Karen Dietz
July 30, 2014

5 Story Secrets For Content Creators: Standing Out From The Crowd

Creating and sharing stories in your content strategy is critical for business success. And you will find lots of articles on the web about how to craft stories. There are plenty that will focus on story structures, story elements, and story diagrams.

None of this will guarantee that you’ll actually create a compelling story, however. Knowing the structure of a story and the elements you need to include can be helpful checklists, but won’t bring soul and heart to your stories that generate connection and engagement.

Of course, storytelling is an art form and the more you do it the better you get at it. Nevertheless, there are a few secrets to share about storytelling that go beyond checklists of elements or diagrams of structures. Knowing and working with these secrets will improve your chances of creating great stories to help you create raving fans and grow your business.

In this post I’ve curated the secrets for you. They all talk about the behind the scenes work that is the foundation for good storytelling. Work with these and you will notice a dramatic positive difference in your storytelling and ability to capture the hearts and minds of people.

journey1. The First Step: Understanding Your Customer’s Journey


Titled Archetypes, The Hero’s Journey & The Telling of Stories by Gunther Sonnenfeld, this article is all about using the Hero’s Journey to understand your customer’s experiences.

How ingenious! And a critical perspective. It’s hard to figure out how customers experience a business — from discovery to purchase — so any models that can help us are welcome. When we understand our customers experiences, it’s a heckuva lot easier to craft stories that connect directly to them. Otherwise, we are shooting in the dark.

Even better, Sonnenfeld reminds us that storytelling is participatory and this figures into the customer experience equation – and your story crafting. Hallelujah. As he says, “This also means that as storytellers — whether we produce ‘content’, ‘media’ and/or an ‘experience’ — it is critical that we think in terms of what a story does to an audience and with an audience, rather than simply what it can mean or what we want it to mean.”

He then goes on to share with us how to design the customer experience based on both participation and the Hero’s Journey model. This knowledge will help you strategically design the types of stories you want to share, along with helping you craft the individual stories. It’s a first step in bringing clarity to the topic of story and customer experiences. Enjoy!

curtain2. Behind The Curtain: What We All Crave With Stories


Run, don’t walk to watch this incredibly inspiring video about what we are all searching for in our storytelling. Even though Bobette Buster (screenwriter and documentary producer) is speaking about the entertainment industry, her words are incredibly important to anyone who is crafting and sharing their business stories.

Bobette talks about the most powerful stories (and this applies to our biz stories) being ones showing transformation, becoming fully alive, and offering hope. When we think about stories in marketing/branding we often forget these fundamentals. The majority of ‘business story’ videos I watch these days totally miss these themes and end up being more like digital brochures than real compelling stories that build a growing cadre of loyal customers.

But think about this for businesses: a founding story of an organization is often about being faced with a challenge and overcoming it — that is showing transformation and offering hope to others.

Business stories about people (customers/staff) and the obstacles they’ve overcome plus the results produced offer the same messages. I could go on and on. It’s better to just watch the 15-minute video. I hope you get inspired and lots of ideas by watching this.

Here’s another article that expands Bobette’s talk http://michaelhyatt.com/5-elements-of-powerful-stories.html Here author Matt Ragland shares great story wisdom with us.

Instead of the typical list of ‘elements of powerful stories’ — you know, like emotions, characters, settings, visual language, and all that good important stuff — Ragland digs deeper. Yes, his 5 elements are why we really tell stories — and why these elements make for very powerful storytelling. Because these are also experiences we crave. Like connecting with soul, showing both the light and the dark, and pointing to a greater cause.

Oh, and PS — he shares a terrific story, too!

insights3. Another Story Secret? They Offer Insights — But What The Heck Are Those??


Yes, each story has a message. But each story also offers multiple insights. Understanding insights is another secret to great storytelling. Here’s a fabulous SlideShare program with potent points about insights — what they are, what they are not, and how cool they are.

You may think you know what an insight is — yet it’s not what most of us think. This little piece of brilliance was put together by Antonis Kochellas from Ogilvy & Mather.

Understanding the insights you can gain from your personal and business stories — then leveraging those — gives you access to a powerful force in the world. But only if you know and can recognize a true insight. So go watch this slide presentation. Hopefully light bulbs will turn on for you and your mastery of business storytelling will increase.

Different Story Types: Don’t Get Stuck In The Hero’s Journey


Now I’m going to backtrack. We started out this post discussing helpfulness of the hero’s journey for understanding our customer’s experiences. Next I’m going to tell you to put aside the hero’s journey when crafting your stories.

Once you’ve figured out your story theme and the type of story experience you want to give your audience, then we finally come to the types of stories to tell. Now it’s true, there are thousands of stories you can tell about your business, product/service, customers, and staff. They fall into 4 general buckets:

  1. How we got started and why
  2. People and results – how our employees overcame tough obstacles to satisfy a client; how our customers have been able to do amazing things or save the day via our product/service (your company is the secondary character)
  3. Our future story – the future we are moving into and how the world will be positively different because of us
  4. Commitment stories – what keeps us motivated, inspired, and showing up at work

hero journeyBut this article talks about story types in a different way – and this is a secret most people overlook. The Hero’s story is not the only game in town. And when you are producing volumes of content, using the Hero’s story over and over again is going to get old at some point – both for you and your audience. You’ve got to mix it up a bit.

Story colleague Thaler Pekar has hit it out of the park with this article about recovering from the mono-myth of the Hero’s Journey. As Pekar says, yes — the Hero’s Journey is something we all experience. But it is not the only story we live by. And our lives and businesses can’t be reduced to only the Hero’s Journey.

And in business, if we rely exclusively on the Hero’s Journey our stories will turn formulaic — and eventually not engage people, as Pekar points out. Too many businesses and consultants only focus on the Hero’s Journey, IMHO. They tell me it’s because it is easy to do, and easy for businesses to understand. I find it just as easy to never mention the Hero’s Journey in my work with clients :))

So what other kinds of stories are available to us? How about the Magician’s Journey (turning an idea into gold), Trickster stories (out of the box thinking, innovative results by turning something on its head), stories of Kings and Queens (the challenges and wisdom of mature leaders), or stories of communities coming together to solve a problem? These are just a few ideas!

I also like the examples Pekar shares in the post so we can go explore what others are doing. If you are in the Hero’s rut, check out this post. If you are not, read it anyway so you don’t get stuck there in the future.

characters4. We All Know Characters Are Critical. But There’s More!


Compelling stories have compelling characters. How are the characters in your biz stories? Flat or fab?

Most biz stories have characters that are just OK. But it’s time to up our game if we want to keep listeners and readers engaged. This is an excellent guide for creating interesting characters that will help drive your plot, inform your key message, and keep readers hooked. So read these 8 tips, keep them handy, and upgrade your characters!


One of the biggest mistakes I see that corporations, non-profits, and individuals make when sharing their business stories is they talk about ‘a person’ or ‘a group’ without giving them names and characteristics. In other words, the folks they are talking about we can’t relate to or form a picture of them in our minds eye.

If we don’t have a name to hang on to, we can’t connect. We want to connect with people. Without a name, ‘a person’ or ‘a group’ is just a concept. This article goes into depth (it’s not that long) about how naming a person or a group builds connection and empathy. So give us those names (and go read the article)!!

endings5. Writing Kick-Ass Endings

I’ve got two articles for you here about creating powerful endings to your stories.


Kendall Haven, author of Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story recently wrote me about his latest research on business story endings. It’s way cool stuff. Bottom line: positive characters and positive endings are not as effective as we thought when desiring to shift behaviors. Read the brief conversation between myself and Kendall, and then use the latest information to start crafting stories that will act as catalysts for change.


Powerful beginnings and endings to your stories make or break them. Both require attention be paid so you can grab your audience’s attention, and then deliver a compelling closing message. And of course in business, that powerful closing message needs to move people to action.

What I love about this article is its focus on creating powerful endings. The author, Henneke Duistermaat lists 5 rules to pay attention to.

I particularly like rule #2: Shrink the Change. I can’t tell you how many folks I work with who end their stories with such broad concepts or such big steps that the audience won’t take action or doesn’t know how to. The other rules are also critical to pay attention to. So enjoy this article and end your stories in such a way that your message is compelling and people leave inspired.

The End

OK – these are the most important secrets for you to know about. Pay attention to these and the quality of your storytelling will skyrocket. And so will your business.



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Karen Dietz has been working in business storytelling with organizations for over 2 decades. She is also the top global curator on business storytelling at www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it. Karen is the co-author of the just published book "Business Storytelling for Dummies" by Wiley. You can find this and more at her website here.