The Illuminist Blog

Which Story to Tell?: Six Key Considerations When Developing Story-Driven Content

Posted by Jon Thompson on July 20, 2016


In the past three to five years, there’s been a rapidly growing recognition in the business world that strategic messages become much more meaningful (and a lot stickier) when presented as part of a visual human narrative. Much has been written about storytelling and story structure, but there’s been little conversation around the part of the process that happens before you actually begin the telling itself: story discovery
and selection.

When we help clients find compelling and strategic stories to tell, we’re looking for some key qualities that can help ensure the strongest impact from the resulting content - and inspire an emotional reaction from viewers.

1. Know your purpose 

Every great story illuminates a larger theme or value structure. In the best stories, it isn’t something that’s stated overtly, but something that’s felt deeply. As Simon Sinek would say, it’s the why - and we need to start with it. Once we have a clearly articulated purpose, we can set about finding stories that illuminate why this purpose is important in a much more meaningful and tangible way than reading a simple mission statement. As Hannah Arendt said, “Story conveys meaning without committing the error of defining it.”

  • 2. Identify your protagonist (hint: it’s your audience)

  • Very often in the business world, you’re going to be looking for stories of the very people who will be viewing the stories you create. We identify more directly with a story when we can see aspects of ourselves in the hero or protagonist. Start by looking at those you serve if that’s a significant portion of your intended audience. Who’s doing remarkable things and might benefit from your declared purpose? If you’re looking for stories to boost culture internally, who’s living the values set forth in your mission in a very tangible way?

3. Find the arc

The most impactful and memorable stories have a classic three part structure known as the story’s arc or the Hero’s Journey: We become connected to a protagonist, the protagonist meets a challenge, the protagonist perseveres and overcomes but also learns something important in the process. Remember this framework as you evaluate the stories you may chose to tell. Who is immediately endearing, has faced a sizeable challenge but persevered and overcame? This is where you want to focus your lens.

  • 4. Tap into their passion

Once you have several potential protagonists identified, hone in on their passion. Who is stopping at nothing to live the life they’ve envisioned for themselves? Who’s an aspirational model for 90% of your audience? Who’s challenging the status quo and seeing good things happen from venturing on the road less travelled? This is where you’ll find the most fascinating subjects.

  • 5. Extraordinary, yet relatable

While we want to find an extraordinary tale to tell, we also want our audience to relate with our central subjects. We must find someone who has overcome extraordinary odds or has found wild success but who also started just like everyone else and had to take a risk or leap of faith to land where they are now. They may have faced an extremely difficult challenge or found themselves in an unlikely place at an unlikely time. But the most important consideration in relatability is that they pushed through those events because they have the same core values that we stand for as a community or as an organization.

  • 6. Think visually

We’ve become an incredibly visual culture. Without a captivating and immersive visual component, stories meant for web or broadcast fall flat on arrival. Striking and cinematic imagery is simply much stickier than small point text and videos tend to get shared more frequently across social media platforms. When you’re evaluating potential stories, think about what the visual hook is - not just the story hook. Does the subject have an unusual hobby or has their passion taken them to striking locations? How can you capture their passion from a unique visual perspective? What’s interesting about their everyday environment? Are there unique textures or architecture that can become part of the fabric of the story? Evaluating the visual is an integral part of selecting the best stories to tell.

Our world is full of remarkable people and stories who inspire us onward and upward. Finding and selecting the best and most strategic ones to tell is an essential part of the storytelling process for any brand or cause-based organizations. Once you find the right story to tell, based on the above criteria, the actual production of the telling becomes a joy for all involved.


To see an example of ourAllianz_.jpg story discovery practice in action, please enjoy our recent film for Allianz, The Gift of Time. Our discovery efforts led us to three amazing stories that inspire us to reimagine what traditional life stages can look like and invite us to re-chart our course.




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Topics: Storytelling