The past few years, I’ve gotten into a pretty established TV-watching routine. Like clockwork, every weekday night you can find me on my couch watching Jeopardy! Yes, I’ve officially become my grandmother.

Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, I have some guilty pleasures. Depending on the season, on Mondays I’ll watch The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, or Bachelor in Paradise. I also have a soft spot for Dancing with Stars: my grandmother’s true favorite.

But Tuesday nights are reserved for This Is Us

Because I grew up worshipping all the teen queens like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson, part of me wanted to watch This Is Us to keep up with Mandy Moore. As you probably know, she plays one of the main characters, Rebecca Pearson.

Mandy captured my heart as an actress after seeing her in the 2002 film, A Walk To Remember, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel. Didn’t we all bawl our eyes out after that movie?

While on the subject of crying, there’s something I wanted to address about This Is Us.

The show has been on for four seasons now, and through the years, it’s gotten a reputation as being depressing and sad. In fact, I’ve seen commentators at the Emmys or Golden Globes say they can’t even watch it because it makes them cry, which I kinda think is absurd. 

Whether your heart can handle it or not, This Is Us is a work of art, especially since the writing is powerful enough to move people to tears.

In my opinion, it’s a phenomenon because of its deep and fearless storytelling.
As marketers, we hear about how important storytelling is, and I think we can learn a lot about this from the success of This Is Us.

Every character, scene, and moment in This Is Us is part of a bigger story. It brilliantly takes us on a journey through the past and present, and tackles real-life issues. I describe it as an emotional rollercoaster. 

Here are some of the difficult topics that the show addresses:

  • Death
  • Body image
  • Infertility 
  • Alcoholism
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Addiction 
  • Adoption 
  • War / PTSD
  • Domestic violence 
  • Racism 
  • Sexual orientation
  • Illness
  • Disability
  • Getting fired
  • Divorce 
  • Heartbreak
  • Single parenting
  • Regret
  • Alzheimer’s

The common theme about all of these topics is that they are uncomfortable, but they are REAL.

The #1 Mistake Brands Make When Storytelling 

Too often, brands are afraid to take risks and talk about real stories. They hesitate because a topic may feel unpleasant or uncomfortable. Without this creative risk, their content ends up being mundane, unremarkable, and unmemorable. 

If your messaging simply touts your product benefits or shares motivational platitudes, there’s no storyline to get behind. No character to root for through their challenge. No triumph to celebrate and applaud. 

One of my favorite authors, Seth Godin says it best:

Being risky is safe, and being safe is risky.

Seth Godin

As a company, person, or brand, don’t shy away from your stories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. They actually are your biggest opportunity. 

The 4 Components of Great Storytelling

I just finished reading Stories That Stick by Kindra Hall. Kindra is a professional storyteller. and has made stories her life’s work. I’m so happy she wrote a book to share her wisdom with the world!

We always hear about how your brand should be doing storytelling, yet no one tells us how to do it right. 

In my opinion, Kindra Hall is the first person to really add structure to storytelling. In her book, she shares a formula to help us get it right every time. 

According to Kindra’s storytelling framework, a great story has these four components: 

1. Identifiable Characters — Without characters, you’re just rambling on about products or services with no one for your audience to relate to

2. Authentic Emotions — This is what creates empathy between you as a brand and your listener. Kindra stresses that these emotions don’t have to be overly dramatic. It can simply be something like the daily frustration when deciding what to make for dinner, or nervousness about making the team. 

3. A Significant Moment — Kindra says this is often where stories go wrong. Writers make the turning point of the story too broad, to the point where you can’t attach visuals to it.

For instance, speaking in general about the happiness a woman may feel from losing weight won’t stick. Instead paint a picture of her trying to lose weight for her high school reunion, and the euphoric moment when she tried on a smaller dress in a department store fitting room and it actually fit. 

4. Specific Details — Details build connection. They go deeper into the story and help the audience resonate with the little things. 

Perhaps the story about the woman in the example above mentions how she dances in front of the fitting room mirror, or how she gladly poses for a selfie in her dress to send to her best friend. These are small details, but they will charm your audience.

If you incorporate all of these elements in your stories, like the writers at This Is Us do, they will always hit the mark. 

Yes, You Have Stories

A final reminder:  stories are FREE. You, your company, and your customers inherently have stories. 

So the next time you’re looking at where to allocate your marketing budget, don’t waste your time sending a mailer or placing an ad in the penny saver. Produce and tell a story. It will have a much bigger impact. 

Be sure to check out Kindra Hall’s book, Stories That Stick for more guidance on effective storytelling.

READ MORE: Want more marketing lessons derived from TV shows? Check out what Phoebe Buffay from Friends can teach us about email marketing strategy.