In marketing, it’s important to control the message that people receive about your brand or business. We don’t just put out content and hope for the best, everything is done with intentionality. There are often specific things that we’re trying to achieve or promote, such as brand awareness,  informing consumers, or public relations, just to name a few. Even if it doesn’t seem like certain pieces of content have an ulterior motive, it could be as simple as trying to increase public perception of that brand.

Good content tells a story. One that introduces the brand, defines a problem or conflict to overcome and then explores a solution to that problem. This three-act structure is universal among stories of all kinds, from Instagram to Hollywood blockbusters. There are also some common themes that appear in these forms of media that we can apply to our marketing as well.

The way we measure our success is with Objectives & Key Results (OKR), which is when you set a particular objective and you measure its success using particular metrics, or key results.

There are certain recurring themes in stories that can act as templates for creating Instagram content that yields whatever your OKR’s are.

Overcoming the Monster

The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) which threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist’s homeland.

We can look back and see this theme occur time and time again in business. Apple taking on ‘big blue’ in 1984. Tesla taking on major auto manufacturers. Netflix changing the film industry. Each of these brands started off as a David facing Goliath, the latter of whom wanted nothing more than to stop them in their tracks. Sure, sometimes the little guy gets beaten down and doesn’t get back up, but the ones who had something to add to the world, persevered and now they are the Goliaths.

The marketing message that each of these brands would use would often focus on what they can do that the dominant ones can’t do, slowly chipping away at their armour. Confuscious said, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones,” and that’s exactly how these up-and-coming brands take down their juggernaut counterparts.


Endy Story
Dollar Shave club story

In the above examples, Endy and Dollar Shave Club’s monster is the paradigm of how people currently purchase their types of products; mattresses and razors. Each of the Stories in their set tells a different part of a story:

  1. They introduce the brand
  2. They introduce the protagonists; families and average men, respectively.
  3. The conflict of the story is implied because we’re all familiar with how one typically purchases these products.
  4. There is a triumph as customers find joy or satisfaction in their accomplishment of cheap and effortless shopping.
  5. The hashtag #EndyAtHome or the tagline “Welcome to the Club” informs us of the story’s resolution.

You may not be currently facing your own Goliath, or you may be setting your sights a little lower in the early days of your business. In this case, your ‘overcoming the monster’ story can be represented by you or your brand overcoming any kind of obstacle. You can tell a story about your business’ struggle to get approval for something, about testing out a new product or service, or about the headache of hiring new employees.

Whatever you’re facing, the struggle is real. Tell that story.

The Quest

The protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location. They face temptations and other obstacles along the way.

Does this sound a lot like the lifespan of a business? We all have different goals and objectives (that we strive to get to) and will all face different challenges (or obstacles) on the path to get there.

This story theme is great because of how broad and universal it can be. Everyone is on their own quest, their own adventure, so we each have a different story to tell. Your story doesn’t have to be as epic as The Lord of the Rings or as dramatic as Finding Nemo.

Your quest might look like the struggle that your customers face and how your product or service helps them overcome it. If you’re a lifestyle brand, you can showcase your customers’ experiences using your products; the activities they do, places they go, people they meet.

The basic requirement of a quest is that there’s progress. One step further. One inch closer. One rung higher. Every day until you achieve those objectives that you’ve set.

In this example, the quest (from Nature Valley) is around the theme “Nature Makes Us Better”. The idea being that pursuing this initiative betters us as human beings.

  1. They start by declaring the quest right out of the gate; “Nature Makes Us Better” and this kayak instructor’s best lessons are learned from being out amongst nature.
  2. We get a glimpse of the challenges and journey, and introspective lessons that he weaves into being present around nature.
  3. The final Story frame shares that he recognizes how important nature is to understand life’s lessons and he encourages others to do the same.

Comedy

Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstances, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.

As was mentioned earlier, brands don’t always have to advertise or market with the objective of getting something back from their audience. It’s a very good idea to invest time and effort into telling stories just to increase brand awareness and perception.

When we talk about “providing value,” we often think about utility; advice, information, or deliverables that people can use. Value also comes in the form of simple entertainment. A joke, a fact, or an observation that an audience might find interesting.

Ryan Reynolds Story

To use a recent example, Ryan Reynolds got some flack on social media when people found out that he’d be voicing Pikachu in an upcoming movie. There are a lot of different ways that Reynolds could have responded (including not responding at all), but instead decided to lean into it with a piece of content that implies “I’m here to stay.”

A cheeky post from a celebrity is often entertaining enough as it is, but what this did was it promoted the movie and also increased public awareness for Reynolds and his new ‘role’ in the film industry.

Rebirth

An event forces the main character to change their ways and often become a better person.

In order for someone to grow into something new, a previous version must cease to exist. This is demonstrated in most stories (in the case of any of the above themes) as the need for the character to change, grow, and become a better version of themselves in order to overcome their conflict.

The guy has to be a nicer person in order to get the girl. The selfish friend chooses to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Someone gets a second chance at life and uses it to make a difference in the world (or fight crime). These are all plotlines that we’re familiar with and they’re all about death and resurrection, either literally or metaphorically.


Every day, people are reinventing themselves in order to improve their health and/or quality of life. Nike told the story of a man on a mission to lose weight:

  1. Using a voice over, Maynor De Leon describes the health risks that he was facing.
  2. Over the next couple of Stories, we see his struggle as we watch the early days of his journey.
  3. We see his progress and we silently celebrate his accomplishments.
  4. De Leon’s quest may not be over but, from the first Story to the last, we see him reinvent himself. He couldn’t have lost the 208lbs that we see here without him having left an old version of himself behind and be reborn as someone new.

This is just as true for brands as it is for people. Any brand that has experienced a PR problem understands the need to implement change in order to maintain a positive public perception. Sometimes this is a small change in policy, other times it’s a complete company overhaul.

It’s also not just about changing business operations. Sometimes, brands overhaul the brand itself. New logo, new colours, new design, new marketing practices, new social media direction or cadence.

Starbucks story

Did your brand undergo a big change? Does your product or service help to change people’s lives? Did the founder start the company because of a major change in their life? Somewhere, someone’s life is radically different. Find that story and tell it to your audience.

Conclusion

It’s important to think of your content in terms of a story because it can change how that content is created and conveyed. This is important because human beings tend to remember stories and information from them better than just remembering data. As you’re thinking about content to create to promote your brand, consider reframing it or creating it around one of these themes. Wrapping your brand up in a story about conquering a foe, beginning a quest, death & resurrection, or something comedic can make it much more memorable and engaging.