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Monday, July 30, 2012

Among the many skills that top-notch marketers must master, perhaps none is more important - or as overlooked - as that of storytelling. Most marketers don’t usually think of themselves as storytellers. Change agents? Sure. Idea-drivers? Yes. Advertisers? Sometimes. But, in general, you don’t hear many marketers talking much about their need to tell a good story. And yet, when you think about those most critical strategies and initiatives that marketers create - the Annual Marketing Plan, the Innovation Program, and the Brand’s Communications - each certainly requires strong storytelling skills.


Why storytelling? If you consider the basics of any good story - how it’s organized and what it typically contains - you can pretty quickly see the similarities to the “telling” of a good Marketing Plan, for example. Most of us learned in English or some other language class in grammar school that a good story has three key parts: (1) the Set-Up (what writers use to “grab” the reader’s or listener’s attention); (2) the Main Action (in which an engaging plot unfolds); and (3) the Resolution (where everything gets tied up). In addition, we also learned that really compelling stories share some common characteristics:


               --They involve a certain level of conflict or challenge;

               --They usually feature an admirable protagonist;

               --They often employ a certain unexpectedness or cleverness;

               --And, the ones people like most, have a satisfying ending.


So, to carry the analogy along, a well-crafted Marketing Plan story should include, in order, these similar parts: (1) Where the Brand Is Today (the Set-Up, with recent trends, performances, key events, competitive actions—all the essential and intriguing elements of a classically conducted “market analysis”); (2) Where the Brand Wants to Go & How It Will Get There (the Main Action, with opportunities to exploit, critical success factors/challenges to overcome, and clever strategies & initiatives to implement); and (3) What Getting There Will Result In (the benefits for the Brand and the Company—the resolutions that make the story worth listening to - by senior management - in the first place). And, it goes without saying, that in such an annual Marketing Plan story, the “admirable protagonist” is none other than the Brand itself.


But writing a good Marketing Plan story and telling it (as in presenting it to senior management) are not exactly the same skills. Having read and listened to many plans over the years, we recommend the following tips for writing and telling:

Writing the Plan-Story
  •  Complete a totally thorough market analysis-situation review; but be selective about what facts, trends, and conclusions to actually show;
  • Engage the audience quickly up –front—typically by spotlighting the key events in the category from the past year that have really impacted category growth, competitive advances, and the brand’s results;
  • Don’t over-write; keep things bullet-point simple and with plenty of white space on each slide;
  • Transition, transition, transition from slide to slide…often using short headline sentences that pick up the theme or “so what” from the previous slide;
  • Above all, be disciplined in what you show on number charts: this means keeping the number of numbers per page limited and highlighting those specific 2-3 numbers that make your point and advance the story; it also means avoiding charts with too many axes—ones that can be read one way from left to right, and another from right to left;
  • Overall, try go follow the organizing principle that the military has used so effectively for so long: (1) tell them what you’re going to tell them; (2) tell them; and (3) tell them what you told them.

Telling the Plan-Story

  • “Characterize” your plan right up-front…which means, in a sentence or two, tell everyone in as clear a way as you can, what kind of plan they’re about to see - for example, “Before we get into this year’s Marketing Plan, I want you to know that you’re about to see a dynamic - even accelerated - growth plan here, one that promises big rewards but also requires some big changes in the way we go to market”;
  • Stop each time you move from one part of telling the story (for example, from Where the Brand Is Today to Where the Brand Wants to Go) and make sure everyone is tracking; seek questions or clarification often;
  • Be prepared for any and all questions—nothing is more impressive to the audience than hearing back quick, pre-thought-out responses to tough questions; and, of course, when the answer isn’t readily known, it’s always best to say so and promise to get an answer quickly;
  • Use your voice to (volume and inflection) to emphasize the essential themes of the story - and especially the help you seek from the audience in getting the “plan story” into the marketplace.

Of course, there are many other skills involved in writing and telling a compelling Marketing Plan story. And when well-told, the outcomes for the Brand (and indirectly for the storyteller) are the same ones that great writers and speakers reap with their stories: a “captive audience” that wants to listen; the reinforcement that follows when the Brand story gets told and re-told by others; and, well, best of all--$$$$$--for investing in your Brand instead of someone else’s!


So whether you think of yourself as a storyteller or not, you are. And developing your storytelling skills is an effort well worth it.





1.     Virtually every good storyteller, whether of fiction or non-fiction, spends years doing his or her research. The best stories literally come to life and “ring true” because they are based on research into the facts. When pulling together a Marketing Plan, it’s always a best practice to scour the research and trend data; it’s also a good idea to engage the Brand’s Market Research experts up-front for help in determining the facts required for a compelling brand story.


2.     Following on the above, it goes without saying that one thing annual Marketing Plans cannot be is fantasy. They must be credible - just as the storyteller must be credible if the story is to be believed and remembered.


3.     While there are 3 parts to most good stories, most top-notch storytellers agree that the beginnings and endings deserve special effort and emphasis: those are the parts that typically get interest going and make the resolution “stick.”


4.     When in the early stages of drafting the annual Marketing Plan, don’t hesitate to reach out and solicit help—from any and all sources. For example, you might want to engage the services of a professional writer or editor to look over a first draft. Another source could be a journalist. 


5.     Finally, one good technique that we have used in laying out the “flow” of an annual plan is storyboarding it - literally laying out in sequence the kinds of slides you think you need (even if you do not yet have all the data or information to put on each one). Effectively, this is borrowing a tried & true approach from our communication agencies…and it works.

Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

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