‘Storynomics’: The 8 Stages of Great Story-Driven Marketing

From tales told around prehistoric campfires to today’s Instagram stories, people are natural storytellers. Good stories can make us laugh or cry. They can also make consumers buy. The key phrase there is “good stories.” “The Purpose-Told Story,” a chapter of “Storynomics: Story-Driven Marketing in the Post-Advertising World,” provides a framework for telling impactful stories that compel people to buy what you’re selling.

“Storynomics,” by screenwriting expert Robert McKee and digital marketing expert Thomas Gerace, explains how the tenets of writing good fiction apply to a world in which people don’t want uninspiring interruptions from advertisers as they watch TV or read the news – they want to be told a story. Chapter Six, “The Purpose-Told Story,” is particularly relevant for marketers looking to improve the way they tell their brand’s story, because it lays out in detail the eight stages of good business storytelling.


Excerpt: “The arc of the purpose-told story guides the consumer from an absence in her life to its fulfillment, from need to satisfaction.”

This excerpt could also serve as a basic description of most films – and that’s no accident. The authors argue that whether it’s a work of fiction or an ad, the best stories “satisfy with a meaningful, emotional experience” that leaves us “fuller human being[s] than when we entered.”

So how do you give consumers that satisfaction they crave? The authors identify eight stages necessary for great story-driven marketing:

Stage 1: The Three Targets

Writers of fiction may make assumptions about who their readers are, but marketers cannot. So, before any business storytelling takes place, you must define (1) the target audience, (2) the target need, want, or problem that your product or service will solve for them, and (3) the target action you want your audience to take.

Stage 2: Subject Matter

To choose appropriate subject matter for your story, you must understand your brand’s core value. What value could your business not exist without? It could be superior customer service, or fast support, or insight found nowhere else. Once you’ve identified that core value, build your story’s protagonist, or main character, around it.

Most often in business storytelling, the main character is a customer who, during the story, is helped by the company, product, or service, or by a character representing them (for example, a person with a flat tire being helped by the Geico gecko). The authors write that this kind of “consumer-centric storytelling marks a positive evolution in world commerce – so long as the tellings are creatively compelling, pander-free, and, more important, honest. Millennial and Generation Z consumers detest BS.”

Stage 3: The Inciting Incident

Now that you have a relatable main character who represents your company’s values, you’re ready to build your story, starting with “the inciting incident,” which “launches a story by suddenly throwing its protagonist’s life out of kilter.” This incident, such as a man tripping and falling, a child running into the street without looking, or any number of other situations, should grab the viewer’s attention and make them wonder what will happen next. The main character’s reaction to the incident should establish them as a relatable, well-meaning person who the audience wants to see succeed.

Stage 4: The Object of Desire

After the main character’s life has been thrown out of kilter, you must establish what they want. Their object of desire must relate to your company’s core value, whether it’s keeping their family safe through your superior service, getting through their day better because of your fast support, or succeeding at work through the insight you provide. Knowing the main character’s object of desire helps the audience better relate to the story and piques their curiosity about how the story will end.

Stage 5: First Action

At this stage, your main character takes their “first action” toward getting their object of desire. In story-driven marketing, it’s important that the protagonist’s action seems reasonable to the audience. The authors emphasize that, as the storyteller, you must understand your character and their motivations in detail in order to write actions for them that feel authentic to the consumer.

Stage 6: The First Reaction

At this stage in good business storytelling, the main character’s first action is met by a reaction they didn’t expect. That reaction should be something the audience can relate to, something that mirrors their own struggles, something for which the audience wants a solution they too can use.

Here, the authors suggest resisting what they call “negaphobia” – the fear of all things negative. Marketing schools teach marketers to avoid negativity at all costs, but the authors say that can lead to bland, repetitive ads without enough conflict to draw the audience in and make an impact.

Stage 7: Crisis Choice

The first reaction leads here, to what should be “the highest level of tension and suspense” in your story, a point at which your main character has to make a choice. But unlike in a work of fiction, in story-driven marketing, your main character’s choice will be clear: They’ll choose your company, product, or service, of course!

Stage 8: Climactic Reaction

After the main character chooses to rely on your company, product, or service, they get their object of desire and balance is restored to their life. The audience’s curiosity is satisfied, and they’re left understanding that the story doesn’t really end until they end it, by choosing to give you their business.

Neuroscientists have found that the brain’s response to a good story’s climax results in a few seconds of open-mindedness during which memory is heightened. The authors say smart marketers should put their logo and any slogans right after the climax to take advantage of this phenomenon.


The authors of “Storynomics” write that, according to researchers, the mind processes real things a person has experienced and stories they’ve seen or heard very similarly in terms of the lasting lessons the person learns from those situations. That means that marketers, through good purpose-driven stories, have immense power to affect the way people see the world and the choices they make as consumers.

Don’t miss your opportunity to harness that power.

“Storynomics” is available for purchase on Amazon.

Telling impactful purpose-driven stories is what Lightstream does best. Contact us to learn how we can help you tell yours.