The power of a great story in business

Table of Contents

Last time we got our domain name – so time to build a website right? Well, not just yet! It’s critical to now think of the story of your brand—the raison d’être. Many businesses – albeit not the successful ones mind you – are forgetting the power a great story brings to the table. If the story you tell your customer doesn’t resonate with them, you won’t sell anything. It’s hard to make prospects resonate with you, especially when you’re asking for your prospect’s money! 

That’s why Marketing exists. Marketing (and branding) are ways to tell a captivating story that will enthrall the customer and make them buy your product. Isn’t it over the top? Not at all…

The power of a great story

Humans love good stories. Storytellers are the ultimate attention grabbers, the top salesman. Think about it; when we go to the movies (well….pre-2020 that is), we’re sitting on our bum for two hours staring at a screen doing nothing but being captivated by a story crafted by an expert!

That’s because storytellers have honed their skills for thousands of years, understanding the human psyche and how to keep their attention. I will recommend a fantastic book that goes into detail about this: The Storybrand, by Donald Miller.

The basic storytelling structure

I’ll give you the quick rundown here. The idea is that almost all stories follow this structure:

“A CHARACTER has a PROBLEM and Meets a GUIDE who gives them a PLAN and CALL THEM TO ACTION that Helps Them AVOID FAILURE and Ends in a SUCCESS. The character TRANSFORMS during the journey.”


Sounds familiar? That’s because almost all blockbuster movies are following this recipe.

Harry Potter, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Aladdin, Lord of the Ring, The Matrix, Batman, Captain America (basically every single superhero movie), Crazy Rich Asians, Kung Fu Panda, A Star is Born …I think you’re catching on to the idea! All of these films display the power of a great story.

Now you’re saying: 

“Thanks, Patrick, for the lesson in movie scriptwriting, but how do I apply this to my business?”

Storytelling in business

Fair point! Let’s do a transition to infomercials, you know, those late-night TV programming that became a meme on the internet. 

Let’s have a look at this one:

It perfectly follows the scenario and it does make a good story. Let’s analyze why.

Script Potato Express
A CHARACTER You, the busy professional or stay at home mum who can’t wait 45 minutes for baked potatoes
Has a PROBLEM It takes too long to make good baked potatoes, and doing them in the microwave tastes yucky
Meets a GUIDE Potato Express – Of course!
Who Gives Them a PLAN Look at all these EASY and DELICIOUS ways of using it!
That Helps Them AVOID FAILURE Stop wasting time! Stop eating crappy microwaved potatoes!
And Ends in a SUCCESS “You GET IT ALL” AND you got freebies. What’s not to rejoice?!
The Character TRANSFORMS during the journey While not expressly conveyed, you can see the message is the transformation from wasting time and being disappointed in your potatoes to being relaxed AND having great potatoes.

Closer to business, isn’t it? 

That’s how you should build your “elevator speech.” Every marketing piece should follow the structure of your story. Even your website header could have a condensed version of that! Such is the power of a great story. You can use it from tweets to blogs to creating your landing page.

Who’s the Character? Your customer is the hero, not you.

Donald Miller points out how often businesses confuse the hero in their story. Your business is not the hero of the story; the customer is. They need to identify as the hero living the journey. 

Your company is, in fact, the guide showing the plan to the hero. You are

Yoda to Luke, Dumbledore to Harry Potter, Morpheus to Neo. You’re Potato Express! 

So who is your typical client persona? Who are they? What do they like, and what do they hate?

The personna of the character needs to be clearly defined, as it’s the base of the story. In fact, I’ve heard people giving the persona a name and a face from stockphotos, as it helps them. Do it if it does!

If you’re selling to radically different personas, then you’ll need another script for each, as their problems will be different as well.

The problem is External, Internal, and Philosophical.

You can’t enumerate all the problems it solves, or you’re going to dilute the story. After all, Avengers only have to worry about Thanos…

Potato Express starts immediately with the philosophical problem:

  • Everybody loves baked potatoes BUT
  • It takes 45 minutes to cook ( internal – losing time)
  • It tastes horrible when made in the microwave (external)

The philosophical argument is, why do I have to choose between waiting for too long OR eating something nasty?

Your problem should be defined the same way, not just “You waste time.” Try to find a simple way to explain the problem that makes people think: “it’s not fair.” Your solution – what you sell, will address specifically this lack of fairness. We, humans, CRAVE this battle against things that are “unfair.” We always love to root for the hero put in an unfair situation. Leverage that psychological aspect.

You are the GUIDE

Now that the problem is established, the guide comes in to point the hero in the right direction. The first thing is to show empathy. So granted, it’s often not the biggest show of empathy, but a hint often suffices. In our potato example again, the empathy card goes hand in hand with the second problem, “It tastes like crap.” Why do you need to suffer microwaved potatoes? There is no need to stay on the empathy aspect for too long, to avoid making the hero look like a wimp, but it’s still best to display it.

The guide also needs authority. Again, think of the examples I cited above. They are all full of wisdom and experience. Indeed, why would you trust the plan of someone with no experience? Authority and credibility needs to be established to establish trust that you are a trustworthy GUIDE that will lead your customer to success. After showing empathy, tell your customer why they should trust you with your credentials, experience, accomplishments, certifications etc.

The PLAN needs to be simple

The whole premise of those infomercials is to position the product, how simple it is. “Simply put the potato in the bag, microwave it, and tada!”. That’s a 2 step plan leading to an unmitigated success. You don’t want to have “The not so simple and easy 27 steps plan for X, but it will work, promise.” that doesn’t sound like a good story at all!

Sometimes advertising is bordering on scamming and false advertising. That’s because they try to make it TOO easy for what the product can actually do – so do not fall into that trap either. We all know the steps are longer in reality, but the story’s job is to make the reader fantasize about the easy solution to “make it fair”…without triggering the alarms about a potential scam.

The CALL to action is evident to you, not your customer

We tend to completely underestimate prospects’ ability to tune out the fact that you want them to BUY something from you. Humans are bombarded with advertisements all day long. We have a built-in filter for companies asking us for our money.

So you need to make your CALL TO ACTION obnoxious to yourself if you want potential customers to notice that you have something to sell. 99% of the time, the CALL TO ACTION is not clear nor repeated enough. I’ve written a guide about how to boost sales – see here – And the first item is the importance of the CALL TO ACTION on the landing page. Don’t be subtle about it. You’re very likely not going to go overboard with it.

Avoiding failure

We all want to avoid failure. It’s part of our DNA and survival instinct. You need to remind your reader that failing to act will lead back to the initial PROBLEM. The power of a great story lies into what’s at stake for the hero. In a movie the menace must be constant to remind the viewer why the hero is doing this.

It is a great technique because you circle back to a problem where the future customer felt stuck with no way out, but you did show the path forward and established yourself as a trustworthy guide. Suddenly the making the jump seems much easier. That’s why nearly every infomercial repeat the problems toward the end. “Yes, maybe I don’t need to wait 45 minutes for great tasting baked potatoes thanks to Potato Express”.

A good story ends in success!

Deliciously baked potatoes in a fraction of the time! That’s right! We always want the story’s hero to succeed, which is a transformative experience. What’s the success your customer can expect by investing in your product? How will it make them victorious of their problem? You need to clearly explain the advantages of your solution and how it will alleviate the pain points.

Finally, the transformation.

How did Frodo change in Lord of the Ring after his epic adventure? How did Neo change at the end of The Matrix? The transformation is the last piece of the puzzle. No one wants a story where the hero is back to square one. And no one will buy your product if it brings them back to square one either!

A great way to express this transformation is testimonials

These are ordinary people, just like your prospect, that had their life transformed by the product. That’s why testimonials are powerful. Potato express doesn’t include testimonials in their ad, but another super popular “as seen on TV” does: Slap Chop. This one is also a masterclass in storytelling, with a fantastic storyteller.

The Next Steps

Now that you have a clear view of the power of a great story, how do you integrate it for your business? It’s an excellent time to create your own scenario, using the table below:

Script Your Company
A CHARACTER Who are they? What do they want?
Has a PROBLEM What’s the main problem? How does it manifests itself internally and externally? Why is it unfair?
Meets a GUIDE Show empathy, build your credibility
Who Gives Them a PLAN Very simple, between 2 and 5 steps at most.
And CALL THEM TO ACTION What to do next? What is the customer should be doing now?
That Helps Them AVOID FAILURE What’s the failure we’re trying to avoid as a consequence of the problem?
And Ends in a SUCCESS How will the life of the character look like with a success?
The Character TRANSFORMS during the journey How did it work for others? Testimonials

In the next post of this series, we’ll go over how to create a great landing page, following the script you created. Make sure to subscribe below to be alerted when the article comes out 🙂