Making Brand Magic.

Learning from Hollywood’s Storytelling.

Award season in the entertainment industry is a time to put the spotlight on the most exceptional storytellers and story makers in cinema and TV.

For brands and the folks responsible for strategizing, creating and expressing them, it’s a good time to remind ourselves why great storytelling matters and how to do so for your brand.

As I see it, the primary business that I’m in is to move people. An aspect of moving people requires crafting and activating brand stories that create both an intellectual understanding and an emotional engagement with the audience—reaching the heart and mind of people.

While the budget and audience aim may be somewhat different, our job in brand strategy building and expressing has a great deal in common with Steven Spielberg’s telling of the Lincoln story, for instance. We are both in the business of moving people.

With this in mind, here are few key tips on what it takes to tell an engaging story.

Get beautiful. Creating beauty in the worlds of brands is sometimes overlooked and taken for granted.  As humans, we have no real defenses for authentic beauty in all its forms. Some marketers focus so much on the tactical and analytical side of their brand expression that they overlook the importance of mining and uniquely expressing the beauty within the brand.

An example of this is the recent scientific and highly visual phenomenon that SpaceX has created when is successfully launched and returned it Falcon Heavy rocket. Within that last month, several launches have taken place by this non-NASA, private sector company.

They’ve done a remarkable job in telling and showing the launches through well-orchestrated live online events. The Falcon Heavy was so successful as a marketing story that they had tens-of-thousands of people tune into their live coverage of the launch. This event was remarkable to witness partially because it was visually fascinating and history-making at the same time.

Create awe. Moments of awe create memorability. To ensure you’re deeply engaging your audiences to make sure you are using not only the right language but also the right messengers. If you care about your customer you’ll do your best to both woo them and wow them. This requires creating elements of surprise and magic in your stories and storytelling.

Pixar is a company who has mastered not only great storytelling but also doing so in beautiful ways. Their recent film Coco, is the story of Mexico’s Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), as told through the adventures of a 12-year-old boy named Miguel Rivera who secretly dreams of becoming a musician. The boy is accidentally transported to the land of the dead. Here the story unfolds through unexpected turns of events. It’s a magical story that is beautifully told.

Too many times we see woefully boring Twitter and Facebook feeds from companies (and people) that are as boring as watching a family vacation slide show. The cure is “wow.” Humor, cleverness, the unexpected and relevance of your story can quickly enter into the hearts and minds of audiences.

Make your audience the hero. Tell your audience a story they can relate to and see a part of themselves in. Better yet, tell them a story that’s all about them—a story they can insert themselves into, and at the very least, demonstrates you know them and have empathy for them.

Be captivating. Short-attention-span marketing is here to stay. Most viewers will give your story about six seconds to either grasp their attention or say “fuggit” and move on. Hold your story approach up to these questions:

  • How can you capture their attention quickly?
  • What can you do to pull them in visually?
  • What does your story headline and imagery do to cut through the clutter?
  • How can you break your story down into more bite-sized pieces (short sentences and paragraphs, pull quotes, bullet points, strong visuals, etc.)?
  • Is the essence of your story clear and meaningful?
  • How can you distill the telling of it?
  • What’s the reason for your story, and what does your audience walk away knowing and feeling?

If you know these answers, you can effectively build out your story. Remember, people don’t have much time or attention span. Get to your point quickly enough to move them.

As Peter Gruber notes in his book “Tell To Win,” a story can be like a Trojan Horse (you know the story) that is welcomed into the inner world of readers and viewers, and they’re taken, literally, by surprise with the unexpected twists that the story contains. This master storytelling is a winning approach for brand and individuals.

Onward & forward — Better brands. Better business. Better life.

With gratitude, Steven Morris


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