My hotel was most likely on fire.
I had just landed in Santiago from a 3-hour flight from Lima. It was 1 am Saturday, October 19, 2019. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the power of storytelling and persuasion, I would’ve stayed homeless for an entire weekend (once again). But more on that later.
“I am not taking you there. I don’t think anyone is,” a taxi driver told me at the airport while he showed me a video on his phone. It was a building on flames downtown Santiago. Right next to the hotel I was supposed to stay in during my three-day visit to Chile.
I had already paid for my hotel room and the taxi company to pick me up and take me there. But after 20 minutes of futile arguing with taxi drivers, no one seemed to have any intention.
Downtown Santiago was a hot zone. It was the start of a massive protest that took place at the heart of the capital and reached nation-wide coverage the following days.
Piñera, Chile’s president had just raised some of the country’s national services costs, including public transport, and previously, water and electricity. According to some locals who gave me more context, an unprecedented level of discontent had been boiling up in Chilean’s hearts and it finally exploded.
And it did explode.
I sat down on the floor. Discouraged but thinking about my next move. What was I going to do?
Suddenly a stranger approached me out of the blue.
“I can take you there,” he said. My initial reaction was to immediately reject him. It was too strange of a proposal. How could I trust this random smiling guy standing next to me?
My second thought? It was all I had.
“Alright. Let’s go.” I did not know anything about this guy, but I put my bags in his car and sat down next to the driver’s seat.
“Where are you going?” he asked. I told him the name of the place. “Impossible, it’s most likely on fire already. Find somewhere else to stay, I’ll take you anywhere but there.”
It was 2 am Saturday dawn, during a massive riot. How the hell did he expect me to find an available hotel room?
But I did. I logged into Expedia, purchased a night at a local hotel in Las Condes, a much quieter neighborhood, and he drove me there.
The radio was on. The hosts were screaming. Chaos reigned everywhere. Anxiety kept me from small-talking the driver next to me.
It was a surreal night.
When I arrived at the hotel, all the lights were off. Only a note hung on the door read: “Closed. For emergencies call +56 61 931 3268.”
I called. It rang for a moment but no one answered. I tried once again. Rang. Rang. Noise. “Hello?” he picked up. “Uhmm, hi! This is Victor, I just purchased a night at your…umh.. Hotel? For tonight!”
“Hmm, ah yes, I see the record here. But see, my friend, you booked it for today, Saturday 19th. Check-in is at 1pm, right now is 1am. No one is there to receive you, I am afraid.”
Instantly, I got altered and asked precipitously “please, I really need a place to crash tonight”
“I am sorry,” he said”.
“Pl, Pleas..” He hung up.
I felt a sudden cold. Seems like I’ve spent money and I’d be homeless anyway.
I told the friendly stranger to just leave me there. He said, “No weon, you have to call him and try again. Be more persuasive.”
I actually had a book called “Stories That Stick” in my travel backpack. I had been reading about the art of storytelling for persuasion during my entire flight. Somehow the drivers’ words picked up some recall from the book and I decided to tell the hotel guy my story using the book’s simple formula.
I called. He picked up. “Sorry, I told you I can’t receive you toni…,” he said politely. “My hotel is most likely on fire right now,” I interrupted. And proceeded to tell him the entire story full of details and as emotional as I could.
I kid you not, the guy was completely disarmed. It was as if a completely different and empathic person had just taken over the phone. “Let me make a few calls and get back to you. I might be able to find something,” he finally said. And hung up.
I waited skeptical and anxious while the driver guy made some thumbs up and friendly smile gestures next to me. 8 minutes passed. The phone rang.
“I have another hotel a couple of blocks away. It’s cheaper, but there’s someone who can receive you there. They won’t charge you anything, it’s on me. Here’s the address…” Success! I can’t believe it worked.
Usually, I’m not a great oral storyteller. I always loved writing and it has always been easy for me. But coming up with a story on the spot and telling it convincingly and flawlessly had always been a personal challenge.
Finally, I arrived at the new hotel. Indeed it was cheaper looking, it smelled like hotcakes and weed; streets outside were pitch black. But I had a mattress and a place to sleep. So I was grateful.
I thanked the taxi guy, paid him generously and entered my room peacefully as he drove away.
The Power of Storytelling
The fact that we are able to influence fellow humans with nothing but the power of our words is the closest thing we have to telepathy.
The importance of a brand storytelling framework in business is hard to condense. Storytelling can be used to communicate ideas that may seem abstract in a much more practical and memorable way.
Psychologically, humans are wired to love stories. It does have a neurological effect on our brain. We’re basically storytelling animals. We don’t like open loops, our brain is wired to aim at completion.
Have you ever had a friend tell you an awesome story about how we almost got caught by the police last weekend, and suddenly something interrupts him midway, so you start to ask him excitedly “what happened next?”
That’s the same psychological trigger Netflix’s producers use to leave an open ending in every episode. So you want to come back and close the loop. It’s the perfect weapon for retention.
The Importance of Brand Storytelling
Now that you’re aware and fully convinced of the importance of stories, it is worth mentioning that this is not something that only works for individuals or Hollywood producers. Storytelling in business is just as powerful, and it’s an art all brands should leverage.
As I mentioned, most of this I learned from the book “Stories that Stick.” Which I recommend fully. If you’d like to dig deeper, make sure to get your copy now. The sooner you start practicing, the better.
Now, I’ll give you a practical way for you to create and narrate your own stories quickly and easily. Much in the way I did back in Chile. So read on!
The 4 Main Storytelling Elements
No, your brand is not your character. No, your product is not your character. People are!
What makes Marvel movies so compelling? The fact that there are relatable characters. Even though their superpowers and tech suits give them massive god-like skills, we still get to see the context of their personal lives. We learn their vulnerabilities, their psychology and how they get through challenges, both personally and during fight scenes.
This is what connects us with them on an empathic and emotional level. If it wasn’t for these parts of the story, and all of it was action clips, you can be sure it wouldn’t be the massive success it is.
So, do that. Create a human character(s) with a tangible problem. Don’t be afraid to be specific. When it comes to the art of storytelling, abstraction rarely works.
2. Relatable Emotions
What was your character feeling at that point in time? What was going through her mind? What kept him up at night?
We could say that the main purpose of marketing, copywriting and storytelling is to drive change, influence behavior, or instill a mindset in our audience. The way we do it is through emotions.
We, humans, love to consider ourselves as logical and rational creatures, but according to CBC, 95% of our behavior and decision making is either emotional, irrational and unconscious.
Thus, our words need to appeal to emotions, which can later be justified through logic.
Same goes for stories. You can have a perfectly descriptive narrative, but if you fail or omit the emotions in the story, and especially from the characters, the effort will be in vain.
It doesn’t have to be a strong dramatic emotion, such as infusive happiness or numbing sadness, it can be something as mundane as tiredness, jealousy or joy.
You can go ahead and identify the emotions I explicitly used in my story above.
3. Realistic & Descriptive Details
Throw two or three hyper-specific details about the scene, the characters, or any other element in the story. This will transport your audience vividly to that particular place and time. It can be anything such as clothing and physical appearance of some characters, specific weather conditions or cultural remarks from the place.
Notice I did this in my story by mentioning the physical appearance of the driver guy, the way the new hotel smelled like and the chaos on the radio.
4. A Specific Moment
People usually tell stories too vaguely, too ambiguous, too abstract. “There was a time when,” doesn’t work. That’s too abstract.
“One day” works, because it is narrowing down the macro story into one specific moment that illustrates the point of the whole situation most representatively.
Bring it all down to a specific moment in time. There you can throw all details and conversations needed, but make sure these are crucial. They’ve fought their way into the story.
The 3-Step Formula For Powerful Storytelling
This is your time to shine. Most people believe the key to a good story is the punchline, the explosion. And it is. But…
The key to a great story is the intro, or as Kindra suggests, the “normality.” This is when you get to connect with your audience; hook them and generate this internal feeling of empathy while the story unfolds.
Make sure your audience feels self-identified or at least spark their emphatic neurons on this part. How do you generate this? By inserting three of the variables we mentioned earlier: characters, emotion and details.
This is where most of the magic happens. You have to hook people here and start building the suspense until the drop.
If stories were EDM and dubstep songs, the first 50 seconds are what producers usually call the build-up. You introduce the rhythm, the instruments and the main melody.
Gradually, they’ll insert an unmissable white noise that increases pitch and volume right before dropping a phrase from a random viral Youtube video.
Then, it’s all about the drop and that bass.
The drop and that bass. Yes, this is where sh*t hits the fan. In dubstep concerts people are headbanging, in day-to-day stories people are usually bitting their nails, exclaiming “no way”, or asking “so, what happened next? How did it get solved?”
When it comes to our brand storytelling framework, this is usually, the part where the product makes an entrance, a conflict gets resolved or a life-changing event defines the purpose of the company.
I find it easier to just aim to mirror the “normality” narrative, but with the contrasting attributes generated during the explosion.
Are there any specific details, emotions or lifestyle changes that happened to your characters? Mention those explicitly, or at least, well-described enough that people understand the outcome unequivocally.
The 4 Types of Brand Storytelling
Not all stories are created equally. Obviously, in business storytelling, there are patterns that allow us to categorize stories into four main classifications — though, there could be obviously many more.
Every story serves a different objective, and while they could be used complementarily, there are particular use cases for each. These are the following:
The Value Story
If you’ve ever narrated how a product helped you solve a day to day problem of yours, you’ve used the value story. This type uncovers and explains the value of a product by telling the exact moment you’ve benefited from it.
This is the type of story we see in ads. A company telling the story of a consumer and how they found value on the product.
The Foundation Story
This is how the company was founded, basically. This type of story is particularly useful when pitching investors and team members. It narrates the market and personal conditions that drove the founder to start the company.
It’s also great to elaborate on the specific issues and challenges the founder faced as an entrepreneur. People love the hero story!
The Purpose Story
This isn’t about the product, per se. It transcends the product to reach the “why” behind it. Telling a story whose moral is the objective or the raison d’être of the company, is a great way to align team members on what truly matters.
The Consumer Story
Although this one may sound similar to the value story, the difference lies on the angle. While the value story is always told by a company or agency, the consumer story is told by the clients themselves. You can call them testimonials, but I prefer the Consumer Story term.
Testimonials are usually a very short review of the product’s features. What we need here is the story of that time the user first used the product and experience its “aha! Moment!.”
There needs to be emotion, and product reviews hardly pull this off.
|Value Story||Foundation Story||Purpose Story||Consumer Story|
|Purpose||Increase sales and ad effectiveness||Increase trust among investors, partners and employees||Align the team||Increase sales through social proof|
|Main Audience||Leads and customers||Stakeholders||Employees||Leads and customers|
|Who should tell it||Sales reps, advertisers, presenters||Founders, reps||Leaders, execs||Customers and companies|
The Most Important Element For An Effective Brand Storytelling Framework
There’s one quality that gets reused in marketing over and over again. And it’s, single-handedly, the most important factor to consider. It’s called empathy.
When you’re creating your user persona, writing copy, designing the product’s UI and UX, finding the channels to communicate with users, interviewing them, etc. you’re always flexing that empathic muscle. You should be.
So the key to powerful storytelling is also the same. You don’t have to create a story from scratch, although you could. The best stories are the ones that are original and authentic to communicate the point of the story but are also context-driven. This means that you may not create a story, but enter a story.
Make the consumer the hero and enter their story, tell their own story and position yourself to fit in perfectly.
If you manage to do this, people will feel as if you’re reading their minds, and there’s no other practical solution to their problems but your product.
When My Inability To Tell Stories Left Me Homeless For A Weekend
My recently acquired superpower of storytelling undoubtedly was the single difference between that time and this time. That time when I actually slept on the streets of Byron Bay, Australia.
Back in 2015, I went on a study exchange to Sydney. During Australia’s spring break, I and some other (Latin American) friends decided to head up north to Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Byron Bay.
As good Latin Americans, we went on with the flow and didn’t book a hotel for our travel. We had done the same in Brisbane and quickly found a nice hotel to stay the very same night we arrived.
Little did we know that every single Australian went to Byron Bay the same week.
Indeed, we arrived and immediately realized it would take more than a couple of phone calls to book a place to stay. So we went door knocking, literally. We visited every single hotel in town. Everything was full.
We even went to a car rental to lease a car for the weekend and so we could sleep there. Nothing.
We had to sleep at the park bench, covered by the wet towels we had just used to dry ourselves from our “shower” at the public bathrooms’ sink.
Now that I think about it. This situation is less complex than what I went through back in Chile. And it wasn’t definitely the lack of rooms. It was our poor storytelling skills that had us sleep on the cold park bench those nights.
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