What is good storytelling? It’s a great buzzword and an even better sales generator, but where’s the meat of it?


In branding, a well-told story is the mecca of customer engagement. It’s the highly espoused air in which so many companies claim mastery. And some brands actually are great storytellers.


But because it’s such a popular term, it’s moved further and further away from its roots. I’d been working in marketing for two years before I figured out what ‘good storytelling’ really meant in a branding context. It’s touted around as such a great thing, but what is it really?


Even in marketing, the elements of a good story are nestled in literature and conversation. To understand how it can be reached, we have to go back to the roots of storytelling.


In almost every blog post or essay I read about this topic, the author includes a list of the [insert number] most important elements of storytelling. I don’t think that’s the right way to approach it. There are highly relevant elements of storytelling that a storyteller should understand – setting, character, language, conflict, meaning, etc. What should be most basically understood by a marketing department is what the heart of a story is.


A good story catalyzes an experience of the genuine emotions we feel in life. Anything that we can love, anything that we can be passionate about, anything we can hate, anything we can claim as our own – it all happens from the platform of live experience or memory. A good story stirs those emotions from their depths in the brain and pulls a person into any different headspace. Those places inspire a host of emotions, thoughts, and understandings.


So what does that mean by way of separating a good story from a bad one? It means that the success of a story can be judged by the degree of cognitive operation it elicits.


To master that power, we can break our focus into two simple elements: what and how.


What are you saying? What’s the call to action for your marketing efforts and what does your customer need to be thinking in order to make that action? What’s the final brain place, or the unique need state, you need your customers to achieve? In literature, this is the climax and/or the resolution of the major dramatic question.


Do you need your customer to want the sweet waterfall of crisp soda to roll over his tongue? Do you need your customer to sink into the complexity of an important personal question? Do you need your customer to envision herself as the slick superhero behind the wheels of a fast car?


When you’ve figured that out, you can determine the how. And the how isn’t always as complicated as it may sound. Read the story written by Ernest Hemingway below.


“For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”


Six words. And yet we find ourselves in a notable and genuine state of mind at the end of it. It takes a few small details and combines them with simple language. It’s based on a familiar experience that people care about and can talk to each other about.


In branding and marketing, good stories aren’t limited to words. They’re told with an unrestricted set of experiences and touchpoints. Your SEO presence could be the opening line. If you’ve said something meaningful, your customer will click onto the site. And then what’s the narrative of the site? Where does it take its users? These are all steps in a larger story.


The story can be subtle. It doesn’t have to be a consumer product or a loud, monstrous, sensory statement about who knows what. It can be a business-to-business story. Everything is a story. Even if you don’t think you are telling one, or don’t think that you want to tell one, your brand isn’t immune.


Good marketing strategies accept their place as storytelling vehicles. They determine a meaningful end, one that means the consumer has truly been engaged, and they create a story arch, the how, with all the tools available to them.


Omni-channel marketing is omni-channel storytelling. And brands should push themselves to tell a good story.