The word story has become ubiquitous in marketing, but what are the fundamentals of a memorable story? And how can you apply these lessons to your business narrative? If you’re a startup working out how to tell your story, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself.

What makes a story stick?

A memorable story has a conflict at its heart. This could mean that the protagonist has to face a great challenge, or that two opposing forces collide and one must prevail. For a story to qualify as a classic story, some change must occur that can’t be undone.

Let’s start with a non-business example of a strong story.

Last week I went to ‘The Moth’ a live storytelling event in Brunswick. The winner of the night was called Bronwyn. What made her story the best? It was funny and the most memorable because it followed the rules of a classically good story.

The story was about Bronwyn’s teenage embarrassment at her mum’s car – a pale brown people mover that would start with an icy-pole stick. Bronwyn hated the car because it announced to everyone at her private school how little money her family had (her mother had scraped together the money for her to attend the school).

The climax of the story was when the car was stolen. Bronwyn was initially elated that the embarrassment was over, but she came to understand why her mum loved this vehicle so much… years earlier, this was the car her mum had piled her four young children into to rescue them to from their violent drunken father. In the dead of night, she had started the car with an icy-pole stick.

What was the conflict at the heart of this story?

The story was about Bronwyn’s desire to distance herself from the embarrassment of poverty, but in the course of the story she transforms her understanding of her history and by the end she is able to embrace and celebrate the reality of her background.

How can you apply classic storytelling to your business narrative?

If you’re a start up aiming to connect with customers, or investors, the fundamentals of storytelling can help you grab your audience’s attention. These rules can be valuable even if you only have a short time to connect.

Do you know what is at stake in your story?

Every story must have a main character (or characters) with an obstacle to overcome.

In 1978 James Dyson became frustrated with his vacuum cleaner which was diminishing in performance as it gathered dust inside. He spent five years using his experience as an industrialist to develop prototypes, which used cyclonic techniques, and the phenomenally successful bag-less vacuum was born.

What was the conflict at the heart of James Dyson’s story? Was it not having enough time to do the vacuum cleaning? No, the conflict at the heart of this story is Dyson’s determination to prove that industrial techniques could benefit the everyday person and the opposition that he had to overcome to achieve that. Despite being from the UK, Dyson initially had to launch the product in Japan, as it was the only place he could garner interest. It was years before the product took off in the UK.

If Hollywood were making the biopic of James Dyson’s life they would likely focus on his struggle to bring his vision to life and how he overcame resistance to become a global success.

How do you tell your story if you’re an industry disrupter?

Let’s look at a more recent example. The story of Uber began in 2008, on a snowy night in Paris when Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp were having a hard time finding a cab. Garrett had an idea – what if you could call a cab at the press of a button? He started to build prototypes for an uber app. What started as a private driver service grew into a global logistics company and an industry disrupter.

So, this isn’t story about the risk of freezing to death whilst waiting for a cab, it’s a story about how technology can be leveraged to allow people, and goods, to move with ease. The conflict at the heart of this story is the question of whether we can overcome existing structures to enable greater freedom.

When the Uber founders were making their first pitches to investors they would focus on how their innovative app would benefit the end user. The Uber brand is about empowerment and their current brand video is titled “You changed the way the world moves”. It features people of colour, and, notably, Saudi women drivers wearing the hijab, a clear visual example of Uber enabling greater freedom and breaking down barriers.

Uber could tell their story from the point of view of the two founders, working to raise finance and overcoming resistance. By telling the story from the point of view of the people who want to move with greater ease, they win customers and employees over to their vision.

Uber, like other smart companies, positions itself as the guide or magic ingredient that makes all this possible. Like the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, the company is there at the right time providing the tools people need to achieve their dreams.

Uber remains an industry disrupter; the company is currently the subject of various corporate scandals, so it remains to be seen whether Uber will indeed overcome existing structures and whether it will bring greater freedom. It’s also possible that the Uber revolution, if successful, may bring other sacrifices.

Your storytelling take home message:

  • A memorable story has a conflict at its heart, which comes to a climax and is resolved in your story.In it’s most basic form, this could be as simple as asking and answering a question.

  • If you only have a few seconds to play with you can ask a smaller question that contributes to the larger one, or to focus on one illustration of your question in action.

  • Depending on your intentions your story could be the story of your founder, or you could position yourself as the mentor figure enabling your customers to achieve their goals.

  • Position your company as the guide, or mentor, enabling your customer to achieve what they want. Ideally your customer is the hero and it’s your company who enables them to become the best that they can be.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn then picked up and republished by Storius – a Medium publication.

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