Storytelling: Using Story to Influence and Connect

Lesson 10/10 - Storybuilding: Protecting the Reveal


Storytelling: Using Story to Influence and Connect


Lesson Info

Storybuilding: Protecting the Reveal

Spoilers suck. Protect the reveal. As marketers, maybe driven by our desire to serve our clients. Maybe being good stewards of budgets that are given to us. We have a tendency to want to tell the totality of every story with every piece of marketing we create. We have to tell every feature, every benefit, everything about this product and every single thing that we make, for fear that this will be the only thing that they see. Well I can tell you if it's the only thing that they see, your odds of converting them into a consumer are incredibly poor. If they see one banner ad and they buy something off of one banner ad, it is not following traditional behavior. We are seekers as humans. We want to fill in gaps. So if we see something, we will pursue it if it's something that interests us. We'll go find out more information. That's been the great change, by the way, in the marketing world over the last 50 years. Marketing's role used to be about information. It was the only place you foun...

d out about a product or service was through advertising, was when somebody showed it to you. There was some person-to-person, but without communication vehicles that were mass, it literally was person-to-person. You would see them in the store and they would tell you about a product. It was very one-to-one. So advertising's role was information. But then that began to change. As soon as mass media began to allow us to get messages out in greater reach and frequency, we began to see those one-on-one conversations changing, that we could see an ad on TV and then see something else in a magazine and then go to the store and investigate for ourselves. But that was usually the only point of contact. That at some stage we were gonna have to act towards purchase. We were gonna have to go to the store to see this product, right? That all changed as soon as we were able to find not only information online but communication online. Now we are seekers. Now we'll go out and look for information. We'll see advertising and then we'll investigate for ourselves. The power is now in the consumer's hand. It's not in the brand's hand. Advertising's role is no longer to inform, it's to incite. Our role as marketers is to create curiosity, not to inform. There has been a huge shift that's happened. Very few of us are actually taking that into account. The problem isn't usually on the creative level. Honestly the problem's usually on the brand level. They go, I'm spending this much money, I wanna say it all in every single piece that we have. But we have to look at how human behavior plays a role in that, and be able to educate our clients in the way that we purchase, the way that we buy. When something makes us curious we seek it out. And when we have a positive brand experience, we share it. That's the nature of marketing in today's world. And so the idea of us giving every single piece of information in every single thing that we create, all that world does is clutter. All that does is create noise. But if you can give somebody one piece of a story because you recognize and understand what it is that they want. We've all seen stories where we watched a part of it. Have you ever stood as you were walking out of the room watching a movie and you were going to the kitchen and you stood there for another two or three minutes to watch what was happening? I find it really interesting, especially in movies that we've already seen, where we sit there and watch it again. We know what's gonna happen and yet we want to play it out. That's curiosity. We want to see that happen. Curiosity is an incredibly powerful driver of behavior. If we can spend the time to understand what makes our audience curious, we will understand what moves them from a behavioral standpoint. Because we as humans, we cannot stand not knowing. If something's piqued their curiosity, we have to know. How many times have we seen the beginning or part of a product where we're like, ooh, what's that? And then we go and seek it out just to see it. I had it happen the other day where someone mentioned something in their Facebook feed about a new car model coming out. And they just said, this brand has a new car coming out, you should go look at it. I'm not even car shopping and I had to go seek it out, because I was like, what is he talking about? It's the nature of curiosity. He wasn't doing it on purpose but that's what drives that behavior. If we can make people curious and just give them a part of the story, they'll lean in, and when they lean in, then we can inform them all we want. When they come to our website, we can give them all of that information 'cause they've asked for it. But that doesn't mean that that's driving them there. If we show them a print-out and it has every piece of information of our product on it, and then they come to the website for the exact same information that exists because we did such a good job on the print-out, we have not moved them at all. We have not convinced them at all. Matter of fact, advertising's job all it did was become repetitive. We didn't take ahold of their emotions and then move them into another place. Protecting that reveal will do that for us. There are times when we can tell a story where we don't have to tell the entirety of that story. We can leave a little bit to the end. There are movies that we all know that have twists. We love twists, don't we? When a movie has a twist at the end, you're like, oh I never saw that coming! It's almost contrary to human behavior isn't it? Like you should wanna give them everything that exists within that story up front and tell them exactly what's gonna happen. I mean think about it, if you went to a movie, it was a two hour movie and in the first 30 seconds they told you exactly what was gonna happen on screen and then they played the movie. That's how we advertise. (chuckles) That's exactly what we create with every banner ad we make, with every email we send, with every print-out, we say everything. And then we tell them go take a look for yourself. Well, you've already told them everything. That story isn't any good anymore. What if we protected that reveal? And there are certain stories that allow us to protect that reveal. There's a great piece of content out of an Argentinian shop for an organ donor, and it's an organ donor ad, and now I told you it's an organ donor ad so you know what's coming. But it's a story of a man, an elderly man with his dog and he has a heart attack. And he goes in the ambulance and the dog follows the ambulance all the way to the hospital. And then they won't let the dog in. So the dog stands outside of the hospital for days. You see days pass with the dog standing outside the hospital. And then a woman is wheeled out and the dog pops up and the dog comes up to the woman and gets in her lap. And then it fades and says, become an organ donor. And you're like, ahh! And you had no idea what this spot was about until you saw it. There's a reveal that happens at the end of that that makes the entire story play. And when we see movies like Sixth Sense and there's a twist at the end, and we're like, oh my God, it's such an amazing experience. We can give people that experience. It just takes a little faith. It takes a lot of selling, but it takes a little bit of faith. Let me give you an example. So you see they held on to why they were in the wheelchairs to begin with. And then they bring it back to the idea of character. That the choices that you make reveal who you are. The choices that these men made to learn how to play wheelchair basketball for their one friend is the same choices that they make when they go to the bar, and they sit around and say no we're not gonna order any beer, we're gonna order a Guinness 'cause the choices that we make reveal who we are as from a character standpoint. We begin to see that from an advertising and a marketing standpoint they didn't talk about the beer at all. They didn't talk about the product at all. They didn't lift the product up whatsoever. They attached their brand to a characteristic, a characteristic that their audience shares and that they were able to hold onto the reveal of that and that's why that particular marketing was so effective. Shared tens of millions of times within the context of three days as it came out. From a buy standpoint you save yourself millions and millions of dollars by developing story that people care about, story that touches them from an emotional standpoint. So protecting the reveal. Questions? What about the story that you remember, but you don't remember whose story it is, Sure. what the brand name is? Sure, Which happens, by the way, all the time. It's the usual question, like I can remember the story but I can't remember who it's for. My answer is always the same in that particular instance. If you didn't remember the story, you wouldn't remember anything. At the very least you can go search for the story. At the very least, if it was just an ad, there are millions of ads that you've seen that right now you can't recall a single one of them. You don't remember what they were. You don't remember what they did. You don't remember what product they were for. And in that way, then that advertising may or may not have failed. At the very least there's a story in your head and that story has stuck when the brand maybe hasn't. If you seek out the story you'll find the brand. At the very least somebody left you a bread crumb, and that bread crumb could lead you to find that brand later, the alternative being they left you nothing, and you never go seek out anything ever again. There are times with which the rational purchase drivers are the right decisions. In most cases, those are when you're deciding between two things already. It's usually POS, it's usually point of sale, when those rational purchase drivers become important. Outside of that, attaching yourself to a motion creates threads, trains of thought that exist, that you can recall then and go back. I can tell you story after story after story of ads that I've seen that, because I'm a story freak, I remember who the story was for. Like the organ donor ad. I can't remember the brand. I can't remember who it was, it's Argentinian, part of it's a language thing. But I can't remember exactly who it's for. But I can remember what happened into it. There was a Canadian ad that I remember, that I can't exactly remember who it was for either. It showed a young man. He's running and he's got on one of those paddles, you know when you've lost your leg and they put the paddle, and he's running around a track. And it's at night and there's this driving track. And all of a sudden he starts running through scenes, and we're kind of trailing him with the camera. He's running through scenes and it starts off with normal scenes of being a regular person, and him lifting weights and doing everything. And then there was an accident, then there's an ambulance and there's a doctor, and he's running through these scenes that are taking place on the track. And basically it was he had this terrible thing happen and this is how he's come over, and he's running through it to show the triumph that existed. I cannot remember who it was for. But because I remember the story I can search it. If I didn't have that story I wouldn't have anything, I wouldn't have anything to search. So that makes it successful? In my opinion yes. I have given you the thread of things. Every day in the mail you get mailers. You get coupons. And there is lots of money spent to create those things. For you to take them from your mailbox and put them into your trash, right? Unless you were gonna go to Pizza Hut that night. And the first thing you saw was a Pizza Hut coupon, was what you kept, right? Because it mattered to you in that moment. Three days later you might go, man I wish I had a coupon. I know there was a coupon for Pizza Hut. I know for a fact there was and I threw it away. I don't have that thing. At the very least, you've got a connective thread with which you can go back. And in that moment you may have shared that ad that you might not have shared it otherwise. That is the one nice thing about, for instance, Facebook, is I've got a running tally of every single story I've ever come across. Because I share it, that's the natural action I wanna take. And I can go back through my feed and look at all those wonderful stories. And every time I watch them I'm being marketed to. Nike did something way back when, where they had Marion Jones who was a track star at the time. And they had this ad where she's running, she's being chased through Santa Monica, or no, she's chasing somebody through Santa Monica. She's chasing somebody who tagged her and now it's a game of it or whatever. And she's running through these buskers and running through this house and she's chasing and running this guy down. And then the ad stops and it says finish the story at And you go to and this was back when video was a big deal. You're dealing with modems, right? 28.8 modems and the amount of time it has to spend to go through them. And you found multiple endings to that video. And you sat there for a half hour going through each ending. And what you don't realize is you just spent a half hour with a brand because you wanted to. Not because they made you, not because they were selling you anything, but because you wanted to. You spent a half hour with that brand. It became so popular that the media companies were having difficulty selling the ad right after that on TV because everyone was leaving the TV and going to their computer to see the endings to the commercials. So they were struggling with having the eyeballs, the right eyeballs. But the story is kind of what creates that connective thread. Without the story you don't remember anything. In my opinion, at the very least, from a marketing standpoint, if we are remembered, whether we're remembered for our brand character or remembered for a story that we moved somebody, it's worth it. We've got a couple questions over here from the internet. Alright. Sort of as we wrap things up, sort of Sure! kinda bigger picture questions. ]Stefan] Okay. Brent Ellis wanted to know, and I'm just gonna elaborate a little bit. You showed earlier the print ad for Lego. Yeah. Which was a great example of how graphic design can tell a story. Sure. Can you elaborate on how more ways that you bring storytelling into graphic design? Sure. I'm a designer by education. That's where my start began. Design, like photography, is a lot about single communications having to do a great deal of work for you. It's communicating an idea but it's also communicating the emotion behind an idea. And in most cases they're very singular in the things that we create. We might design a logo or a trade show booth, or a banner ad, or a print ad, or a brochure, or packaging, but they're usually one-off things, they're not linear narratives that exist that we get to tell the complexity of what a story exists. And like photography, they're usually singular pieces. In those instances when we don't have the linear narrative with which to tell, it's imperative for us as designers to understand what our audience already knows, what they're already feeling, because we may give them one moment in time, one thing, with which then we're gonna ask them to fill in the rest of that narrative on their own. They're gonna fill in the story. Alright, when you see that Lego ad, the Lego ad would have three blocks in the shape, and then the shadow is a dinosaur. The implication that exists there is the idea of imagination, that you can put three blocks together and it can be anything, that you can tell the story of dinosaurs fighting and this world that exists within that context through the simplicity of just a few bricks. Or that you can put a few bricks together and it makes a vehicle like an airplane or a tank, and each one of these things are bringing up visuals. When I say tank, there's visuals that come into our minds, there's scenarios that we would play out with this context of conflict and tension, all from two or three bricks being placed together. So design's ability to recognize what is gonna be the seminal image that then triggers the rest of that story playing out in the minds of the people that are buying this. If you think about it, those ads, those ads are not meant for the people who use Legos. Those ads aren't meant for kids because kids would wanna see the whole dinosaur. They would rather have the dinosaur than the Legos. But kids don't buy Legos, do they? Adults buy Legos, parents buy Legos. And so what they've done is they've put together three bricks and said, imagine what your child will play, that you're going to enact their imagination with these tools that they can then use to create whatever they want. Wouldn't you want that for your children? That's speaking directly to the consumer of Legos through the eyes of the person that they wanna impact. When we talk about the benefit of that, the human benefit, that's the human benefit. Legos are products that are multi-use products, they're imagination tools, they're the things that bring up story in your children. And in that way, design's role is to recognize what point of the story can I tell this one singular image and then let my audience fill in the parts of the story that are missing based on their own experiences. Which puts a great deal of onus on us as designers. Too many of us as designers put our headphones on and put our heads down and we make and we never look up. And we never follow the work past the opportunity for us to make it. We never take the time to look beyond the brief. The brief will tell us who the persona is, what the demographic is: okay, it's for kids. Is that as far as we get? Or do we watch kids play? Do we see what they do? Do we see the simple objects that they will use in order to create these worlds of imagination? And then do we fit our product into it? The amazing insight that would come from just watching how our audiences work and interact with one another. In my opinion, the designer's job is far more difficult than the director's job. The director has so much at their disposal. They can tell a linear narrative of varying degrees, they could use music, they could use color, they could use character, they could use tension, they have all of these tools. It's actually debilitating, if you've ever directed anything, it's quite debilitating. You don't know where to start, you don't know what to do because you have too much at your disposal. The designer has to do all of that in the minds of the person that look at their designs and they have to know exactly what the people will think in that moment in order for us to fill in the rest of that story. Being a designer in today's world where narrative is such a heavy part of what we see these days, because we now have distribution vehicles that allow us to share it, to be able to create a single image that does so much is incredibly powerful. One of the campaigns that I remember as probably, for me personally, the seminal piece of design, really design and copy kind of coming into play, was a campaign for Luxor Highlighters. This was back in 2008, they had this campaign for Luxor-- I mean, it's a highlighter. What are you gonna say about a highlighter? We all know what a highlighter does, right? What they did was they had written a story about an individual, a famous individual in history, and this ad was the story, all in small text, the story play out, with a Luxor Highlighter at the bottom. That's all that this ad was. But then what they did is they used the Luxor Highlighter to highlight parts of the story to draw the face of the person that they were talking about. And you're like, oh! That's so clever, right? Until you read what they highlighted. The story that they highlighted is a different story than the story that they wrote for the entirety of the page. The story of the entirety of the page is a historical reenactment of who that person is, but when you highlight just these parts it tells exactly who that person really was, and it reads completely differently. And you're like, there's no way they just wrote a story inside of a story at the exact points you would need to highlight in order to show that unique person's face, but that's exactly what they did. And that's an amazing piece of design that was a singular image that told not one but two stories in the context of what it showed, how highlighting certain things changes what you see in the context of a story. So for me, a designer's job is much more difficult than a director's job. A designer's job is to know which part of that narrative that I need to show so that the rest of it gets filled in. Akasha would like to know if you can suggest or give us any short, daily exercises we can practice to become better storytellers in our everyday lives. Writers write. Designers design. Storytellers tell stories. So there are a variety of ways with which we can practice it in the context of the world that we live in. It depends on the world that we live in. So if you're a director and you wanna get better at telling stories, what you can do is pull certain story prompts and then fit stories around those prompts. So, for instance, I might give you a story prompt-- as a matter of fact, there's a website, I wish I could remember it. There's a website if you typed in "story prompts", it'll give you random story prompts that you would then write a story about. It would be something like: a college student is paying for college by selling water. That's the story prompt, and you're like, okay, lemme write a story about that. And you can take varying degrees of lengths with which to write, or you can take a different medium. Alright, if I wanted to create a movie poster for that movie. What would I create in that movie poster? If I wanted to communicate that the water is a product, what would I do? So you can take story prompts if you wanna do something a little bit more long-form. In short from we can practice the art of that five-part story structure by removing parts of that story structure and then filling in the missing pieces. So, for instance, you might take, an exercise you might use is a three-part story, a three-image story, okay? And you're going to take three pictures, three consecutive pictures that you're gonna put next to each other that tell the totality of a story. I look at this one, and then this one, and this one. It's a three-part, image-based story structure, which with you've gotta set up exposition, maybe even getting inciting incident in that first one. You've gotta show what the rising action's gonna be, and then maybe even the climax and the resolution in that third one. You've gotta go through the whole thing in the context of three images. You can also do it with words. What's a three-word story? What's a six-word story? There's a great story, whether or not it's true we don't know, about Ernest Hemingway sitting around drinking beers at the pub with his fellow literary friends, and they have this contest. They say, who can tell the most compelling story in six words? And they all come up with what they were gonna come up with and they go around the room and they talk about-- they say their six words and lift a pint, and they get to Ernest Hemingway and he says, he says, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." We all go, ahhh! Just the idea filling in the missing pieces around that story that exists, that's only six words. The compact nature of the things that we have to create, it's practicing that compact nature over and over and over and over again. Often times if you wanna do it just sitting around with your friends, it's just single-word story prompts. Give me a word and then I'm gonna tell you a story. Or you can go back and forth, one sentence stories as you go. I do it all the time, I call it And, So, But. It's the exercise where, it's actually borne from an improv exercise. And, So, But is a story generation exercise where I give you the prompt to a story, like a woman is walking along on the street and she finds a tape recorder on the sidewalk. On it, on the tape recorder, is a Post-it note that says "Push Play", so she does. That's the beginning of the story. You can either go back and forth with one other person, or you can get a group of people and you have to tell the story one sentence at a time, alternating versions, but you have to start every sentence with and, and then so, and then but. So you have to go: and this happened, so this happened, but this occurred, and you just go back and forth, And-So-But, And-So-But, And-So-But, back and forth between you and somebody else. And what it does is it forces you into a five-part story structure without you even knowing. The And is exposition. You're setting up a world. And: this is additive to this world that existed. So is consequential. This happened, so this occurred in that consequential. But is tension. But this occurred. There's your tension that exists. And then you have to add to it, And-So-But, And-So-But. So it's a story mechanism that you can use to be able to tell the stories. So my encouragement is to tell stories in a variety of mediums using either visual, using words. Sometimes single images, we talked a little bit about photography and the role of photography. There's images that you can tell with single images, the way people feel about something. Practice seeing emotion in still imagery, practice seeing it in two or three things. The idea of animated GIFs and how we have to tell stories in small loops-- those are just story frames, that's all that exists within that. So learning to tell stories in a variety of ways using restriction as a mechanism. I wanna restrict this down. I'm not gonna say: tell any story I want. I'm gonna say: tell a six-word story. I'm gonna say: tell a story in three images. I'm gonna give myself those restrictions so I really have to think through how all of those are playing out. And what you'll find is you'll get better at it over and over again. Then also taking into account some of the four things that we talked about here, recognizing things like the reveal, the way that stories start. We have a tendency to start stories when we communicate them to one another. We have a tendency to start stories in a timeline, in a linear base from a time standpoint. But that's not the only way for us to tell stories. Often times you can tell them around feeling, right? At the very beginning of this I told you about breakfast that I had, right? And I centered that story around the sound of sizzling, and that sound playing a role in the way-- Now, I told it linearly, right? It was at the beginning of the day, but you could start with: I walked in and all I heard was sizzling. That sizzle that you only hear in the morning when breakfast is being cooked. I've allowed the center of that story to back up and take you to a place, right? So you can use, you can enter into that story whenever you want. It doesn't have to be this happened and then this happened at the end. You can start here and then explain what happened previously moving forward, so there's lots of ways for us to tell stories. Again, we can get into some pretty heavy storytelling principles, but from a design standpoint I think the best way for us to get better at it is simply to do it. So we talked about, from a structure standpoint, we talked about the structure of story, this idea of emotion plus structure. We talked about the nature of manipulation versus empathy, the six core emotions, these 24 subset emotions that exist, and for us not to insert them into the work that we do, but simply to pull them from the audiences that already exist. If you've gotten nothing from this course, what you should've gotten is that it's my job as a creative, as someone who makes something, to figure out who I'm making it for and what moves them as a human. Not so much as a consumer, but what moves them as people. And then be able to figure out what emotions they already have, and then how my brand or product or service fits what they do. How do I accelerate the things that they love, the things that bring them joy? How do I alleviate the things that bring them fear or the things that bring them sorrow? And where does my brand fit in that capacity? So we talked about emotion. We also talked about the structure of it. We showed a five-part story structure that we can use from a narrative standpoint, but we also saw how that five-part story structure overlays into a two-world structure: the world that, the world that could be, my product, my service, my brand being the centerpoint of those pieces. So we begin to see how that structure can play out in the work that we do and being able to use it as a filter as we move forward. And then we took a look at really four tips, four ways that we can build stories worth sharing. Don't start with features and benefits, start with emotion. This idea that the features aren't enough, certainly. The benefits aren't even enough. We have to look at what the human result of those benefits are. What am I going to have that's lasting at the end of all of this? So we start with that emotion. Number two: we talked about nobody roots for a product to develop character, whether it's the character that we're physically developing to bring into our story, or if it's the character of our brand or service, both from an audience up, as well as a brand down. So that we're being authentic and truthful about how our brand or service is perceived or how the need is perceived and how our brand perceives themselves in that fit as well. Number three: we talked about happy is boring and to include tension. To only talk about the good things that our product does is inauthentic, or to talk the life only being good is in authentic. That tension exists because we have to have something to overcome in the stories that we tell. If our products or services don't overcome a problem, then there's no need in the market for them. So let's show what the problem is to be able to show how that tension and what our product or service does to overcome that. And then lastly, that spoiler starts to protect the reveal. Do the work to understand what our audiences already know so that we don't have to tell them everything all the time. This is the part where when we walk in and sell these ideas, this is what we have to have with us. We have to be able to show our clients this is what your audience already knows and this is how I know that. This is where the role of research and data comes in. The ability for us to walk in and go: we don't have to tell them that, the audience already knows it. All we have to do is trigger it. And once we trigger it, this is what they're gonna do. And then be able to follow that work as it moves. The designer-- especially the designer-- the designer's role is not to just put your headphones on and put your head down. The designer's role is to understand the impact of the work that we create, both on the people that we create it for as well as the businesses which pay us to create it. We have to understand both of those things in order for us to be effective story builders over the course of time. So hopefully there's been some value from today, that you've gotten at least a piece or two that you can take back into your work and then create stories that are worth sharing, and I look forward to seeing some of these and then sharing them with audiences like you in the future.

Class Description

We are all storytellers. Few of us are storybuilders, capable of not only understanding the structure of story but able to use it to connect to the people that consume it. Story has a form, one that Stefan Mumaw, the Director of Creative Strategy at the well-known story shop Hint, is going to break down for you. He’ll lay out the structure of story and use real-world examples to show how each story component is used to build an emotional bridge. Bring a few tissues, story has a knack for producing both tears of laughter and empathy and Stefan will use both to show just how powerful story can be.

In this class you’ll learn:

  • How to create emotion
  • Story structure
  • Character development. Associating characters of a brand with characters
  • Rational and emotional purchase drivers

Stefan reminds us that target audiences are made up of individuals, and for the message to be effectively received, it needs to be couched in a story that speaks to what motivates people, thus awakening a response.


Mary Rainwater

Outstanding class. Stephan Mumaw is a wonderful presenter with a wealth of knowledge. He delivers a ton of information in an organized and fun way! As a fiction writer,I was unsure if this course would be all that helpful. However, once I realized that the "product" I was selling was the "theme" (the unspoken moral throughline) of my story everything clicked into place! I highly recommend this course to all writers who wish to better "sell" their own "product".


GREAT CLASS!! Loved the content. Engaging speaker and wonderful examples shared. Took a lot from this class that I will bring back to my daily creative work!


Stefan was an amazing speaker... He provided great detail in explaining the structure of a story, and his example/videos really drove home the points he was making... He had wonderful real-world professional experiences to share.