Picking the right story to tell your story

Stories are primal. That’s why the world runs on them.

As novelist Philip Pullman put it, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

And that’s why in recent years storytelling has become an increasing focus for brands and organizations as they recognize that the emotional wallop of well-told stories translates into long-term relationships…and sales.

VitalBriefing tells stories. That’s what our clients pay us for, whatever the format, whatever the content. In this series about storytelling, we’re going to look at what it takes to do it really, really well. With these basics, you’ll recognize a new and effective form of content marketing to drive your business forward.

First, where you must start: Picking the right story to tell.

the floor of an office is strewn with discarded paper balls signifying bad abandoned ideas as a mature businessman sits at a conference table thinking of more ideas to write down.

While there’s loads of science to this – raking over search results, trending topics and Twitter feeds, for example – we’ll focus on the ‘art’ side of the equation. Because there’s an art, too, to finding and selecting the right story to illustrate your value.

A good story is crucial because not only does it connect you to your audience on an emotional, gut level – which is exactly where you want to land your punch – but it also has the power to create trust between you both.

That said, the science matters. The human brain responds to the descriptive power of stories, influencing both its sensory and motor cortex. Simply put: To read a story is to feel an experience.

Scientists call this ‘neural coupling,’ which Princeton researchers have found leads to greater comprehension, understanding, anticipation and receptivity.

When searching for the right story, always ask first: “What’s the human element that will make people pay attention?”

You know that winning audience attention in a fragmented world overloaded with information is a massive challenge. So consider brands with stories that have resonated for decades now – how Jobs and Wozniak built their first Apple computer in a garage, or how Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop started in a renovated gas station on the back of a $5 correspondence course.

Both these tales focus on heroes’ hard work and perseverance to win in the face of overwhelming odds – a universal narrative we can all relate to.

Successful storytelling for a brand or organization is about showing the story rather than just telling it to your customers. You could analyse the business acumen of Ben and Jerry, but what matters is illustrating how they did it, the challenges they had to overcome, and the results: An excellent product that surprises and delights customers.

Ultimately, customer experience is key in the story selection. Consider that consumers are guided first and foremost by emotions (feeling and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes and data) when they’re making purchasing decisions. In fact, loyalty is influenced more by positive emotions toward a brand than mere trust and other judgements that are based on the brand’s characteristics.

But that doesn’t mean you should treat your story as simple marketing, or as a sales pitch. Instead, it should clearly reflect your organisation’s mission and values in order to resonate with your audience – essentially, get them to believe in your story, and they’ll believe in your brand.

Your story should illustrate the value of your business, but first it needs to connect with your target audience. Do you know who they are, how they think, what drives them and what interests them? You should. Then you can grapple with finding the story that will connect with them emotionally, and intellectually.

To get there, think simple – sincere, honest, personal – and try to be as visual as possible. The story should create mental images: Ben & Jerry’s gas station, the Jobs family’s garage.

However, the story should not necessarily focus on you or your company. Instead, it should appeal to your audience’s problems – the spotlight is on them, not you.

By homing in on the right emotional triggers, the best stories will show how you can solve their problems, satisfy their desires, identify opportunities and even threats to their future (B2C), or their business (B2B).

 In short, the right story is the bridge that creates the relationship. From there, you showcase the expertise that can meet their need, whatever it is.

Like we at VitalBriefing are doing with these blog posts. Right?


Patagonia tells the story of how the company’s clothing canbe useful for years through a program called ‘Worn Wear.’ It’s a clothes-recycling program where customers can buy used Patagonia clothes and later trade them back to the store down the road. It’s been so successful that Patagonia even made a movie about it.

For Patagonia, a company that cares strongly about its environmental footprint, this is a powerful story. But why?

  • With the tagline “The stories we wear,” the program plays on sentimentality and nostalgia.
  • It reflects the company’s eco-friendly brand and mission – which matter to its customers.
  • The story is placed directly in the product itself.
  • It incorporates the customer as an element of the story.
  • Trust is created from the moment a customer buys a product and ‘becomes’ the story.
  • The campaign builds and sustains a community and network involving the company and its customers.

Next: Now you’ve got the story, how do you research it to get the best material?