Storytelling Insights for Marketers, Inspired by Pixar's Story Artists


When it comes to storytelling – they really don't get much better than Pixar. The story artists of the studio have mastered this ancient art – and they make a great business out of a spectacular skill.

So, it seemed only natural to this marketing storyteller to turn to them for insights and inspiration. Indeed, the kind of stories we tell as marketers are different than the stories told by Up, Monsters, and Toy Story. Nevertheless, those folks are brimming with success and fabulousness – so let's take a look . . .

Emma Coats, formerly a storyboard artists at Pixar once published her 22 rules of storytelling, 'according to Pixar.'

Among these 22 there some very salient ones that us marketers would be well served to keep in mind. Namely:

"#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different."

This is a point we often discuss at messaging meetings. That is, it's easy to get swept away by the cool and innovative technologies the product guys are coming up with. And it's tempting to want to say everything there is to say about these technologies. But the question is not – what do we have to say to customers? The question is – what do customers need to hear to move further along the sales process, further down the funnel, and one step closer to the purchase decision?

Customer centricity is the name of the game – in service, sales, and marketing content creation and strategy.

"#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___."

This is not only true for Pixar's famous stories. In one of our previous posts, we shared the theory of BBC TV writer and producer and author, John Yorke, which echoes this formula.

According to John, all the great stories (whether The Odyssey, Jaws, or Erin Brockovich) have the same structure of: “the journey into the woods to find the dark but life-giving secret within" – or my version: "once upon a time things used to suck (before buying cool technologies), then the hero overcame adversity with the help of some magic (cool technologies), now he's the prince."

Let's see how this works with Pixar example #4:

Once upon a time there was a compliance officer that had to deal with tougher and tougher regulations. Every day, his bank was being audited. One day Acme Amazing Software came and showed the officer how he could leverage big data analytics to monitor all trade communications and transactions and alert the bank to any potential misdeeds. Because of that, the compliance officer saved the bank millions of dollars. Because of that, he was able to meet all of his KPIs. Until finally he got promoted to Chief Compliance Officer.

Pretty neat, huh?

Ok, so that's not EXACTLY how you'll write up your next blog post, web page, or brochure – but the idea is the same and can also be found in Nancy Duarte's famous structure for great talks. If you haven't seen the TED talk yet, make haste.

"#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front."

This is a simple one – start at the end. That is – what are your goals? What is your objective? To educate? To convince? To enlighten? Once you know what the end game is, only then should you really get started.

"#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it."

And after all – if authenticity is key to engaging and convincing/converting our audience – then say what you mean, and mean what you say. Believe in the story you tell – and so will your audience.

Want to spin a great yarn? Get in touch, and let's do great marketing together >>