By Carol Barash published March 8, 2015

4 Steps to Creating Authentic Stories Your Customers Will Want to Read

barash-creating-authentic-stories-connect-coverAuthentic stories help powerful brands make deep connections with customers. But that high-level principle creates real-world challenges for content marketers. What is a powerful story and how do you tell it? I’d like to share four tips on how to tell stories that make connections and get results.

1. Find a moment

A moment happens at a specific place and time. No two moments are exactly alike. Think of your own personal stories, from a first kiss to a moment of triumph. What happened? Who was there? What did they say? What would we have seen?

Now think about this in terms of your brand. Every brand lives for customers as a series of touch points. A parent may have made a special meal using your product. An IT administrator may have cut request time in half and been promoted. Or in our case at Story2, a student may have just received an admissions offer from the college of her dreams. If you can put your customers at that moment where they feel what it’s like to encounter the best value of your brand, you’re one moment closer to connecting them to your brand.

In written and multimedia stories, the Adidas #mygirls campaign exemplifies the value of a moment with content about young women using Adidas products in contexts from mountaineering to field hockey to running. But the stories are not about selling the product. Each woman’s story starts with a compelling moment, illustrating the brand experience. “There was a massive pop, so loud it sounded like a gunshot reverberating through the training gym,” begins one story about an injured South African field hockey player. The moment links courage and determination with the Adidas brand but never hits the viewer over the head with that connection.

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2. Use your authentic voice

The language of marketing is notorious for feeling artificial. Generic product attributes and abstract business-speak is forced. Believe us when we say no one really cares about “quality manufacturing” or “industry-leading service levels” unless they know exactly how that feels and believe what you say about your brand.

When using stories as a vehicle for content marketing, take this advice from the Story2 Moments Method®: Stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and tell your brand story out loud. Do you believe it? Now tell a friend or family member face-to-face. Does it connect with the listener? If the answers are “yes,” take that authentic story in your voice and write it down.

In authentic storytelling there’s no need to “business-fy” it. GE Reports a Tumblr blog excels at this, sharing rich stories about inventors and users of high-tech industrial products. One recent example: a story about their scientific microscopes. One scientist on the team brought a bee’s leg from his daughter’s science project to test the capabilities of GE’s latest imaging device. The topic would have been a great occasion for jargon and product-speak, but instead it authentically sheds light on the passion behind the product.

3. Map it

A map is simply the arc from the beginning to the middle and then the end. When you want to captivate your reader, think like a Hollywood blockbuster. In these two examples, you can see how it works:

  • Draw them in, like a magnet:

Story 1: Half the potatoes on the floor and the rest behind the stove … what was I supposed to do about Thanksgiving dinner now?

Story 2: Our CFO had just called for the fourth time asking for last quarter’s numbers, but our systems were still down.

  • Raise suspense, with a pivot:

Story 1: “That looks great, but we don’t serve frozen food at holidays,” I told my husband as he stood there with the foil tray of FoodCo’s carrot soufflé.

Story 2: SoftwareCo’s representative sat next to me at my desk for an hour while he fixed the broken database queries. I couldn’t help grinning when I saw the numbers pop up finally.

  • End on a memorable glow:

Story 1: We’ve had carrot soufflé instead of potatoes on our family’s menu ever since, but we still laugh about the look on my face when someone mentions anything scalloped.

Story 2: I was home that evening in time to tuck the twins in bed and read them a story.

Once you map the story, you can think of all sorts of ways to describe your current audience’s journeys and how its stories can help your brand connect with new people. Coca-Cola, as part of its truly impressive “Journeys” approach to brand journalism, does this in numerous ways. I was struck by a story told by a Coca-Cola employee who took up skydiving. The story uses a “magnet, pivot, and glow structure. And while ostensibly it’s about her personal experiences, it does a fantastic job selling Coke’s corporate culture and inspires the desire to work with employees like her.

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4. Focus outward

You’ll notice that none of these points in the story map use wording like “I thought,” “I felt,” “I realized,” or “I learned.” That interpretation and analysis puts up a wall between you and your reader. Experiment with different ways to present your thoughts and feelings using dialogue, sensory details, and physical descriptions. In our hypothetical examples, we used these details to show the reader how the high quality of a frozen food adds something to the customer’s life, and how reliable, diligent service helps software users get their job done with less stress.

Hallmark’s “Ideas” website section does a great job of this with stories about card-giving occasions mixed in with lifestyle tips, nicely aligned to using a card or gift to express the emotion in the moment.

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In summary, these four steps, all built on the neuroscience of storytelling, provide content marketing techniques that literally synchronize your reader’s brain with your brand marketing content. As our examples show, throw a few stories in the mix and see just how compelling brand messages can become.

Uncover the unique story your brand was meant to tell. Download Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program for step-by-step guidance.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via

Author: Carol Barash

Carol Barash, PhD is Founder and CEO at Story2. She is a nationally recognized expert in high-stakes storytelling with over twenty years’ experience helping people use stories to achieve results. She is the author of several books including the widely-praised college application guide Write Out Loud. Follow her on Twitter @CarolBarash and on Facebook.

Other posts by Carol Barash

  • Cathy McPhillips

    Great post, Carol! I really liked this line: “That interpretation and analysis puts up a wall between you and your reader.” Definitely something I think we understand, but one that I need to be aware of in our own storytelling, that we aren’t making that interpretation for our audience.

    • Carol Barash

      Yes Cathy – thanks for feedback. It’s so important to let people draw their own conclusions.

  • rogercparker

    Helpful takeaways and inspired writing. Note: I wish your website was around when I was filling out college applications! Looking forward to more stories about stories.

    • Carol Barash

      Thanks Roger!

  • Emily King

    Great advice on “focusing outward”. Showing, not telling, is a key cornerstone of good storytelling.

    • Carol Barash

      Thanks Emily. Yes very important to get out of one’s own ideas into the world of shared experience when telling a story!

  • GoPromotional

    This is interesting Carol, stories are the way to reach out to people and emotionally connect. Harness the power of the personal. People forget facts, but they never forget a great story.

    • Carol Barash

      Well said!

  • Shai Geoola

    I really enjoyed reading this article, thanks very much Carol. Cheers

    • Carol Barash

      Thank you Shai! Let me now how it works in practice.!

  • Rubie Garcia

    Took down notes while reading this, Carol. Extremely helpful for writers like me. I agree, emotional connection plays an important part in getting your readers’ attention. But sometimes it can be quite hard to do that when your article’s meant to have a standard business tone. Emotional connections becomes limited.

    • Carol Barash

      Maybe “standard business tone” is shifting towards more authenticity. What do you think?

    • Activ Hub- China Digital Intel

      Hi Rubie, wonder what you mean by “Standard Business Tone?” I look at it from the viewpoint of the difference between writing a letter and talking to someone. The letter has that tone, [usually] you mentioned, but we tend to be less stiff when talking face to face. We are still talking business but in a more “relaxed” way. I think Carol’ comment is exactly right, authenticity is the new black! At the end of the day tho, horses for courses, pick the tone to suit the clients, that is what Data Driven Content is all about, no more “Blasting.”

  • Lauri Flaquer

    Lots of great ideas here to draw the reader to you. I’m going to start using them today. Thank you.

    • Carol Barash

      Thanks Lauri. Let me know how it goes!

  • Katherine Kotaw

    Hi Carol,

    What a fantastic read! This is my favorite line: “Believe us when we say no one really cares about ‘quality manufacturing’ or ‘industry-leading service levels'”. HERE HERE!

    So many people still think that being “professional” in their social media interactions means speaking like non-humans. They think that telling their brand’s story is “not corporate enough” and proceed to spiel out jargon along the lines of “quality manufacturing” and “industry-leading services”. Which leaves anyone reading it either bored, turned off, or both.

    Generic corporate speak is just as much a turn-off as direct selling and pitching. It’s like going on a date where all the other person does is tell you a list of 500 uninspired reasons why he’s the greatest guy on Earth. Is it fun to be completely ignored while a guy pitches his product? Is this someone you’ll ever want to see again?

    The same goes for pitches and quality-manufacturing speak in your social media posts or blogs.

    People respond to stories, to real human interaction and engagement and emotions. That’s why brand storytelling, whether “corporate” or not, is so powerful. And why I believe that every successful business has a good story.

  • vlada_pechenaya

    this is awesome ! thank you Carol. Bookmarking and sharing with my network!

  • Brenda Wilkerson

    I’ve been looking for something like this. Thanks, Carol!