Great reports are read, understood, inspiring, and acted upon. And one of the best ways to ensure this happens is through powerful and persuasive storytelling techniques.

A great storyteller takes advantage of a clear story arc that combines both emotional and informational content into powerful communications. However, there is no single story arc that works for every story, nor for every storyteller. By understanding some of the most popular story arcs, you can select the one that will be most effective for the brand, business, or marketing story you need to tell with your research. Here are four of our favourites.

  • The Hero’s Journey: A relatable protagonist leaves the status quo behind and sets out on a difficult journey. After overcoming challenges, they return home with a reward or newfound wisdom. 

Application: This story arc works well for struggling brands that are transforming, small businesses competing against large business, and workplace culture building. For instance, a brand used to thrive but then fell onto hard times. However, through smart decisions and hard work, they transformed themselves into a meaningful, differentiated, and growing brand.  

Real World Example – Barbie: Barbie was facing irrelevance as an anachronism. The toy’s cookie-cutter one-dimensional look and feel, her figure, and even her friends were out of sync in a multi-ethnic, #MeToo, and more fluid gender identity world. The lore of dolls had diminished as kids turned to electronics, video games, and screens for entertainment. Barbie was simply out of step with the times and needed to leave the status quo behind.

Barbie needed to overcome major challenges to become relevant again. The brand needed to bring Barbie into the 21st century and maybe even push ahead of it, but it wouldn’t be easy. It would take time, money, and bravery for the toy to evolve. Barbie could teach kids valuable lessons about today’s world and themselves, and parents could feel good about the purchase. There would be some push back to a more progressive Barbie and the brand would need to prepare for a storm.

The reward at the end of the journey is that Barbie stemmed the decline. In fact, Barbie generated over $950 million USD in sales in 2017. Not only did the P&L improve; Barbie and Mattel are now set up for success well beyond the 21st century. The toy now serves as a strong role model for boys and girls around the world.

  • Nested Loops: I would like to share an important, central insight with you. Here is one story that supports this central insight. Here is another complementary story that also supports the central insight. In conclusion, this is the important insight I want to leave you with.

Application: This story arc works well to explain how a strong, overall insight was reached.

Real World Example – Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’: Simon has discovered that the most valuable companies in the world are successful because they know WHY they are in business.

One story to support his central lesson is that he’s studied some of the most influential leaders in the world and they all think, act, and communicate in the same way — the complete opposite of everyone else. Simon calls it the ‘The Golden Circle,’ a way of thinking that Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, and The Wright brothers all had.

Another story to support this lesson is related to the limbic system within the brain. This system deals with feelings and emotions such as trust and loyalty. It’s responsible for human behaviour and decision making. However, it has no capacity for language. That’s why we respond to people who connect on a more emotional ‘why’ level rather than a more rational ‘what and how’ level.

In conclusion, the important insight Simon wants to leave us with is that we can build organizations, lead movements, and inspire better outcomes by starting with the WHY. 

  • Sparklines: This is our reality today. This is what could be. There is a big gap but if we can change ‘what is’, look how amazing our new reality could be. 

Application: This story arc works well to convince people to rally around an idea, identify current business realities, and help the team imagine where business could be with a new approach.

Real World Example -Stephen Jobs 2007 iPhone speech (Read the speech, Watch the speech): The reality today is that the cell phones we’re using aren’t very smart. And our smart phones with their tiny, unchanging plastic buttons aren’t very easy to use.

We need a device that is actually smart and actually easy to use. It needs to work as a music player, as a cell phone, and as internet access. It also has to allow for changing needs and changing software.

These things seem really far apart but wouldn’t it be amazing if we actually had this today. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a device that is so sophisticated that it seems to come from five years in the future? Well, we did it. Today, we bring you the iPhone.

  • Converging Ideas: I have this great idea. I discovered all of these smaller pieces of information from different data sources. I then connected all of these different ideas together to create this one strong idea.

Application: This story arc works great to identify insights from different studies, triangulate various types of information, or repackage existing data to tell a new story or share a new idea.

Real World Example – the iPhone watch: We have a great idea. It’s a device that looks and wears like a watch but has the capacity to behave like many devices. It can control your home theatre system, talk to your car, measure your activity levels, monitor your health, turn off the lights, turn up the heat, and, of course, send and review emails and texts, play music, take pictures, and search the internet.

The idea for this new product came from reviewing various sources of information. Data showed the rise of home monitoring systems, increasing complaints about the excessive size of iPhones particularly when people are on the go, consumer attitudes about complex technology, and the desire for more simplicity.

Each one of these data sources contributed an insight that was instrumental in developing the technology and creating a final product. These ideas came together to create the Apple Watch — the power to control your life from your wrist.

Are you ready to tell your story?

With your preferred story arc chosen, you can then strengthen it by choosing and framing additional data points that will complement the story arc. Your research or marketing report will then be well on its way to being read, understood, inspiring and acted upon!