Why a little tension can be great for business

Chief Creative Officer

If I told you that I get my grits from Charleston, my denim from Raleigh, and my biscotti from a third generation-owned bakery in South Philadelphia, you’d think I was the insufferable inspiration for the label: “that guy at the party.” 

But my loyalties run deeper than an affinity for everything artisan-kneaded and heirloom-seeded.

I’m also a sucker for a good story.

And if there’s one thing I know about you besides your exquisite taste in email newsletters, it’s that you are too.

That’s why I always begin these notes with a short personal story. Because where’s the fun in launching straight into a dry marketing tip when I can tie it to a shameful experience in the dentist’s chair?

Stories make our brains feel good. They also connect us to brands on an emotional level that benefits alone can’t achieve. 

Nothing clears a room faster than talking about socks. But when Bombas tells us that socks are the number one most-requested item in homeless shelters and that they donate a pair for every pair sold … well, now they’ve got our attention. And our business.

Stories have the power to make brands more likeable, more memorable, and more attractive than their competitors. 

So, why do some companies shy away from using them to influence audience behavior? Easy …


Every story has conflict, a “this vs. that,” a hero with an obstacle to overcome. Otherwise, we wouldn’t invest so much time into seeing what happens next.

But I know loads of marketers who’d prefer to avoid any tension and skip right to the triumphant ride into their customers’ hearts. 

For them, the story has no arc. All solution and no resolution. Just a straight-ass line from good to gooder.

I don’t have to tell you how flawed this point of view is. I’d rather hand the mic over to one of the most decorated creative directors on the planet, Jason Bagley.

When asked about clients who reject storytelling and lunge straight into the benefits, Jason said: 

“Human beings are constantly looking for meaning. And the way we find meaning is through stories. So, if there’s no story, there’s no meaning. There will be no connection to the brand. There will be nothing memorable. And that’s bad for business.” 

Sorry, Jason, what was that last part again? 

It’s bad for business.

See, even this story about storytelling has tension.

(You only see this gesture in courtrooms anymore.)

Now that we’re on the sunnier side of the climax, let’s you and me do a little dénouement diving into the nine proven ways you can connect with your audience through storytelling. These borrowed from Nancy Harhut’s book Using Behavioral Science in Marketing.

  • Broach a difficult or delicate topic
  • Tell how your company came to be
  • Disruptors … how did you change the way we do things?
  • Birth of a product
  • Promote your corporate social responsibility
  • Product usage stories
  • “Customer as hero” tells how they succeeded with the help of your product
  • Single differentiator story (good if you’re in a commodity or competitive marketplace)
  • Define a standard of customer service

Last thing before we wrap …

I always try to keep things simple with marketing tips you can start using right away. But storytelling takes a little more thought to get it right. If you need a hand knocking ideas around, just hit reply and let’s jump on a call.

Oh, and if you happen upon that little bakery in South Philly, do NOT say things like “dénouement diving” or you’ll likely get jumped at the ATM. And by “likely,” definitely.

Here’s a song to play you out >>> 

See you next time. — Matt

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Chief Creative Officer
Matt is a professional storyteller. That used to be a thinly veiled way to say you still lived with your parents. But the truth is stories have existed since the dawn of humanity and they still have the power to move people, even if it’s no longer from the path of a charging mammoth. Throughout his career on both the agency and client sides, Matt’s work has been known to compel audiences to indulge in higher thread counts, abandon Lenten sacrifice, or move to the suburbs. He’ll even conjugate a noun if he has to. The bottom line: Matt is our agency twofer. Strategy and Creative. The Big Idea and Stealth Deployment. He’s a single expense yielding a dual return. And who doesn’t love a bargain?

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