11 Storytelling Formulas to Supercharge Your Marketing

From mythology to machine learning, a history of artificial intelligence

Learn the storytelling formulas behind the success of brands and individuals.

Three-Act Structure

One of the oldest and most straightforward storytelling formulas

  • Setup — Set the scene and introduce the character(s)
  • Confrontation or “Rising action” — Present a problem and build up the tension
  • Resolution — Resolve the problem

In the first act, set the stage and introduce the character(s) of the story. In the second act, present a problem faced by the character(s) and build up the tension. In the third act, deliver the climax of the story by resolving the problem (with your product or service).

Freytag’s Pyramid: Five-Act Structure

  • Exposition — Introduce important background information
  • Rising action — Tell a series of events to build up to the climax
  • Climax — Turn the story around (usually the most exciting part of the story)
  • Falling action — Continue the action from the climax
  • Dénouement/Catastrophe — Ending the story with a resolution

Before – After – Bridge

  • Before — Describe the world with Problem A.
  • After — Imagine what it’d be like having Problem A solved.
  • Bridge — Here’s how to get there.

Set the stage of a problem that your target audience is likely to experience — ideally a problem that your company solves. Describe a world where that problem didn’t exist. Explain how to get there or present the solution (i.e. your product or service).

Problem – Agitate – Solve

  • Problem — Present a problem
  • Agitate — Agitate the problem
  • Solve — Solve the problem

First, you present a problem. Second, instead of presenting the “After”, you intensify the problem with emotional language. Finally, you solve the problem by offering your product or services.

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

  • Why — Why the company exists
  • How — How the company fulfills its Why
  • What — What the company does to fulfill its Why

Always start with your Why — Why are you in this business? What motivates you? Then, explain how your company will achieve your Why. Finally, describe in tangible terms what your company does to bring your Why to life (i.e. your products and services).

Dale Carnegie’s Magic Formula

  • Incident — Share a relevant, personal experience
  • Action — Describe the specific action taken to solve or prevent a problem
  • Benefit — State the benefits of the action

Open your story with a personal experience relevant to your point to grab your audience’s attention. Describe the actions you took chronologically, showing that a change was needed. Wrap up the story by connecting the change to its benefits. (This could be a customer’s testimonial, too!)

Dave Lieber’s V Formula

  • Introduce the character
  • Bring the story to its lowest point
  • Turn it around and finish with a happy ending

Once you introduce the character of the story, describe how things went awful for her, using emotions to draw your audience into your story. At the lowest point of the story, turn things around, describe how things improved, and end the story on a high note.

Star – Chain – Hook

  • Star — An attention-getting, positive opening
  • Chain — A series of convincing facts, benefits, and reasons
  • Hook — A powerful call-to-action

The star grabs your audience’s attention. The chain turns your audience’s attention into a desire. The hook gives them something actionable to fulfill their desire.

Pixar’s award-winning formula

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally _

The idea is to introduce a character or a group of character, describe their usual routine, present a twist that disrupts their daily lives, explain how they overcome it, and celebrate!

The Hero’s Journey

  • Departure — A hero receives a call to go on an adventure, receives advice from a mentor, and heads out on her journey.
  • Initiation — The hero meets a series of challenges but eventually completes the mission.
  • Return — The hero returns and helps others with her new found power or treasure.

The hero of your story would often be your customers. They experience some tricky situations in their lives or work but eventually solve the problems with your product or service, improving their lives or bringing results to their company.

Nancy Duarte’s secret structure of great talks

  • What is — The status quo
  • What could be — The future that could be possible
    Go back and forth between the two and end off with a …
  • New bliss — The wonderful future with your idea/product/service adopted

Start by describing the current situation and then contrast that with a future that’s way better. Make the present unappealing and the future attractive. Go back to the present and then point to the future again. End the story with the new state where your product or service is adopted.

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