How to Tell Marketing Stories (That Sell Things)

marketing stories

If you’ve been in digital marketing for more than 1.7 hours, you’ve probably heard this.

  • Tell stories!
  • Stories sell things!
  • Learn how to tell stories
  • yada yada yada

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been left wondering what does “tell stories” really mean, and how on Earth do I actually DO that??”

Well, no more.

In this post, we’ll be diving into

  1. How you can USE stories in your content (to sell products & ideas)

Important Note!

This blog post is a mash-up of a 4-part series I did on the podcast! If you’re viewing this in July 2019–it’s still in progress!

You can come back soon and get the full blog post 🙂 🙂

You can listen to part one here:

or listen on \\ iTunes \\ Stitcher \\ Google Play \\ Overcast \\ Spotify

Ok, so once upon a time…

Jump to…

What does “tell stories” even mean?

You’re probably thinking I’ll dive into some complex marketing and sales strategy here.


I mean actual stories.

storying telling research
Me doing research for this post at the library 🙂
  1. A character
  2. Who wants something
  3. But there’s a nasty villain
  4. So they go on a journey
  5. And something happens

We’ll be talking about a traditional “story” in this blog post.

Because it’s exactly those types of stories we can adapt to create insanely engaging content and sell our info products 👍

You’ll learn how to do that in a minute.

So what exactly is a story?

The telling of an event (a real or made up one) for the purpose of experiencing or learning something.

Movies. Fairy tales. Books.

A story is a telling of something that happened–and why we should care.

How can we use stories in marketing?

Yay! I’m glad you made it this far in the post–as this section will make you money 💰:)

Think about it like this…

  • Marketing = the act of communicating important messages about products
  • Communicating messages = requires engaging the audience
  • Stories = THE most engaging form of communicating

As humans, we can’t help but be drawn into stories. They engage our brains.

There’s an awesome article in The Atlantic that shows why this might be.

“A narrative works off of both data and emotions, which is significantly more effective in engaging a listener than data alone.

Pretend we’re buddies who work together, and I wanted to warn you about a busy street. I could say…

“The street just outside our building is really busy today. Be careful when you cross it.” 

You might find that data useful. But what if we attach some form of story to it?

“Did you hear Joe went for coffee this morning and was hit by a car just outside? Broke his leg. That street is busy today. Be careful when you cross it.”

Not only is there now more emotion involved, but you might actually be able to “put yourself in the shoes” or our poor friend who was hit.

Storytelling works.

Here’s the huge point:

Your audience is CONSTANTLY being interrupted with ads, sales emails, new podcasts, blogs, and online courses. If you want your message to BE HEARD, you’ll need to keep people engaged. Using stories (or even different elements from stories) is an effective way to do that.

Re-read that. 👆

Now let’s learn how to tell stories.

The 10 “Story Lego” Building Blocks You Can Use to Create a Story

Think of a story like a lego project.

It’s really just a sum of several smaller components (which you’ll learn in a second).

Inside the $800 Lego Millennium Falcon. NOT EVERY STORY needs to be this complicated.

You can assemble to blocks in several ways.

  1. You can assemble the blocks sequentially, or
  2. You can pick and choose different blocks to suit your different needs!

Super important Note:

You do NOT need every block to make a story (except maybe the first three)!

Pick and choose from these Story Legos to tell the story you need to tell.

1. The Main Character

  • Star Wars = Luke Skywalker
  • Toy Story = Woody
  • Jaws = Chief Brody
  • Titanic = Rose

Every story needs a focal point, and that’s usually the main character.

Donald Miller (of StoryBrand) says that we should position our customers (or readers) as the hero in our marketing story, not our brand.

We’ll dive into this in the “brand story” section below…

2. The Chasm

This is a chasm 👇

marketing story hero chasm

This is also known as a story gap–and it basically just means “the gap between the hero and what the hero wants!”

Chasms leave an audience wondering “will the hero get what they want??? What will happen???”

Chasms are actually a byproduct of the next three Story Legos!

3. The Stakes

Why does the chasm even matter?

  • What if Chief Brody gets eaten by the shark, and the shark continues on a rampage?
  • Will Luke fail, leaving the evil Emporer to suppress freedom across the galaxy?
  • Will Rose be stuck in a life she hates?

What are the stakes?

If there is no downside to the hero FAILING or getting killed–your audience won’t be engaged.

4. The Desire

In order to create a chasm, the main character needs to desire something.

Important marketing tip:

All heros actually want TWO things (and so do your customers):

  1. The obvious thing
  2. The internal thing

The obvious thing = Luke wants to defeat the empire.

The internal thing = Luke wants to overcome his self-doubt and prove to himself that he has what it takes.

Your customers might want to make more money, or get a better job, or pay off student loan debt…

…but what they actually want is to feel comfy, secure, and stress-free about their money.

Jason Bourne wants to find his identity. Simba wants to return to Scar to avenge his father’s death and claim his kingdom.

The hero has to want something, but there has to be an obstacle to create a chasm.

5. The Problem

If the hero could simply cross the bridge and get exactly what they want–what kind of story would that be?

story problem villain

There’s got to be something that challenges the hero.

This usually involves either a set of circumstances (I want to quit my job but don’t have another source of income. I want the girlfriend but I’m overweight) or a villain.

6. The Villian

Darth Vader. Agent Smith. Thanos. Voldemort. The Joker (But only Heath Ledger’s Joker. Not Jack Nicholsons…)

Sometimes the villain IS the problem, and sometimes they create problems.

Marketing Takeaway…

Here’s a quote from StoryBrand:

If we want our customer’s ears to perk up when we talk about our products and services, we should position those products as WEAPONS they can use to defeat a villain. And the villain should be dastardly.

  • Budgeting YouTuber? One-click shopping & “keeping up with the Jonses” might be your villain
  • Keto blogger? SUGAR.
  • Tesla? Gas-guzzling car manufacturers and their lobbyists.

What’s a villain you can talk about that’ll make your audience dread?

7. The Guide

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Jack Dawson. Rafiki (and maybe Simon and Pumba?)

The guide exists to help the hero along their journey, giving them resources and a plan!

If your audience is the hero in their story, you (and your business) will be the guide.

8. The Plan

What Indiana Jones took one look at the Nazis and said “ehhh maybe I’ll just watch Netflix.”

That wouldn’t be a story at all. That’d be dumb.

No, the hero always needs a plan (sometimes given by the guide).

  • Ok, let’s find where the Nazis are hiding my dad (by starting with that library in Venice)
  • Let’s get Dad’s diary back (by impersonating a Nazi officer and going to Berlin)
  • etc.

Sharing the hero’s plan keeps the audience engaged! They want to know “will this work? What will happen?”

The REALLY cool thing about problems, plans, and goals = you can constantly be overcoming problems and reaching goals….but you MUST create more! There must always be a chasm. The story gap can change and evolve.

9. The Incident

Denis Nedry shuts down power to the gate systems–and all the dinosaurs get loose.

It’s a turning point in Jurrasic Park.

“The incident” is usually an external event that motivates the hero to take action.

  1. The hero wants to lose weight and feel better about himself.
  2. He’s depressed and goes to buy four gallons of ice cream.
  3. Holding the ice cream, he bumps into his old high school crush, an attractive and fit yoga instructor.
  4. He is now motivated to lose weight.

10. The Happy Ending

Your audience should be able to picture what the hero’s life will look like AFTER they overcome the villain and save the day.

If there’s no happy ending, why is the hero even trying?

If you sell products, you should always position them as weapons to conquer villains and get a happy ending.

You should also get your customers to literally imagine what their life will be like after they’ve bought your product/service.

This is sales 101.

If you sell products, you should constantly be sharing what your customers

To be continued…

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