In content marketing, the brand story is everything.

While content marketing is relatively new, storytelling has been around for ages. Stories have always been the key to convincing people to do something, buy something, or tell their family and friends about something.

Of course, a storyteller’s job was easier before the information age. If you labored by day and gathered around a hearth at night, you wanted to hear a good story—something that made you laugh or transported you to an alternate reality. Good storytellers knew how to weave a compelling tale by gauging and reacting to the audience around them.

Fast-forward to today: We are all storytellers—and social media is our megaphone. From solo entrepreneurs to mid-sized businesses and big brands, companies have embraced content marketing with fervor.  Every second, unfathomable amounts of content are published online. (This post is just one of more than 2 million blog posts published every single day.)

The Hero Factor: Great Content vs. Awful Content

If you’ve ever started a quick Google search only to lose yourself for a few hours, you know that great content is out there. You also know that a lot of content is truly awful. What’s the difference?

Great content tells a great story.

And what does every great story have?

Every great story has a hero.

The interesting thing about heroes is that they don’t make themselves the star of their own brand story.  They know that talking about how great they are is a sure-fire way to lose people’s attention. Instead, they identify a problem and they fix it. But they don’t just fix it on their own. They make the audience an integral part of the solution. By the end, the audience is convinced of its own capabilities—and has fully bought into the message.

As information becomes more fragmented and attention spans become shorter, it’s more important than ever to step back and ask, “What’s the real story here?” Perhaps your company employs a content manager. Maybe you and/or your marketing team are in charge of content development. Either way, ask yourself: How well do you tell your company’s brand story? Do you make yourself the hero, or is your focus on the customer?

PowerPoint: Where Good Stories Sink or Swim

When an organization asks me to help clarify and communicate its brand story, one of the first things I usually ask to see is its presentation decks, i.e., the “Intro to ACME Co.” slides aimed at attracting customers, employees or investors.

If you’ve ever sat through a mind-numbing PowerPoint presentation, you probably have a deep-rooted dislike of the software. That said, PowerPoint is an excellent tool for diagnosing where things go wrong. For example, if …

  • Each slide has more than a dozen words.
  • There are more words than images.
  • The presentation begins and ends with you or your business.
  • Facts and figures are used to illustrate key points.

Then … You don’t have a story.

Framing Your Brand Story

It doesn’t matter whether you use PowerPoint or some other visual framework to build out your brand story. Post-It notes and index cards work just as well, as long as you follow a few simple tips:

Identify your key message. What is the most important point that you want to make? Keep it simple; don’t drown your audience in details. For inspiration, watch as many TED talks as time allows.

Know what you want from your audience. How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do? Make sure your call to action (CTA) is one that benefits your audience more than it benefits you.

Appeal to emotion. Use examples and experiences that reflect the needs, wants and fears of your audience. Why should they care? Use powerful visual images in favor of facts and figures to create “emotional stickiness.”

Introduce conflict or tension. There’s nothing like a struggle to motivate and inspire.

Provide resolution. Show the audience what a potential resolution looks like. Give them something to get excited about—then let them know how you can help them achieve that resolution.

Last but not least, if you are having trouble seeing the forest through the trees—don’t be a hero. Enlist the help of an expert, someone with an outsider’s perspective as well as the business and brand experience to help put you on the path to storytelling success.


Here are a few of my favorite presentation resources:

PowerPoint Surgery: How to Create Presentation Slides That Make Your Message Stick by Lee Jackson (Engaging Books, 2013)

Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte (O’Reilly Media, 2008)

Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte (John Wiley & Sons, 2010)

Weekend Language: Presenting with More Stories and Less PowerPoint by Andy Craig and Dave Yewman (Dash Consulting, 2013) (an irreverent look at bad PowerPoint presentations)