Techniques for More Effective Storytelling In Marketing

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Before we get into some brand storytelling techniques for marketers, we’d like to share a fun little story of our own, The Adventures of Poor Johnny Smartphone and the Cell Tower of Terror.

The Adventures of Poor Johnny Smartphone and the Cell Tower of Terror:

Poor Johnny Smartphone started off his day with only a 50% charge. He had a long journey ahead of him, all alone, down the misty Path of Bad Reception to the Cell Tower of Terror. He didn’t have time to plug in, and he was determined to make his coveted appointment with the Telecomm Tyrant to discuss the battery life crisis that was killing off his fellow smartphones. He would just have to turn off his Wi-Fi, take his chances, and hope for the best.

45% … 39% … 24% … 19%, Poor Johnny watched the percentage go down as he felt himself grow weaker. He pressed on, continuing to take his chances and risk his life for the good of all smartphones in the land. Adversity was nothing new to him, for he had grown up the son of two flip-phones.

The mist on the Path of Bad Reception hung heavily around him, enveloping him into its clutches of condensation until he had no bars left. With zero reception and nearly the equivalent in battery life, Poor Johnny began to feel his first tiny twinge of doubt.

Could this be the end of Poor Johnny Smartphone?

The point we’re setting out to prove here is that stories have power. And although “The Adventures of Poor Johnny Smartphone” is not a brand story, it’s one with key elements you should weave into your own storytelling in marketing.

Every Brand Has A Story

Every (yes, every) brand has a story and if you are not sharing that story in a way that is interesting and attention-grabbing, it won’t be long before you are just a tiny blip on the radar with other similar (and often less effective) brands in the market.

In the meantime, it’s important to remember that people don’t make decisions based solely on data. It’s a tough

pill to swallow, especially for marketers. But more often, it’s emotions that drive decisions. Emotion fuels persuasion.

Roger Dooley, author of Brainfluence says:

“We make our decisions emotionally (and, to varying degrees, unconsciously), and then let our rational processes justify those decisions with facts” (Sparring Mind).

And even though you might think that creating stories is a lot of work, there is solid ROI to be gained from creating stories in marketing, as illustrated in this article about ROI of brand storytelling. Among the more notable results we see a remarkable difference between brands who were using traditional advertising based communications and the ones using brand storytelling techniques. The latter approach garnered 1900 percent more mentions. Of those, storytelling prompted 10 percent more positive mentions.

Techniques for better brand storytelling

There are numerous techniques you can employ in your brand storytelling to kick things up a notch. Let’s take a look at four of our favorites…

1. The cliffhanger.

One of the oldest writing tricks in the book, and yet it lives on! Gregory Ciotti of Sparring Mind points out in the Psychology of Storytelling, “There is a reason why it’s used so often…it works!”

Suspense works best if it is built fairly early on in the story. By creating dire stakes with Poor Johnny’s battery percentage, no time to charge himself, and smartphones across the land depending on him, we were able to build momentum from the start.

How can you use this technique in your brand storytelling? A brand is only as good as the problem it solves. Tell a story that describes the problem, and you can create suspense around how that problem will be solved. This is crucial because when done well, you will have captured your audience’s attention. Now you just have to hold that attention.

2. Imagery.

This is when you use words to paint a picture. It’s the idea of showing rather than telling. It’s powerful because it stimulates the audience’s imagination. By going into detail of relatable issues and inserting them into a fantasy-like setting, your audience can better identify with your brand story. Description evokes emotion, meaning your audience not only reads or listens to your brand’s story; they experience it.

When we wrote, “The mist on the Path of Bad Reception hung heavily around him, enveloping him into its clutches of condensation until he had no bars left” we aimed to tap into common feelings like fear, weariness, and defeat. By using imagery in a brand story, you can create an experience the reader will relate to.

3. The metaphor: Music to our ears.

A metaphor is defined as: “a figure of speech which makes an implicit, implied, or hidden comparison between two things or objects that are poles apart from each other but have some common characteristics between them” (Literary Devices).

The overarching metaphor of the Poor Johnny story is centered on the theme of human struggle, specifically, the struggle to survive and protect those we love. Johnny is the ‘every man’ setting out on his day, facing obstacles, braving the “tyrant,” all in the interest of solving a problem. Not unlike a typical Monday for the rest of us perhaps.

Within this extended metaphor, we can find bite-size metaphors that help to move the story along descriptively. “The Path of Bad Reception” and “he had grown up the son of two flip-phones” are a couple of examples.

Metaphors make stories memorable. People remember characters more easily than facts. Take Burger King’s Subservient Chicken, who complies with all of your preparation wishes. The fast-food company uses this technique to tell the story of how its brand prepares things they way you want it (smallbusiness).

4. The underdog.

Everyone loves an underdog. Researchers have found that the triumph of an underdog overcoming all odds actually hits us harder emotionally than when an average or above-average persona succeeds. Shrinktank gives a couple of reasons why we love underdogs so much: justice and fairness, empathy & relatability, and lastly we also have more to gain. By using the archetype of the underdog in your brand story, you can impact the audience more intensely in the end.

In the Poor Johnny story, his name alone sets him up as an underdog. In addition to that, the fact that he starts off his day only 50% juiced up and is the son of two flip-phones, drives home the reality that he is disadvantaged. His drive and determination to succeed against all odds are also classic elements of an underdog.

Clif Bar does a nice job of this in the Clif brand story by pointing out that their founder once lived in a garage. (5)

Derrick Daye, managing partner of The Blake Project, points out,

“What underdog brands share is a biography with two important narrative components: a disadvantaged position (one that typically highlights a company’s humble beginnings and portrays it as being “outgunned” by bigger, better resourced competitors) and a passion and determination to triumph against the odds.” (Branding Strategy Insider)


Not all of these components are right for every brand story. However, at least one out of the four can be used in some respect, every time, to elevate every story. Pay attention to what gets your attention. I promise you, it is not going to be a spreadsheet with a bunch of numbers and statistics. Remember, this “fluff” is made of the stuff that persuasion is fueled by. Don’t be just another blip of a brand on the radar.

Tell your story.