Ashlee Sierra

Good news: You don’t have to be a creative writing expert to tell a great story.

Bad news: Anyone can write a blog post, type something up for social media or slap together a storytelling presentation. You’ve got a lot of competition for your target audience’s attention — and, worse yet, oversaturation means website visitors are so sick of mediocrity that they’ll go out of their way to avoid it. 

The truth is that we’re all storytellers. It’s just human nature. The challenge is to wrangle that tendency into something that fits a brand narrative or content marketing campaign, and do it all in a way that creates real value for your target audience — not just noise. 

Best news: Storytelling templates can help make it happen.

What is a Storytelling Template?

You know what a story is. You know what a template is. But put them together and suddenly things make much less sense. How can you make a genuine emotional connection if you’re building stories like products on an assembly line?

I’ll be honest with you: This is something that has frustrated me ever since I realized I wanted to go into creative writing. Because the problem is, despite my knee-jerk instincts, it works

Don’t believe me? Think about this: How many times have we heard a story where an average person is suddenly catapulted into a world of magic and adventure where they go on a journey that leads them to discover their fate (and usually the power of friendship)? I’ve got 4 right off the top of my head:

  • “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
  • The original “Star Wars” trilogy.
  • The “Harry Potter” series.

Maybe you don’t love all of these stories, but you can’t deny that they’re popular. That means they tell a compelling story or make an emotional connection even though they’re kind of the same when you look closely. 

What I’m describing here is technically considered “The Hero’s Journey,” and it’s one of what we consider to be the only 7 plots to ever exist. The idea is that if you break any story down to its bare essentials, it will fit into one of these 7 plots. 

And that’s a good thing. 

See, there’s nothing quite like staring at an empty page. When you have smart templates at your fingertips, you know what patterns to follow and which boxes to check. The game indeed changes a little when your main character is a bar chart instead of a moisture farmer destined to be a Jedi — but it works. Yes, even for marketing storytelling.

Just trust the template, my young Padawan. 

5 Popular Templates for Marketing

Whether you’re working on an X/Twitter post, Instagram story, sizzle reel or case study, all creative assets should have an element of brand storytelling. Here are 5 templates that can help:

The Hero’s Journey

This template goes back to Homer’s “Odyssey” and is still just as satisfying for modern audiences. It has 3 basic stages:

  • Departure: The main character or “hero” leaves their old life.
  • Initiation: The hero experiences challenges that teach them to navigate the new world.
  • Return: The hero goes home with new knowledge.

Now, I hear you saying that what worked for Homer isn’t necessarily going to fit a brand story. And sometimes that’s true. But other times, the Hero’s Journey is the best way to structure creative assets.

Take, for example, a case study. Your hero is your client, who leaves an old life of challenges and frustrations. They’re initiated with your brand and learn to navigate a new world of solutions. They return ready to roll up their sleeves and fix what’s bothering them.

Boom. Hero’s Journey.

Pixar Rules

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Pixar helped make me the writer I am today. (I also own a red car specifically because of “Cars,” but that’s a different story.) Turns out the animation giant has 22 rules that help guide its content — and mine, and now yours, too.

Not all of these rules are going to apply to the marketing world, but they’re a great source of inspiration. They also help keep you on the right track when it comes to crafting a compelling narrative.

For example, one of the rules is to find stories you like and pull them apart. Why do you like them? What makes them work? How can you hit the same emotional beats in your own content? This isn’t a template on its own — more like building the foundation for a functional template — but it’s important work nonetheless.

Here’s some visual storytelling I found particularly interesting this year:

Source: AdWeek

That hot pink color, that characteristic font — it only took two elements for this billboard to tell us about the “Barbie” movie. I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed. There’s plenty to learn from marketing like this!

Hypothetical Story

Hypothetical stories are popular templates because they can take almost any form. Need to wildly exaggerate to prove a point? Want to cover a real-life scenario without disclosing names or other personal information? Enjoy making stuff up? No matter what you need, a hypothetical story can probably get you there.

These templates are best for longer-form content, such as blog posts. Because they tend to “bend the rules” a little, they’re not always a great fit for data storytelling; after all, the last thing you want to do is make your target audience think your real-world data is just hypothetical. 

Before and After

The “before and after” template is flexible, scalable and easy to deliver even within the character limits of an X/Twitter post. Better yet, you already know how to use it — and that’s because you know another handy template.

To make this work, just take the first and last parts of the Hero’s Journey. “Luke Skywalker was a moisture farmer on Tatooine, but now he’s a Jedi like his father before him.” You cut out all the details on how exactly this was accomplished, but your audience still gets the important stuff. 

Plus, while a hypothetical story might not be a great place for data, “before and after” certainly is. This is the perfect opportunity to put numbers, statistics and percentages on display. 


This might be the easiest — and the most marketing-friendly — storytelling template out there. The only problem is that it’s based on your customers’ willingness to provide high-quality testimonials. That means you’ve got to do a lot of legwork upfront before you can even get started on this particular kind of storytelling. Nonetheless, it’s a great way to prove what you’re capable of and lean into the human instinct to trust other “real people” — a phenomenon present in influencer marketing, platforms like Yelp and more.

Become the Marketing Storyteller You Were Meant To Be

Everyone is a storyteller — your product manager, your data analyst, your CEO, your front-desk worker. Whether you’re harnessing your own story power or getting input from all these people and more, the most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to be afraid of the empty page. There’s always a template, idea or hint of inspiration waiting around the corner.