Jonathan Helm

Mirror, mirror on the wall… how to be the finest storyteller of them all – Part Two

Posted on 19th December 2017 by Jonathan Helm

In Part One of our guide to crafting stories that sell, we established why stories are important to B2B organisations, and keeping your story grounded in your business while stretching your potential. But what makes a good story a good story?

To answer this, we need to start with how stories work. Good stories activate the sensory cortex in our brains in the same way they activate when they smell hot chocolate. It’s not our noses that smell or our eyes that read, it is our brains which use real experiences to give context and fill in the gaps and create a richer picture of the information our brain is receiving.

The science of storytelling uses knowledge of how the brain gets most interested about things, to get people to remember things. In marketing, our objective is to use storytelling to transmit key messages to our target market that drive engagement leading to our underlying business objectives.

There’s no single way to tell a story, and hitting the mark certainly isn’t easy, but the core elements of a story form a useful guide to crafting how to broadcast what you want to communicate.

The ingredients of a good story  

But not just any old story will do. Although there may be many stories you remember clearly, there are bound to be countless stories that haven’t left their mark.

Neuroscience research tells us that one of the crucial elements is tension. If a story is able to create tension, then a viewer or listener comes to share in the emotions of the characters. This can influence behaviour; after the story has ended, the readers or listeners may mimic some of the feelings and behaviours of the characters.

Neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s research has shown that our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol during the tense moments of a story, which helps us to focus. Research also shows that a happy ending to a story triggers a release of dopamine, which makes us feel more optimistic.

A good story should offer a promise that it will be worth your time, and it should work towards a singular goal. The reader or listener will be willing to work for the pay-off, but it shouldn’t feel like hard work. Absence of some information can create intrigue and draw us in, but missing out too much information can lead to frustration.

It’s time to tell your story

Good stories educate, enlighten and evoke people in a way they don’t realise these things are happening. Ultimately, a story must be useful via interest and insight; but your story must go beyond selling services and and reinforcing your brand equity.

Telling stories isn’t easy, but it helps to have a real passion for what you’re saying – so you may want to start with understanding what is really important to you or your organisation as the basis for what could ultimately become your marketing strategy. We’ve created a Man Bites Dog guide to B2B storytelling, to get your message across which includes all of the elements you need to craft a great story.

The setting

Whether you’re telling a story about mid-market UK businesses with global aspirations or about the future of the workplace, you need to build a picture your story takes place in that your audience can imagine.

You need to provide enough background information to situate your story in a time and a place that your audience can relate to, and plant the seed of interest. The best place to start is often with a market analysis and your competitors, to find what’s really going on.

Tension and conflict

Creating tension or a point of conflict is the key element which grips readers, and gives them a vested interest. Your story needs to include obstacles, challenges or conflicts which need resolving. What’s helpful for marketers, is that these are built around an unmet desire.

To find the point of conflict in your story, you only need to look as far as your customer personas, or key pain points your customers have, before finding an angle which is different to what your competitors are saying.


Character-driven stories with emotional content engage more of the brain, resulting in better understanding and improved recall. Case studies, interview extracts and quotes introduce real people and businesses into your stories, and you can even use your audience as your character to really get your message across.

Your brand or products may even feature as ‘characters’ in your story: our escape room event for Google for Work cast Google’s productivity tools as the heroes in stories that were co-created by the company’s prospects.

The twist & thickening the plot

Your story can’t follow a well-trodden path. If you’re talking about something that’s widely talked about, you need to add a twist, provide brand new insight, or flip the prevailing narrative entirely. This has to test the position of the point of conflict to create intrigue as to how the situation developed.

Our recent campaign for people and organisation advisory firm Korn Ferry, turned the ‘future of work’ story on its head, proving that people rather than technology are the greatest value generator for businesses – a completely different approach other HR firms were taking and pushing against widely held beliefs engaged CEOs globally.

Resolution and a happy ending

Once you have told your story, your audience needs to be fulfilled and the central conflict resolved – you need to have provided a solution, rather than left unanswered questions. Through the story, you need create a better world – your central characters need to have grown in some way, and the reader needs to be left inspired enough to take action, so ask yourself what the outcome is you need before you start telling your story.

Our work with Castrol showed how something as seemingly innocuous like industrial lubricants, actually keeps the whole world economy moving, giving prospects a real reason to consider Castrol as a global partner.

Man Bites Dog stories

At Man Bites Dog, we develop integrated marketing campaigns underpinned by creative storytelling. We can help your brand cut through the noise, articulating your insight and communicating your true value to impact your bottom line. Visit our services page to see what we offer, or get in touch today to find out more.

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