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Your business succeeds or fails based on the connection that you share with your customer. Borrowing a few tricks from Hollywood will help you strengthen that connection.

Story is the secret ingredient that makes an emotional connection powerful and lasting. A show about a high-powered political “fixer” doesn’t immediately sound interesting. But a show about a fixer who finds herself at the center of the biggest political SCANDAL of the century because she’s sleeping with the president–that’s something you can’t stop watching. In my twenty years as a Hollywood story analyst, I’ve learned a few storytelling tricks you can use to add emotion to your brand and build a connection with your customer. Here are four basic building blocks of great stories you can use with your brand:

  1. Trigger Point
  2. Dilemma
  3. Action
  4. Goal

Trigger Point

Michael Hauge, author of Writing Screenplays That Sell, said that a story begins when an undeserved misfortune happens to your lead character. In other words, stories start with a problem, or trigger point. For example, in the show The Good Wife, the trigger point is when Peter, Alicia’s husband, goes to jail for his involvement in a sex and corruption scandal.

When you’re creating the story of your business, start with your customer. What will their trigger point be? What will make them want to use your service or buy your product? Then consider the story of your business came to be. What was the trigger point that provided the inspiration for the company?

For some entrepreneurs, the two triggers will be the same–you may have experienced the same need your potential customers are facing, and created your business to solve that problem. For example, in 1970 Tom and Kate Chappell had a hard time finding wholesome, natural personal care products for their family. That trigger point in the story of how they came to found Tom’s of Maine is the same trigger point that leads customers to buy their products. Tying your brand to this kind of personal story will help you appeal to the consumer emotionally.


In story, the dilemma is what happens after the trigger incident, the moment when the central character gets stuck between a rock and a hard place. The trigger incident happens to the character, but the dilemma sets up the moment when she makes a difficult decision that sets the plot in motion. In the FX show The Americans, the trigger incident is when a married Russian spy team, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, fail to get a former KGB Colonel to escape on time. This leads them into the dilemma: do they let him go or kill him?

What dilemmas do your customers face? When Kraft developed Lunchables, they tapped into a key consumer dilemma: do I pack lunches for the kids or get them to school on time? According to Michael Moss, author of the book Salt Sugar Fat, the real marketing genius that drove Lunchables’ success was the ability to connect emotionally with both parents and kids. They told a story about not only a working parent’s stressful morning, but a kid’s boring lunchtime. Understanding their customers’ dilemmas helped them forge emotional connections by offering possible solutions to real problems.


Once you’ve created a story for your brand, you need to make sure that all your actions help advance that story and lead the customer towards achieving their goal. Don’t let your story get bogged down or take a sudden, unexpected left turn like X EXAMPLE. Dove has been very successful at connecting their brand to an emotional story about women finding confidence in their own natural beauty–which is why it was so damaging when consumers began to complain that their ads were appearing on Facebook pages that contained violent, sexist content. Every interaction with your company, whether it’s seeing an ad in an unexpected place or speaking with customer service, is part of your brand’s story. When your actions align with the customer’s goal, you get results: you strengthen your connection with the customer and improve your chances of repeat business.


In story, the resolution of a plot links back to the opening dilemma because the goal is the answer to the initial problem. In the story of your brand, you want the consumer to feel that by hiring you or buying your project, they’ll achieve their goal. Clarifying this intent in your messaging and your actions will help you connect with your consumer.

Staples understood this when they introduced their “That was easy” marketing campaign. They identified a problem their customers faced–shopping for office supplies is often tedious and complicated–and offered a solution. They backed up the slogan with action, revamping their stores so that the shopping experience would actually be easier. And they even created a physical button customers could push when they achieved their goals. The fact that they’ve sold millions of Easy Buttons underscores how powerfully people crave resolution–and how warmly they’ll embrace a company that helps them achieve it.