Get Started

How to Tell Better Marketing Stories: The Story Spine

Last updated:

Stories help connect brands with customers; here's a simple way to create compelling, story-based content.

You know you want to do more storytelling in your marketing, but the actual nuts and bolts of putting together a story are tripping you up. You’ve got the whole fact pattern, all these random details, piles of results – how do you strip away the fat and organize all that raw content into a coherent storyline?

You don’t have to do anything fancy. In fact, you can go back to one of the oldest and simplest story structures in the world for guidance.

I use a simple outline based on the structure of children’s fairy tales when I’m coming up with stories. It’s called the Story Spine, and all sorts of storytellers use it to identify the essential building blocks of a story and put them in order.

The Story Spine makes story structure easy – some theatrical improvisers even use it as a base for making up scenes and stories on the spot, and it works just as well for organizing marketing stories.

Here’s how it goes:

Once upon a time, there was a…

And every day…

But one day…

Because of that…

Because of that…

Because of that…

Until finally…

And ever since that day…

The moral of the story is…

That’s pretty abstract. Before we apply the Story Spine directly to marketing content, let’s see how it can help us understand the structure of a story we all know at a glance.

The Story Spine in Action: Harry Potter

Here’s the spine of the story of a plucky boy wizard named Harry Potter. (Spoilers ahead for those of you poor souls who have yet to discover the pleasures of the wizarding world.)

Once upon a time… there was an orphan boy named Harry Potter who lived with his awful aunt and uncle in a dreary town.

And every day… he dealt with loneliness and horrible treatment from his relatives.

But one day… Harry found out he was a wizard who survived a lethal curse from Voldemort, the most powerful dark wizard of all time.

Because of that… Harry went to a wizarding school called Hogwarts and gained new friends and mentors.

Because of that… Harry came into conflict again with Voldemort and thwarted many of Voldemort’s plans.

Because of that… Harry became a leader in the resistance against Voldemort.

Until finally… strengthened by his bond with his friends and family, Harry survived another lethal curse from Voldemort and defeated him.

And ever since that day… Harry lived a happy life surrounded by his loved ones in a safer world.

And the moral of the story is… love is the most powerful magic.

Breaking Down the Story Spine for Marketing Storytelling

Now let’s examine how the Story Spine can help us form stories out of the raw material of everyday marketing content. This is the moderately compelling, entirely made-up story of why Bert, Project Manager at GloboCorp, decided to buy video conferencing software from ScreenMeet.


(...which is just another way to say “the beginning.”)

Once upon a time, there was a…

Project Manager at the New York headquarters of massive global conglomerate GloboCorp named Bert Carmelfingers.

Here, you introduce your main character or characters and the setting of the story. At the very least, specify the who, when (implied here to be the present), and where.

And every day…

Bert managed workflows and process for teams in diverse GloboCorp departments around the world – everything from Fisheries Development to Worldwide Media Domination. He constantly was downloading and switching between the various video conferencing solutions preferred by different GloboCorp departments.

Give us a sense of the main character’s day-to-day routine in their normal setting. This helps us recognize and appreciate when that routine is broken by the action of the story.

Inciting Incident

(...which is just another way to say “when things change.”)

But one day…

the big GloboCorp company excursion into the Grand Canyon had to be delayed due to Skype difficulties in an important safety meeting Bert had scheduled with the GloboCorp Bungee Jumping Guidelines team. Bert, an avid outdoorsman, was crushed.

What changes for the main character and sets them on their journey? This is the key moment when the story really gets underway. Usually, the inciting incident alters the main character’s trajectory, puts them into some kind of conflict, and affects them emotionally.

Specificity helps draw the audience in. Try to make the inciting incident – and the whole story – personal to your main character. This is possible, even if you have a group of main characters, if you get at why these characters care about the events of the story.

Rising Action

(...which is just another way to say “plot.”)

Because of that…

Bert started looking into the challenges teams across GloboCorp had been having with their various video conferencing solutions.

Because of that…

he was dismayed to discover that the whole company had been having video conferencing troubleshooting and compatibility issues.

Because of that…

Bert researched various video conferencing solutions and found that ScreenMeet was the most cost-effective and easy-to-use.

Now we follow the main character as the consequences of the inciting incident play out. These plot points should follow one another logically and build the tension or momentum of the story.

Oftentimes in marketing customer stories, the rising action is a process of research and discovery. Try to milk the suspense inherent in any investigation.


Until finally…

Bert presented to the GloboCorp executive team on why the company should sign a contract with ScreenMeet – and knocked it out of the park.

Here’s where every part of the story comes to a head and the conflict reaches a boiling point.

This isn’t necessarily the big moment when the villain is defeated and everything explodes (though it often is). Instead, it’s the turning point in the story where there’s no going back and the main character is changed for good.

This is probably where the main character of your marketing story discovers your company's solution! Make their success personal and emotional.


And ever since that day…

GloboCorp teams no longer have video conferencing issues thanks to ScreenMeet’s smooth user experience; and Bert, GloboCorp’s new VP of Operations, has never again had to wait to bungee jump in the Grand Canyon.

The story comes to an end with the problem solved. Don't forget to bring the main character’s personal arc to a close as well. Where are they now? What have they gained and lost? What have they learned? How have they changed?

Really, the resolution is a new status quo. Show us how the main character settles into their new normal.

In a customer story or case study, this is the perfect place to talk results. You might also want to add a few more Because of that… steps between the climax and the resolution in order to highlight exactly how your solution solved your customer’s problems.


And the moral of the story is…

ScreenMeet can help make video conferencing an easier and happier experience for everyone. Find out how our solution can work for you today!

From “slow and steady wins the race” to “always leave a note ,” most great stories deliver some kind of takeaway.

In general, this last bit of the Story Spine is optional, but for the purposes of marketing content, it’s essential – this is the call to action, and you almost always want to call it out clearly and explicitly. Tell your audience why the story matters and what they should do next.

This skeletal Story Spine is about fleshed out enough to be a traditional customer story or case study.

But if you want to tell an honest-to-goodness story about a customer or your company – like Church’s Chicken’s “WFD ” or (more ambitiously) Nike’s “Breaking2 ” – remember that the Story Spine is only a foundation. A foundation that can help you make sure your story is actually a story and says what you want it to say about your company, but only a foundation.

There’s much that could be expanded upon even in the spine of Bert’s story. Much of the richness of great, fleshed-out stories – memorable dialogue, details, characterizations – isn’t captured here.

For example: what are some of the specific difficulties GloboCorp teams faced due to lackluster video conferencing solutions, and how did those difficulties make them feel? What was said during Bert’s presentation to the GloboCorp executive team? And what were some of the specific successes GloboCorp teams achieved thanks to ScreenMeet?

The Story Spine is the best tool for simplifying structure, helping you make sure you’ve included all of the essential parts of a story and put them in the right order. Use the Story Spine as a foundation for your next masterpiece.

Interested in how your content connects with your customers? Check out this webinar featuring an exceptionally simple analogy for better content marketing.

Share this article

Ready to unlock your website's potential?

TrustRadius logo
G2 logo
SoftwareReviews logo