How to Tell a Good Story in Your Marketing
“I was 2 years old, running through the kitchen in oversized socks.
I was racing my shadow. And I was confident I would win…
But that’s not how it worked out.
I ended up in the hospital, screaming so fiercely my dad had to leave the room.”
That’s the beginning of my LinkedIn bio, for one simple reason:
We are suckers for good stories.
Once we’re wrapped into one, we can’t look away.
And, in marketing, where our goal is to grab someone’s attention out of the zillions of other distractions out there, we can’t afford to take a risk.
We have to go with what works. And stories have worked for as long as humans have been telling them.
Companies recognize this, and use stories often. Verizon’s recent campaign is a good example of this.
Not only do stories grab our attention, they let us empathize with the main character. Our hearts race when they succeed, and they sink to our stomach when those characters fail.
We all know a good story when we hear one, but if you’re not a natural storyteller, it can be hard to use them confidently in your marketing.
And that’s a shame, because stories are one of the most powerful marketing tools at our disposal.
But how do you tell a good story?
What’s the difference between a story that makes someone buy a product and one that makes them shrug their shoulders and move on?
Look, there are thousands of people out there I’m sure could tell a better story than me. There are books, podcasts, seminars, and everything else on the topic.
But, if you’re looking for something quick…
Something you could learn in the next 10 minutes that would help you tell better stories in your marketing…
You’ll want to read this.
I think, if you get these 5 things right, you can not just tell interesting stories, but tell interesting stories that sell.
Here’s my 5-step storytelling process. Let’s call it The Simple Marketing Story System.
(If you already have that trademarked, please don’t sue me. I literally just made it up.)
The Simple Marketing Story System
Start in the middle of the action
Highlight the pain points
Put your product at the center of where everything changed
Sell your product
Point the narrative to the reader
Let’s break that down.
1. Start in the middle of the action
You’ve probably heard the term in media res before. It means “in the middle of things.”
Don’t start your story describing the setting or detailing the scene.
Because if you’re at the beginning of your story, no one cares yet. They don’t have a reason to. So if you’re going on about how…
“Jim was a single father in his 30s who lived in a big city”
… no one is going to give a shit. (Sorry, Jim.)
We don’t need to know everything about Jim. Nor do we want to. We just need to know why we should care about him — fast.
And if you start in the middle of the action, you give us a pretty good reason to care —
We want to find out what happens!
So, instead of that boring opener above, try something like:
“As Jim walked down the sidewalk, he admitted it to himself…
This was the worst date he had ever been on.
And he just knew the first words he would hear when he walked in the door would be:
‘Daddy! How did it go!?’”
Now, we have accomplished a few things:
First, we’ve started in the middle of the action. We are with Jim as he’s walking down the sidewalk approaching his house.
We know he’s just had a bad date. And we’re interested to find out why it was so bad.
Second, we’ve conveyed all the same information from our example above.
Jim is a single dad. He lives in a big city. And, while we don’t give his exact age, using the word “Daddy!” from his daughter indicates that she is younger, which likely makes Jim fairly young himself.
Finally, we’ve conveyed all that important information without telling the reader. Instead, we have shown them that information through the story.
2. Highlight the Pain Points
This one is crucial, and it’s one of the biggest reasons I love using stories in marketing.
I don’t know about you, but I like to think I have it all figured out.
I can admit that I have some problems, but I may not be able to admit — or I may not realize — I have the same problem your product can fix.
So, instead of using copy like:
“Do you feel awkward or nervous on first dates? Is it hard for you to express yourself to people you’re interested in?”
You can say something like:
“Jim knew he was interested in Mary. But he felt so jittery around her, it took nearly all of his effort just to maintain eye contact and keep up with ‘normal’ conversation.
So instead of being able to share every bit of his unique personality and humor with her…
He came off as stiff and awkward.
He was almost positive he would never hear from her again.”
In this way, you are able to express the problems your readers might have, without assuming you know more about them than you really do.
And without pointing a painful finger that forces them to blatantly acknowledge their own shortcomings.
The bonus benefit here is that, if you get something wrong, your reader will likely glaze over it without a second thought. But if you get it right…
They’ll be nodding their heads in agreement.
(This is a tip I picked up from expert copywriter, Bond Halbert. So credit goes to him.)
3. Put your product at the center of where everything changed
This is where the real magic happens.
Now that you have revealed the pains your product solves, it’s time to actually solve them!
I prefer when this is a bit indirect, highlighting the concept behind your product, rather than the product itself.
Let’s continue our example.
“The worst part was that this wasn’t the first time this had happened…
Jim had been on 3 dates this month. All of them dead-ends.
So he decided to do something about it.
Instead of shrinking back and hiding from the problem —
Jim became even more social.
He joined local meetups, became part of a running club, and even started volunteering at a homeless shelter.
At first, he was terrified.
In fact, there were many days where all he wanted to do was go home, sit down on the couch, and avoid talking to anyone.
But he kept pushing through. And after six months of his rigorous social routine, Jim went on a date and realized everything had changed for him.
Instead of feeling awkward, he noticed he felt natural. He felt like he could actually be himself!
He was cracking jokes, making her laugh, and at the end, his date said:
‘Are you always this relaxed on first dates?’
Jim couldn’t believe it. He thought it was a fluke.
But when the same thing happened on two more dates, he realized something:
He had changed. He was finally comfortable in his own skin. And it happened naturally…
All because he forced himself to get out of his comfort zone.”
But wait — we didn’t even mention a product here.
Something a bit more subtle. We’re not selling the product explicitly. But we are shifting our reader’s beliefs to make them more likely to purchase our product.
(Shoutout to Chris Orzechowski for this knowledge.)
If our reader has the same pain points as Jim, he’s beginning to realize the key to feeling more comfortable in his own skin is getting out of his comfort zone on a regular basis.
So, while we’re not explicitly putting our product at the center of this turning point, we are putting the main concept behind our product there.
Let’s keep moving, so you can see what I mean.
4. Sell Your Product
This is the big transition, where you align your product with the concept the reader already believes is the key to solving his problem.
Let’s get explicit.
Problem: The reader feels awkward on dates and uncomfortable in his own skin.
Solution: Getting outside of his comfort zone on a regular basis.
Now, it’s time to sell your product.
“Can you believe Jim accomplished such a drastic change in just 6 months?
That’s the power of hard work and dedication to a goal.
And if you’re anything like Jim, you might be thinking to yourself:
‘I need to get out of my comfort zone more often.’
And I would agree!
But you can actually experience the same results as Jim in half the time.
See, Jim went through this whole process alone. He had to keep himself motivated. He had to keep himself accountable. He had to deal with the discomfort of doing new things all alone.
But you don’t have to go through this alone.
Because I want to help you.
That’s why, for this week only, I’m offering you the opportunity to join my exclusive Social Superstar coaching program.
For the next 3 months, I’ll be right there beside you, coaching you through all your new experiences, so that, like Jim, you can become more comfortable in your own skin and finally start to feel natural and relaxed around the people you date.”
At this point, you could transition into a call-to-action, or keep going with the pitch.
The point is, at this point in the story, you have transitioned from shifting the reader’s beliefs to selling your product.
And, more importantly, you’re selling an easy solution to a problem the reader has already acknowledged he has (feeling uncomfortable in his own skin), and…
The solution you’re providing is a better version of the concept he has already acknowledged is the solution to his problem (getting outside his comfort zone).
And that leads us to the final point of your story:
Pointing the narrative back to the reader.
5. Point the narrative back to the reader
This is where you make your reader believe that “if they could do it, so can I.”
It can be quick and simple.
Here’s how I’d navigate that in our example.
“If Jim was able to make all that progress completely alone —
How much would YOU be able to accomplish with a dedicated coach in your corner?
How much more confident could you be in just 90 days?
If you’re interested in learning more, just reply to this email with the phrase ‘Tell me more.’
I’d love to hear from you.”
And that’s it.
I like using questions here, because it gives the reader the space to come to their own conclusions.
You could certainly take a more direct route, but if you prefer more of a soft-sell, questions allow you to do that.
The main idea is to point back at the reader and show them that, because of what you’re offering, they have an even better chance to succeed than the person in your story.
And that’s it!
I’ll admit —
You may not win an Oscar with The Simple Marketing Story System, but it’s a quick way for you to start telling better stories in your own marketing ASAP.
Try it out, and let me know what you think.