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10 Storytelling Essentials For Marketers

November 17, 2014

man being lifted into air by balloons labeled with essential storytelling attributes: hero, villain, love interest, romance, suspense, tension, humor, anecdotes, conflict which are better than just boring facts

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You’re not relying on plain ol’ boring facts for your marketing, are you? That doesn’t work anymore. It probably never did.

Today, marketing is all about connecting with people, and building relationships. You do that thru storytelling.

What makes a good story? There are 10 essential elements.


1. Hero

Every good story needs a hero/heroine. Who’s the hero? You are. Why? Because your product or service is going to rescue the client, and save the day.


2. Villain

Every good story also requires a villain. In marketing, the villain is the nasty little problem that is causing your client grief. You, the Hero, will dispatch the villain, and save the day.

Please note: the villain is not your competition. Heroes do not disparage others. That would make them seem small and petty.


3. Love Interest

That’s easy: the love interest is your potential client. You’re not reaching out to some amorphous group. You’re telling your story to an individual– a real person.


4. Romance

It’s up to you– the Hero– to woo the prospective client. You must be passionate and sincere. Passion alone is not enough– you must mean every word you say.


5. Suspense

Any unresolved problem creates at least mild suspense. By describing the kind of problem you can solve, you introduce suspense into your story.


6. Tension

Stating the problem creates an awareness-based tension, which is positive. You have brought the problem into the open.

Using scare tactics is a mistake. Such tactics cause fear and resentment, which create negative tension. True heroes stay positive– it’s an important part of their image.


7. Humor

Humor creates a receptive mood. People who are relaxed and happy are more open to your message.

Humor also boosts your likeability. People like to do business with people they like– and they like people who make them smile.


8. Anecdotes

An anecdote is defined as a short account of an interesting or amusing event. In marketing, that equates to brief case studies with happy endings: how you solved a problem for a previous client.


9. Conflict

Good marketing creates conflict: do I ignore the problem, or do I take action? Without conflict, prospects will not feel compelled to act.


10. Resolution

The happy ending is a happy client. He’s happy because you solved his problem.

Marketing isn’t just about selling. It’s about building a relationship and winning a customer’s loyalty. You do that by solving a problem for a fellow human being.


To sum up: facts don’t persuade, emotion does. That’s why successful marketing campaigns tell good stories.

The power of emotion also explains why good visuals are so essential to marketing. Visuals get attention. They stir emotion and arouse curiosity. Hopefully, my illustration (above) helped motivate you to read this post.

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Mark Armstrong has been a commercial illustrator for over 20 years. He’s a Photoshop expert specializing in humor, marketing, communication, editorial, and social media. He believes there’s a visual component to every communications problem. His goal for every assignment: illustration that gets attention, makes a point, and sends the right message.

Mark lives in New Hampshire, USA. You can follow him on Twitter @mrstrongarm, and connect with him on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Mark Armstrong Illustration. You can view his portfolio in slideshow format.

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Have I missed any? Are there other essential elements a good story needs to have?

Have you ever heard a story that prompted you to buy something, or donate to a cause?

Do you think the above illustration will help you remember the ideas in this post?

Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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If you enjoyed this post, please click the Like button below.

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I also invite you to get updates. Just click the Get Updates button in the sidebar below the Portfolio Thumbnails, or click + Follow in the blog menu bar.

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Other Posts You Might Enjoy:


Mr. Puddle Opens A Store

Thanksgiving Story: How The Jive Turkey Hustled The Street Musician

Hey, Gunslinger– Love Your Hat!!

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45 Comments leave one →
  1. Mia Moravis permalink
    November 17, 2014 1:28 PM

    Wonderful and helpful, and the illustration helps us remember each compelling component!


    • November 17, 2014 3:10 PM

      Thank you, Mia! A comment like that means a great deal, especially coming from a respected and long-time publicist and marketing consultant like yourself. Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks so much for your support! : )


  2. November 17, 2014 2:36 PM

    Hi Mark,
    How would you suggest marketing music?


    • November 17, 2014 9:17 PM

      Hi, Leslie, nice to see you.

      Most music marketing is done thru videos. They’re a great storytelling vehicle, but the people who make them rarely take advantage of that, IMO. If you’re an established performer, I guess it doesn’t matter. But if you’re trying to break in, a video’s a chance to sell a song and/or build a brand (establish a band’s identity) by telling a story– a kind of mini-movie, with the song serving as the soundtrack.

      I don’t follow music videos much, but I can think of several that employed stories: Red Red Wine by UB40, Legs by ZZ Top, and Poor Boy Blues by Chet Atkins & Mark Knopfler. They all project a certain identity: working class, super-hip, and tongue-in-cheek country.

      My favorite concert film is Roy Orbison & Friends: A Black & White Night. The B&W cinematography and superb editing give the film a distinct mood and high energy. All the songs work great as stand-alone videos: Ooby Dooby, for example. These are all personal preferences, of course, but I think they’re good examples of “music stories.”

      I also think art and music can be combined to create interesting slideshows and videos. I’ve done a couple myself: a tribute to the Dave Clark 5, and “Manger Jazz,” which strings together bits and pieces of a single illustration. These were just experiments, not attempts at any kind of marketing.

      I’ll close with one last thought: if I were making a music video to promote a song or a band, I wouldn’t end the video as soon as the song ended. I’d extend it for 15 or 20 seconds with one or two still frames giving contact info and a website URL where fans could download the song, read about upcoming appearances, get on the band’s email list, etc. Just some ideas– hope that helps! : )


      • November 17, 2014 9:28 PM

        That’s a lot of good information. Thank you very much. I just made a video to go with one of my songs called Espionage Blues. I guess I’d better get busy and make some more videos.


        • November 18, 2014 4:04 PM

          Espionage Blues… I like it already! Would definitely like to hear it, and see the video!! : )


        • November 18, 2014 4:18 PM

          Just go to my web page and click on the YouTube video.


        • November 19, 2014 1:25 PM

          I did.

          I bopped, I grooved, I did a few of my famous disco moves, and left a comment. Many thanks, Leslie– wishing you much success with your music! : )


        • November 19, 2014 1:47 PM

          Thanks Mark. I’m glad you enjoyed it. After all that’s the whole point, isn’t it?


  3. permalink
    November 17, 2014 3:50 PM

    I’ve just spent the last half hour entertaining myself with your humor. I love St. Francis with the birds…..!

    Do you really sell them? Can I buy one directly from you, o eminent freelance humorous illustrator for marketing communication and editorial and social media? Phew! That was a mouthful, aka keyboard full. Always love to hear from you.


    • November 17, 2014 5:10 PM

      Ha! Hi, Pat! Your good-humored comment made me bust out laughing. Eminent Freelance Humorous Illustrator, etc, etc, etc, indeed–!! : )

      Yes, I do sell those images as both prints and cards. If you click on any of those images, it’ll take you directly to the corresponding image in my online store, where you can purchase same. For St. Francis & The Birds, you can just click on this link.

      This might be a good opportunity to explain to you and anyone else who’s interested how my online store works:

      The site is run by Fine Art America. I’m one of many artists who sell their work thru FAA. Most of us have individual stores. I upload any images I want to sell. FAA’s software powers the site, and allows buyers to browse thru the images and order prints and cards. FAA also handles all the printing, matting & framing (which is optional), and shipping.

      FAA sets a certain base price on all items. The artist tacks his profit onto that. For example: FAA charges $3.95 for a single greeting card, including the envelope. I add a dollar to that (my profit), so you’d pay $4.95 for a single card– which is comparable to what you’d pay in a store. Note: You can add whatever greeting you’d like inside the card. You can also buy cards in sets of 10 or 25. FAA ships your order within one business day.

      Hope that helps!– and thanks again for your kind words and support! : )


  4. November 17, 2014 6:03 PM

    …and that’s how you do it!!!! Here’s a theme that I have tried reading about in the past but simply gave up after a couple of sentences! Trust a talented witty individual [YOU!] to grab my attention first with your illustration and then with the brilliant analysis! Gobbled down to the last word! Merci, monsieur! Vous êtes géniaux! [you also bring out a certain ‘ je ne sais quoi’!!!! 😉 ]


    • November 18, 2014 4:41 PM

      Fard à joues, fard à joues! Mon beau visage est rouge comme une betterave!! Vous avez certainement un sens de la formule, mon cher charmante Marina!!

      Your exquisite comment has left me étourdi et et faible dans les genoux. Thank heavens for my iron constitution (an absolute must for any illustrator), or I’d be lying insensible for days, rather than just for an hour or two. So glad you enjoyed it, my dear Marina, and thank you for your stirring testimonial. It’s good to know that as a scholar, I rank right up there with Aristotle and Plato.

      I’m referring, of course, to Aristotle Smith and Plato Q. Jones, a couple of local high school dropouts… : )


      • November 19, 2014 6:26 PM

        Ah, vous êtes donc très gentil, mon cher ami, mais vraiment, vous êtes un génie!
        Ranks are unacceptable ‘up here’, however I hear they made an exception for you! 🙂 🙂


        • November 19, 2014 9:16 PM

          Grands foudres galop!! Un génie, vous dites?? Ma tête tourne…

          Hmm… let me reason this out… a genius is a person with a high I.Q. Ah! I begin to see: I.Q. must stand for either Immense Quackery, or Inordinately Quirky. Yes, I suppose in that sense, I am a genius– an exceptional genius, in fact… : P

          My dear Marina: I don’t care about ranks, but the thought of being welcome on Mt. O. is a happy one. I could enroll in one of your painting classes, which would make me un charlatan très heureux indeed. Je vais tenir fermement à cette pensée que je tombe en pâmoison… : )


  5. November 17, 2014 8:51 PM

    Our one son-in-law is in sales. He would agree, as I do, that you nailed the essential elements 100 percent. They make not only the story, but what you need to connect to your customers/clients in a positive way.

    One day, when driving home, I heard a story on NPR about Heifer International. They help many struggling families with gifts of farm animals. Our family decided to pitch in to buy a goat. It’s one feel-good purchase we’ve made for several years now. That story helped convince us.

    Your post is a wonderful reminder, Mark, of the good that advertising can do. 😉


    • November 18, 2014 4:53 PM

      Ah, Judy!– thank you for that lovely comment. Your kind support definitely helps keep me going, and that’s no joke.

      What a great story about Heifer International. Reminded me of a guest homilist at church earlier this year. His order is involved in foreign missionary work, and he told stories about specific people, referring to them by name. He spoke in a very casual conversational tone, and never made a direct appeal for money. He didn’t have to– his stories made you want to help out.

      Many thanks, amigo, for always contributing to this blog in such a positive way! : )

      Liked by 1 person

  6. soul . to . earth permalink
    November 18, 2014 11:05 AM

    So true! As a consumer, I’m often ‘sold’ to more by a story or something personal with some exceptions [Ex: Toilet cleaner 🙂 ]

    Your feedback on the use of social media as a marketing tool got me thinking. Do timing and setting (supply/ demand/ mood) affect and determine the actual success of any type of marketing? Any thoughts?


    • November 18, 2014 9:16 PM

      What?? My dear Radhika… surely you don’t mean to tell me that your toilet cleaner purchases are based on some crass commercial consideration like: Ceramic Super-Dynamic (with patented itty bitty bowl-brightening bubbles that froth and fizz and take care o’ biz): On Special This Week!! Buy 6, and get a Mr. Scrub-A-Dub Brush for half-price!! Tsk, tsk… : P

      Didn’t I ever tell you the story of the Beautiful Princess who lived in the Beautiful Castle, and everything sparkled and gleamed like gold, except, well, in the rather smelly Royal Water Closet?? It made her very sad, and when the Princess was sad, the whole Kingdom was sad, and… uh… never mind… : )

      Your question is a very interesting one. I can tell you that timing and setting and mood are all big factors in my own purchasing decisions. I can postpone a purchase for a long time, and “make do.” Then comes a day when the stars seem to align: I’m ready, I’m in the mood– and the person who tells me the right story at that point, gets the sale. I don’t know if I’m unusual that way, or if it’s a fairly common personality trait. On the other hand, there seem to be many recreational shoppers these days, and I think a lot of people are impulse buyers. I suspect “stories” influence all of us, with some people needing much less persuasion than others.

      But never mind all that– let’s talk about something important: toilet cleaner. Now as I say, the Princess was very sad, and had taken to moping around and eating pork rinds, when one day… : )


  7. November 19, 2014 1:29 AM

    Interesting. I will have to show this to my wife (@wavemistress/Cimmorene), as she is a bardic storyteller of the old school.


  8. soul . to . earth permalink
    November 19, 2014 10:24 AM

    😀 Ha, ha, Mark, what a kaboomski of a comment! In my laughter while clutching my teara, I cried a flood all over the royal throne (recycling at its best, n’est-ce-pas?). Such a cleansing movement, it bowled me over. Befittingly, Boom, boom, boom played on my iPod (seriously, it did!). 😉

    All jokes apart, you’re not alone in being a “I’m seeing stars”…..oops, I mean stars-are-aligned shopper. The recreational shopping hits me only when in Costco where da Club membership makes everything seem free to try until the checkout line. Not being a hoarder does help maintain control.


    • November 19, 2014 1:21 PM

      You cried a river all over the royal throne?? Well, that’s one way to clean a toilet, I suppose. I must pass that tip along to the Princess. If she’s gonna be sad and cry, she might as well put her tears to good use… : )

      BTW: the correct title of that song is Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom– not Boom, Boom, Boom. That’s important. It gives the song a whole new layer of… uh… meaning…

      Costco… I’m not sure I’ve ever been in one. Just as well. I sometimes get lost in our local country store, which has 3 tables, 6 chairs, a counter, a barrel, a potato chip rack, and a deli display case the size of a microwave, all in one room. I’d bring a compass, but I always had trouble using those back in geometry class.

      Boom on, my dear Radhika!! : )


  9. November 19, 2014 4:04 PM

    Great insight. I’m a huge believer in brand storytelling. Thanks for writing this out so well.


    • November 19, 2014 8:50 PM

      Hi Everett, many thanks. Just took a look at your site, and I can see we’re right in sync re the power of stories, and how essential they are to establishing a respected brand. Really liked your point about marketing today being about meaning, rather than presence. Stories have that emotional content that’s crucial to telling people who you are.

      Thanks for your kind comment, it’s nice to meet you.


  10. November 20, 2014 4:42 PM

    Terrific art, Mark! And thanks for your storytelling wisdom!

    I’ve been teaching storytelling to students and clients for 30+ years, and shared powerhouse news stories before that time.

    A few tips:

    1. Make facts fascinating. Facts, shared powerfully, fulfill a great story’s keep need: believability. Use facts well, but use them sparingly–just enough.
    2. Put your listener-reader-viewer IN the story. Make it about them–help them live it.
    3. Share visual description. Let them SEE it.
    4. When possible, share it in the PRESENT TENSE. Make it happen NOW. You can do this with most any story–and bring it to life.

    Keep up the SUPER WORK Mark. Terrific talent, terrific thinking. Thanks for sharing it with all of us!


    • November 21, 2014 9:52 AM

      Hi, Fred! My sincere thanks for your wonderful comment. I appreciate the kind words, and thank you for sharing those excellent tips– they all rang absolutely true for me.

      Your Point #2– “Make it about them”– echoes something I’ve heard several times recently. We all tend to make our marketing efforts about us– who we are, what we do, how well we do it, etc. We do it unconsciously. We forget that prospects don’t really care about us in a strict sense– they care about what’s important to them, and solving whatever problems they have. As you say, the story has to be about them.

      I was also very taken with your Point #4. Yes, there’s something about the present tense that makes a story seem more real; it boosts the story’s energy level, and makes it more compelling. An excellent tip!

      Great to meet you, Fred. Thanks again for your generous comment, and for sharing your expertise! : )


  11. November 22, 2014 6:21 PM

    Excellent 10 elements.
    Hmmm another Genius tip from my very talented mentor Mark-ing my world with wonderful illustrations and with Arms-so-strong to Krispy Kreme my day 😆
    And among the 10, guess what I love the most?
    hint: “it’s how you got me thinking about you every time you leave your Mark in my world”

    mmmwahhhh mmmwahhh mmmwahhh


    • November 25, 2014 3:37 PM

      My dear, dear Dolly! Must you make me blush so furiously?? Genius… very talented… wonderful illustrations… Arms-so-strong… I can’t be upset with you, however, because I know you’re telling the absolute truth… : )

      Let’s see, which of the ten elements makes you think of me the most? Hmm! That’s a tough one!! It’s gotta be either Love Interest or Romance, ’cause that’s just the kind of sweet, dreamy guy I am… : )

      And by a funny coincidence, those are the same two elements that come to mind when I think of you. I think it’s because you’re sweeter’n a whole box of donuts– maybe two boxes!! mmmmmwahhhh mmmmahhhhh mmmmmmmmmmmahhhhhhhhh!! : )

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 25, 2014 4:16 PM

        Well, okay, you guessed it wrong… but considering that because of this element which you had caught my attention so much that I am sure and I trust that you are absolutely a sweet, dreamy guy… 🙂 oppps! Hang on there. Don’t get so excited… easy, easy don’t fly away or you’ll missed all the donuts later… 😆
        Actually it’s your unstoppable sense of “Humor”- Yes! It’s I believe the most important for Marketers. Not everyone has this kind of ability to capture his audience with all of his funny thoughts.
        Like all women, Toothsome loves funny guys like Mac Giggles 🙂

        And here at WP… I love you! 🙂


        Liked by 1 person

        • November 25, 2014 5:30 PM

          Humor… yes, yes, that’s exactly what I meant. Humor, love, romance… they all tie together. Consider Romeo, for example– a guy very much like myself, only, well, not as handsome, and he was from an earlier time, back when they only had words, not WordPresses. Why did Juliet fall for him? Because he walked around wearing tights, saying strange poetic things. She thought it was hysterical. Funny guys always get the girl. Maybe not in real life, but they do in Shakespeare and here at this blog… : )

          Many thanks, my dear Dolly, for pointing out that humor is vitally important to marketers. Humor wins hearts, and that’s what marketing is all about. Say… no wonder you’re such a good marketing person. See you soon at the Lemons R Us Café. I’ll be wearing my new tights, with little donuts on ’em… Happy Thanksgiving!! mmmahhhhhhh! : )

          Liked by 1 person

        • November 25, 2014 5:49 PM

          Gee! I told you… I just can’t help smiling from ear to ear 🙂 See you soon with your new tights then…hehehehe
          Happy Thanksgiving too! mmmwahhhh!


  12. November 23, 2014 11:06 PM

    Oh, hey Mark, there’s another blog post out there that reminded me very much of this post here– it’s at Tamara McCleary’s blog:

    She also talked about how stories- particularly The Hero’s Journey idea– applied to good business practices.


    • November 25, 2014 4:01 PM

      Hi, Jak! Many thanks. It’s always great to hear about others who appreciate the power of stories. I sometimes forget that we all tell ourselves stories every day. They can be empowering stories, or they can leave us mired in despair, feeling like victims. Too often we relive old stories that keep us stuck in the past, blind to new possibilities.

      I think the best stories leave us open to possibility– in our personal lives, in our careers. Thanks for the tip, sir, always wishing you well. : )


  13. December 1, 2014 8:26 PM

    Great image of how to make one’s blog post “fly” more gracefully. 🙂 I must admit I don’t aim to show a lot of tension /conflict which is a bit different than real life. But yes, simple stories help a lot with a definable protagonist, start and end…even if it’s only 4-5 sentences long!


    • December 4, 2014 1:59 PM

      Hi, Jean! Yes, I’m good at drawing balloons, which only confirms people’s suspicions that I’m full of hot air… : (

      You raise an interesting point: tension and conflict is obvious in most stories, but not in others. I suspect it’s always present in some understated way. Might be a good academic thesis in there somewhere: Tension & Conflict In Best-Loved Nursery Rhymes, perhaps… : )

      Are you familiar with six-word stories, a concept created by Ernest Hemingway? Now there’s a challenge: tension, conflict, resolution, et. al., all in six words. And if two of those words are “The End,” then you’re really a genius at condensing a story!! : )


  14. December 6, 2014 11:46 PM

    Hello Mark. wow, such good stuff for want of a better word. It opens the mind up to advertising possibilities for my Reiki business. Just wish I had parts of your mind 🙂 cheers Carolyn


    • December 18, 2014 2:03 PM

      Hi, Carolyn! Thanks for that lovely comment. As for wishing you had parts of my mind, well, er,… best have a care– some parts are dubious, and I fear others have been misfiring for years… : (

      Very glad you found the post helpful, and thanks for stopping by! : )


  15. December 10, 2014 11:49 AM

    Reblogged this on Tutorial Website Baru.


  16. December 23, 2014 9:50 AM

    Reblogged this on THE BUSINESS BEAST.


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