confidence in the team to win the title, despite his absence in the final.
  • The brand brought joy and optimism back to the sport, so the world could look at sport as a resilience platform to overcome the pandemic.
  • The lightest running shoes that helped the runner shatter the world record marathon time.

Curiosity, exploration, and listening to the consumers' voice through qualitative research areconsumers' voice through qualitative research areconsumers' voice through qualitative research are also important when figuring out the role of the product while creating the narrative for brand voice. Brand marketers and product managers have to find the problem or opportunity in the consumer’s life and then create a solution. Sometimes you will realize that there is already a solution.

Don’t worry if you are stuck here! I find myself here all the time.

You need to market or create a product to solve the problem in an even better way. Marketers are often expected to post-rationalize why the user will need a certain product and market it to them. For example, if a sneaker is super comfortable, that’s great, but why would a consumer care to buy it other than it is comfortable? Making comfortable shoes is an utmost hygiene factor, a commodity in the sportswear industry today — which it shouldn’t be overglorified achievement.

What’s the emotional appeal? This is when you must find an actionable insight to support and elevate the importance of comfort for a specific target audience. Understanding a deeper consumer need will allow you to create a purpose-led storyline while establishing an emotional connection with both the product and the brand. In this way, your consumer will build a trusted relationship with your message and feel that the product or the brand can help them accomplish their goals.

The steps of telling impactful, emotional and compelling stories are all here for you to apply to how you construct your narrative. Now it’s time for you to take the tools from the Story Arc, and go build magnificent stories. Create campaigns that will inspire the world. Tell meaningful stories that will stay with people beyond the advertisement. Use your stories to be a catalyst to be the change that your brand needs to elevate your stories to the next level.

CMO at Saucony | Executive Board Member at Erwin Center For Brand Communications | Adjunct Professor at Clemson University.