Many content marketing enthusiasts and self-appointed experts speak about storytelling. It seems like everybody in the communications business turned out to be a little Shakespeare. From now on it's all plain sailing. That’s the idea of many marketers – at least on paper.

The Fact is that only a few really know, what they are talking about when it comes to storytelling. But some of the big global brands around the world really got the point and embraced the power of storytelling as a top-of-funnel awareness tactic. Sounds good? So let’s start using tales to emotionally connect to your audience. But there is only one thing left. The question: What is a story and which characteristics indicate it?

This article is going to analyze a video realized by the very well known outdoor brand “The North Face”. It’s not an exaggeration to describe that video as a real masterpiece in terms of storytelling and content marketing. It earned around 2.9 million views within a really tiny niche market. I’m going to cut that story into pieces to understand why it worked out so well for the brand. My analysis is based on the Muse storytelling technique – a really recognized approach amongst established storytellers, I was taught at FH JOANNEUM’s masters program “Content Strategy” in the lecture “Cross Media Storytelling. It will give you insights on how a story works and what the most crucial factors are. If you keep them in mind, your own storytelling masterpiece is waiting just around the corner.

Before understanding the success of the featured story, it’s the most obvious thing to watch it first. So here we go:

Storytelling key factors

According to Muse, there are 4 crucial factors for a good story: the people, the places, the plan and the plot – in short: PPPP. The examination of these story key drivers is done separately and step by step. So let’s start with the people – in this case, with the main character Alex Honnold.

Storytelling Analysis – PEOPLE

According to Muse it’s important to ask at first, which character the heart of the story is. This person embodies the main character and needs to be well established in your tale. That perfectly works out by defining the three main qualities of this character: his desire, his complexity and his uniqueness. In the case of Alex Honnold, these qualities can be described as outlined below:

  • Desire: Alex Honnold inevitably strives after experiencing ultimate and immediate freedom as well as exposure.
  • Complexity: Alex perfectly masters the interplay between tension and relaxation, security and uncertainty, focus and mental freedom.
  • Uniqueness: Nobody keeps his body, his mind and his fear under constrol as Alex Honnold does.

Storytelling Analysis – PLACES

Staging the main characters of a story at the right places, is a balancing act and crucial for each story. According to the motto “show don’t tell”, it’s important that the selection of a story’s places is done with the character’s qualities in mind. The aim is to choose places, which emphasize on the attributes and also the oddities of the main character. When it comes to brand storytelling that matter is often a difficult thing because an essential factor is authenticity. It’s important to continuously select places, where the character feels a deep connection to his surroundings. Only at these places, he is able to find his true identity and behaves authentic.

So what are the key places of the video with Alex Honnold? (The screenshot of each scene, you find below in my slidshare presentation.)

  • Alex on the rock, without a rope and hundreds of meters up in the air. 00:32
  • The pan shot showing the graveyard, which emphasizes on the dangerous game Alex is playing. 1:17
  • Alex laying in the sleeping bag, already awake and highly focused. His legs are bent; the metal grid behind him stands for his structured thoughts. 02:49
  • Alex on the wall after climbing the crux. He is full of joy and gratitude, the love for what he does is written in his face. 05:28

Storytelling Analysis – PURPOSE

To put it simply, the plan of a story is the added value for someone who watched it, read it or listened to it. It’s kind of the learning of a story. In the case of our video the plan is described as follows:
To achieve great things, risk is essential to a certain degree. Passion is the fuel, which keeps the motor of success running. In sporting border crossings, a clear focus, a free head and a high level of self-control are essential.

Storytelling Analysis – PLOT

The plot stands for the structure of a story. For Muse there are five key factors a plot should contain:

  • A hook: The hook catches the audience by awakening interest or proposing a question
  • The hook of our video: A climber hundreds of meters up in the air without a rope
  • A Jab: The jab is the bottom line of a story bearing a certain learning
  • The jab of our video: Sporting border crossings are possible through focus, an iron will and self control
  • An ask: The main ask describes the goal of the main character
  • The main ask in our video: Alex wants to climb the hardest free solo tour in the world without dying
  • An acceptance: The acceptance is the explanation, why the main character want’s to achieve a certain goal and why he’s able to do so
  • The acceptance in our video: With a lot of training and conviction everything is possible for Alex
  • An answer: The answer is the way how the main character pursues his goal
  • The answer in our video: Just do it!
  • Hurdles: Obstacles ensure the excitement of a story and keep the audience watching, reading and listening to it.
  • Hurdles in our video: high difficulty of the climb, loose rock, fear and respect of Alex.

This was a very quick way of analyzing a story. It perfectly works out for storytellers in every business, whether it’s print journalism, video direction or radio. Below you find my slideshare presentation – i hope you don’t mind that it’s in German.