Editor’s note: This post is adapted from a presentation that Kelvin Gee, the Senior Director of Modern Marketing Business Transformation at Oracle, gave at Content Connections, Acrolinx’s flagship annual conference. Held in May 2017, the event attracted hundreds of content professionals from around the world.

We all know that storytelling is a hot topic and a technique that’s used regularly in content marketing. But there isn’t a lot of content out there that tells you how to tell a story well.

To be successful with your content and actually make an impact, your storytelling needs to be effective. The reason is that there’s so much information out there, and it’s a lot harder to get people’s attention. (Google, for example, will index an estimated 305 trillion pages in 2017 alone.) In fact, according to Forrester research, most B2B buyers say that their vendors give them way too much bad content to sort through.

What all of this means is that as marketers, our greatest challenge is earning and maintaining the right to have a conversation with our customers. That’s because we’re not just up against our competitors. We’re also competing with all of our customers’ friends and family, the other brands they like, and everyone else who is working for their attention.

Why Stories Matter

As our tolerance for things that don’t immediately pique our interest shrinks, using storytelling to create more compelling and engaging content has become essential.

Storytelling is so effective because it’s a way to engage your audience and educate them, without overwhelming them with information. Plus, storytelling makes things more memorable. For example, just consider that people are 22 times more likely to remember a fact if it’s wrapped in a story. This means that storytelling is a great way to make sure your key messages really have an impact.

How to Tell a Good Story

So what makes a good story? Fundamentally, every story needs to include four common elements: (1) a setting, (2) a protagonist, and potentially other characters, (3) a conflict that the protagonist is faced with, and (4) a resolution to that conflict. To design your story, simply follow these steps:

  1. Research your personas and understand their needs. Who is your audience? What do these people need that they don’t have? What do you want them to do? What takeaways or lessons do you have for them? What do you want them to feel after hearing your story?
  2. Choose your protagonist. Your protagonist could be your company, your product, or your customers. Use your company if it defeats the competition by exploiting resources, engineering, or patents, or it has a unique origin story. Use your product if it’s vastly superior to the competition. Or, if you want to create a human connection between your audience and your company, use your customers.
  3. Set the time and place. Create the world where your story will take place. Select the time and location and be as specific as you can.
  4. Choose the inciting incident. All stories need a catalyst. What’s driving change? What’s the straw that broke the camel’s back? Whatever the case, something needs to happen to kick things off.
  5. Define the conflict. Every good story is built around conflict. There are four types: (1) internal conflict that incurs in the mind; (2) physical conflict, say with an adversary; (3) social conflict such as what can stem from political issues; and (4) the personal conflict that people experience with friends, family, and loved ones.
  6. Arouse an object of desire. That object can be physical or abstract, and should be the thing the protagonist needs to restore balance in his or her life.
  7. Conclude with a climactic action (resolution). Every story needs an ending that resolves the conflict you’ve established.

When done well, stories can be very powerful tools that evoke emotions and drive people to take action. Maya Angelou may have captured the essence of this idea best, when she said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Create stories. Use them to appeal to people’s emotions. You’ll be amazed at what happens.
To learn more, check out Kelvin Gee’s full presentation.