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The Best Story Framework for More Engaging Storytelling [Example]

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The Best Story Framework for More Engaging Storytelling [Example]

Even if you’re not a professional storyteller, you can use storytelling frameworks to share more engaging narratives in your content marketing copy. You’ll not only be able to tell your company’s story more effectively to stakeholders, but you’ll be able to write more effective, readable material that converts users into loyal customers.

Whether you’re writing for your website, blog, social media profiles, presentations, or online offers, the framework discussed below will help you gain confidence in storytelling and start telling better stories in business and in life. Let’s get started.

Why use a storytelling framework?

As content strategists, we should spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of storytelling in marketing, but we don’t — mainly because it’s so intimidating. The pressure-filled process of creating a framework and telling a story can keep a lot of people from even making an attempt. When the subject comes up, we understandably get nervous.

The thing is: storytelling is part of what makes us human. We don’t have to be Ernest Hemingway to be good at it. We can use a storytelling framework to guide us in the writing process.

Storytelling frameworks make our copy and content feel familiar to readers, while providing us with an easy “formula” to follow. The good news is that your content will never feel formulaic, because you can (and should) diversify how you write individual pages or posts. However, the bare bones stay the same.

Storytelling Template: The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is a storytelling template from author Joseph Campbell, and it’s everywhere. It’s one of the most relatable storylines because it basically mirrors the journeys of our own lives. Understanding The Hero’s Journey can give you insight into how to frame your own stories, whether it’s the true story about your company or a fictional story that stirs your imagination.

The following diagram breaks down this Hero’s Journey template, step by step.

storytelling template: the heros journey

Typically broken down into three acts, the Hero’s Journey goes as follows:

Act 1:

  • Ordinary World: A character (either you or your customer) is living a regular life.
  • Call to Adventure: The character becomes aware of a problem or a task that must be completed.
  • Refusal (of call): The character initially shows refusal — think of a customer who refuses to switch from their current provider despite their pain points.
  • Meeting with the Mentor: The character meets a person who’ll guide them in the process of completing the task — think of a sales person guiding a lead toward conversion.

Act 2:

  • Crossing the Threshold (into new life/experiences): The character officially starts their journey of solving the task, like a customer who’s just made a new purchase.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies: The character faces different trials in the process of completing the task.
  • Approach to Innermost Cave: The character approaches the final battle — think of a professional who must now get their entire team to adopt a solution.
  • Ordeal: The character goes through a battle or showdown — like in-team disagreements or discussions with stakeholders.
  • Reward: The character emerges triumphant.

Act 3:

  • The Road Back: Typically, the challenge isn’t over, and the character must deal with “blowback” from their previous battle.
  • Resurrection: The character emerges with a new power, internal lesson, or external change.
  • Return with Elixir: The character returns home or moves forward into a new adventure.

This is the Hero’s Journey, which—modified in various ways—we see repeated in stories throughout history. We have an ordinary person (what is), and we have adventure that lies ahead (what could be). The transference from one to the other is the journey.

Another great story template comes from comedy writing. It starts similarly: A character is in a zone of comfort. But they want something, so they enter into an unfamiliar situation. They adapt, and eventually get what they’re looking for, but end up paying a heavy price for it. In the end, they return to their old situation, having changed.

The Hero’s Journey: Fiction Example

The greatest story ever told…

Yes, we’re talking about Star Wars. Let’s step through a crude synopsis to see how well it matches Campbell’s pattern:

  • Ordinary World: In the first Star Wars film, we begin with the rather ordinary Luke Skywalker. He lives on a farm on a desert planet.
  • Call to Adventure: One day, he meets some robots who need help. They need to find a local hermit named Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke takes the robots to Obi-Wan, who basically says, “Luke, you need to go out and help save the universe.”
  • Refusal of Call, Meeting with Mentor, & Crossing the Threshold: Luke initially says, “No, I have all this stuff going on,” but Kenobi, who becomes Luke’s mentor, convinces Luke that he should go. Kenobi trains him how to use a lightsaber, and Luke goes on an epic space adventure.
  • Test, Allies, Enemies: On the journey, Luke meets the villain, Darth Vader. He battles evil stormtroopers. He makes friends: Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia.
  • Approach to the Innermost Cave: Luke then has to help defeat the super-weapon, the Death Star.
  • Ordeal: Nearly everything goes wrong, but in the end, Luke succeeds in blowing up the Death Star.
  • Reward: The last scene of the movie is of Luke getting a metal put over his neck by the princess, who kisses him on the cheek.
  • The Road Back, Resurrection, & Elixir: Now he is in his new home, a changed man, emboldened by the great power of the Force, which he can use on future adventures.

The Hero’s Journey: Business Example

In business, the Hero’s Journey can most apply to case studies. (Most of them are a little less entertaining stories than Star Wars, unfortunately.)

A case study is the story of where a customer was, where they wanted to be, and how they overcame that gap.

If you listen to podcasts, you’ll hear this story told in almost every ad. You’ll also see it in “About us” pages. For example, check out Harry’s:

“Our founders, Jeff and Andy, created Harry’s because they were tired of overpaying for overdesigned razors. Instead, they wanted simple, high-quality products that felt good to use, all at a fair price. When they asked around, they learned lots of guys were upset about the situation too, so they decided to do something about it.”

storytelling framework example: harrys

The problem with most brands’ stories is that they don’t walk us through enough of the steps of the Hero’s Journey to capture our attention.

That’s why these frameworks are so useful. They’re a really easy way to ensure that we’re more creative when we’re coming up with stories or trying to convey information. This framework helps you focus your creativity.

Need more? Check out The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming into the Void, and Make People Love You for more detail on using the Hero’s Journey in your business writing. 

How to Bolster Your Storytelling Framework with the Benjamin Franklin Method

As you continue using storytelling templates, you can use Benjamin Franklin’s writing method to strengthen your skills and create better business stories.

What is Benjamin Franklin’s method, you ask?

Benjamin Franklin devised a system for mastering writing. He collected issues of a publication that contained some of the best writing of his day, and reverse engineered the prose. He took notes at a sentence level, sat on them for a while, and tried to recreate the sentences from his own head, without looking at the originals.

Upon comparison, Benjamin found that his vocabulary was lacking, and his prose was light on variety. Despite that, he did it over and over. Unlike the more passive method most writers use to improve their work (reading a lot), this exercise forced Franklin to pay attention to the tiny details that made the difference between decent writing and great writing.

Here’s how you can use this method to bolster your storytelling template.

Step 1: Reverse engineer your competitors’ copy.

Take a piece of copy that you particularly admire from your competitor’s website. It can be a webpage, a case study, a white paper, or an article. Read it while noting what’s particularly effective about it, then set it aside and rewrite it in the best way you know how. Be sure to use your notes to guide your rewrite, and try to identify the storytelling template your competitor is using.

Note: Don’t publish this material, as it can be flagged as plagiarism! But you’re welcome to keep it in a private doc.

Step 2: Compare your reworked version to the original.

Set the two versions side by side. How does yours compare? What is it missing? What did your competitor do well? How did you do well? Note your findings in a separate document. Do this again and again with your competitors and even your own copy. Once you have enough insight and experience, you can begin applying your findings to your new copy and even use it to rewrite your old copy.

A Storytelling Framework is Essential for Great Copy

By using storytelling frameworks, you’ll learn to write stronger business stories in no time. The Hero’s Journey is a best-in-class example for writing case studies, advertisements, articles, and even tutorials. Remember: People don’t remember brands. They remember stories. Use this to your advantage.

Note: This post contains excerpts from The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming Into the Void, and Make People Love You by Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Click here to download our free introductory ebook on marketing psychology.

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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