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How Storytelling Can Captivate
Customers, Influence Audiences, and
Transform Your Business
by Kindra Hall
Every person has a gap in their business they want to fill, and the bridge for that gap
is a good story. Professional storyteller Kindra Hall shows business leaders the four
unique stories they already have at their disposal, to more effectively captivate and
convert audiences.
• Professionals in Marketing and Sales
• Leaders of Teams
• Entrepreneurs
• Any Business Leader Looking to Improve Their Communication with Employees,
Clients, and Prospects
One-Eyed Willy’s pirate treasure, whispered “FK.”
Kindra Hall begins her book, Stories That Stick, with, of
course, a story . . . not one she told, but one she
witnessed while taking a shopping break from a
speaking engagement in Slovenia, with her husband, a
confirmed non-shopper—that is until he came across a
unique bottle of cologne:
“This . . . is Eight & Bob.
“In 1937, a young, handsome, American college student
was touring the French Riviera. At twenty years old,
there was something special about him. All who met him
could sense a rising star.”
The young clerk paused to see if we were listening. We
“One day this young man was out and about the town
when he encountered a Frenchman by the name of
Albert Fouquet, a Parisian aristocrat and perfume
“Of course, the young man doesn’t know this. All he
knows is the man smells incredible. Being quite
charming, the ambitious American convinces Fouquet,
who never sold his scents, to share a small sample of the
irresistible cologne.” I glanced at Michael. He had yet to
“As you can imagine, when the young man returned to
the States, others were entranced by the scent as well,
and if he wasn’t irresistible before, he certainly was
now. The young man knew he was on to something, so
he wrote to Fouquet, imploring that he send eight more
samples ‘and one for Bob.’”
Though he didn’t say anything, Michael’s face asked the
question the clerk answered next.
“You see, Bob was the young man’s brother. And the
young man, well, you probably know him as John. Or
simply J.”
The clerk’s voice trailed off before the end of the
sentence, and Michael, as if he had just discovered
“Yes,” the clerk nodded. “The young man in question was
none other than John F. Kennedy. And the sample was
for his brother, Robert.”
This story serves as the introduction to Hall’s assertion
throughout the book that storytelling is a vital part of
strategic marketing in business today. Storytelling
connects the potential customer to the company in a
very human way, creating a connection that sales
figures, company FAQs, and assorted metrics could
never do. Hall organizes the book into three parts and
ten chapters:
Part 1: The Irresistible Power of Storytelling
Chapter 1: The Gaps in Business and the Bridges
That Close (and Don’t Close) Them
Chapter 2: Once Upon a Brain
Chapter 3: What Makes a Story Great and Beats
Puppies and Supermodels Every Time
Part 2: The Four Essential Stories—The Tales Every
Business Needs to Tell
Chapter 4: The Value Story
Chapter 5: The Founder Story
Chapter 6: The Purpose Story
Chapter 7: The Customer Story
Part 3: Create Your Story—Finding, Crafting, and
Telling Your Story
Chapter 8: Finding Your Story
Chapter 9: Crafting Your Story
Chapter 10: Telling Your Story
“Behind every business, there is
a story of the who and the how it
all began. A story from before the
business was even a twinkle in the
founder’s eye. A story about the
moment when an idea first struck.
A story from the moment the
founder realized this might
actually be a business.”
The Gaps in Business and the Bridges
That Close (and Don’t Close) Them
In the first chapter, Hall explains that “the goal of a
business is to profitably deliver value to people, to get a
product or service from point A (the business) to point
B (the people who will use it).” However, she reminds
the reader that “no goal worth attaining comes without
obstacles.” She refers to these obstacles as “gaps.” A
gap is “the space between what you want and where you
are.” In business, “the void between the customer and
the company” is the most obvious gap.
She introduces other gaps as well: “gaps between
entrepreneurs and potential investors, between
recruiters and prospective employees, between
managers and employees, between leaders and
executives.” The key to making a business work
successfully is to bridge those gaps. Hall explains that
no matter the type of gap, “you must master three main
elements if you have any hopes of moving your
intended audience—potential customers, key team
members, investors, etc.—across the great divide:
attention, influence, and transformation.”
Storytelling offers benefits that capture all three
elements and close the gaps in business “with bridges
that last.”
Once Upon a Brain
In this chapter, Hall cites a study done by neuroscientist
Paul Zak on the impact advertising has on the brain. Any
sort of impact requires the attention of the potential
customer; however, they also must be captivated to
become influenced. According to Hall, “Zak noted that
people who watched public service announcements
increased their donations to charity by 261 percent
when their oxytocin and cortisol (which is correlated
with attention) increased. Just one factor alone wasn’t
enough to get those results: you needed both attention
and trust.”
This study showed that “the neurological basis for what
storytellers have known for ages: stories focus your attention and forge bonds, based in trust, between
people.” Basically, “story placed people at the
intersection of captivation and influence.” People
remember things better when they’re conveyed via
stories. Hall reminds the reader that before computers,
photographs, books, and even the written word, people
used stories to hand down information and from
generation to generation. She says, “A lesson taught in
story was a lesson that could be recalled when it
mattered . . . stories captivate and influence the brain,
but they also transform it.”
Hall points out two key takeaways from studying the
neural impact of story: (1) there actually has to be a
story, and (2) not all stories are created equal.
What Makes a Story Great and
Beats Puppies and Supermodels
Every Time
Hall begins this chapter with observations on
popular Super Bowl ads. She cites several memorable
ads, including the beloved Anheuser-Busch “Puppy
Love” ad, a continuation of the company’s
“Brotherhood” ad, which follows the story of a
Clydesdale who bonds with his trainer, played by actor
Don Jeanes. “Puppy Love” continues the story, with
Jeanes back at his Clydesdale farm. A Labrador
retriever puppy from next door’s farm keeps sneaking
under the fence to hang out with his horse friend. When
the puppy is adopted and has to leave his heartbroken
friend behind, the Clydesdales intervene. Hall explains
that “there were a lot of great reasons to think the ad
would score. None of those, however, were what made
Johns Hopkins marketing professor and researcher
Keith Quesenberry think the ad would be a winner. He
accurately predicted in advance that the ad would be a
favorite, not because it featured cute puppies and hot
humans, but because it used a story.”
In 2018, Hall’s team at the Steller Collective, a firm
dedicated to the study, creation, and education of
strategic storytelling, “created a survey designed to test
the effectiveness of different types of brand messaging.”
According to their hypothesis, “Messages that include
certain story components would be more compelling
than messages that lacked these components.” Those
components are: identifiable characters, authentic
emotion, a significant moment, and specific details.
The Value Story
In the first chapter of part two, Hall introduces the first
of the four essential stories: the value story. She says
that the first gap in business in the value gap. Bridging
this gap requires that the company get the attention of
its potential buyers, convince them that the solution
they seek is available via the company, and transform
them into loyal customers.
“A little storytelling
can go a long way in
driving purpose in a
company, and that sense
of purpose is what leads
to lasting success.”
Hall introduces the Steller storytelling framework:
Normal, Explosion, New Normal. In the Normal phase,
the customer’s problem, pain, feelings, life and
business impacts, and concerns are revealed. The
Explosion explains how a company’s product or service
solves the customer’s pain or problem, how it makes
their life easier, what the experience feels like, and how
using the particular product or service is different from
others. Finally, the New Normal tells how life is different
after utilization of the service or product, the resultant
enhancements and/or improvements, the customer’s
new feelings, and an explanation of what pain points
have vanished.
The Founder Story
The second of the four stories is the founder story. The
founder story bridges the customer gap, the investor
gap, and the talent gap. Hall emphatically asserts that
“every business has a founder story.” The founder story
is “the who and the how it all began. A story from before
the business was even a twinkle in the founder’s eye.
A story about the moment when an idea first struck. A
story from the moment the founder realized this might
actually be a business.”
According to Hall, “The power of a founder story is its
ability to humanize the business the founder started. To
remind people that behind the building or logo or bank
statement is a person who started it all.” She suggests
that leading a founder story with fact, figures, or
information is not the point of this type of story. Rather,
“the story needs to start with the people behind the
company. After all, if you don’t start there, you often
don’t get a chance to go there at all.”
Hall warns that “one of the easiest stories to forget to tell
is the founder story, because amid all the other drama of
what it takes to get a company off the ground, it’s easy
for this story to get lost in the shuffle.” The founder story
needs to be viewed as “a powerful opportunity to
connect with investors, to differentiate yourself from
the competition, and eventually secure talent for a
thriving team.”
The Purpose Story
The third story is the purpose story. The author explains
that the purpose story is “one of the most versatile of
our story types: purpose stories can bridge all kinds of
internal company gaps. At their core, purpose stories are
about alignment and inherent inspiration.”
The purpose story relies totally on “how strongly
the story supports a specific message.” This is more
important than the components, the details, or anything
else. That specific message must be clear, and the story
must illustrate the message clearly.
Hall explains that “all purpose stories start with this
essential question: What point do I want to make?” She
says that “the answer to that question is your North Star.
It’s what will guide you when you decide which story to
develop. It’ll determine which pieces of a story you keep
and which pieces you cut because of time or relevance.”
Hall asserts that “when times are good, a purpose story
can drive a business to better performance through
better culture. When times are tough . . . it can mean
nothing short of survival.”
The Customer Story
The author contends that everyone has a story to tell—
even if they think they don’t. To help aid people who
may not recognize the stories they do have, Hall offers
two distinct processes: collecting and choosing.
Story collection consists of “generating story ideas
without regard for whether they’re any good or appropriate or useful or even tellable. Story collection is good
old-fashioned brainstorming, but with a few tools to
help you avoid the intimidation of the blank page.”
The customer story is the fourth type of story. This is
probably the most familiar one to people, with the
popularity of customer review sites like Yelp, Trip
Advisor, and Angie’s List. Hall explains that “customer
experiences have a natural edge over traditional
marketing because they come preloaded" with
Customer stories are referrals, and the author states that
“studies consistently show that reviews and referrals
have an enormous influence on customer behavior.”
Hall explains that customer stories offer a huge
advantage in that they convey “authentic emotion.” The
customer shares not only the emotions he or she felt
after experiencing the product or service, but also their
emotions prior to finding the product or service that
filled their specific need. According to Hall, “There is
nothing more authentic than what naturally flows from
a customer whose life has been changed by what you
“When seeking and telling customer stories, remember
this: the joy or relief they felt (authentic emotion) after
finding you only matters when placed in contrast to how
they felt before finding you,” she says.
Finding Your Story
“The easiest, most effective
way to build bridges that capture
attention, influence behavior,
and transform those who cross
them, resulting in gaps that stay
closed and bridges that last,
is with storytelling.”
Story choosing is the process by which people match
up the stories they’ve collected with specific situations
that would benefit from their telling. Nothing is worse
than an inappropriately delivered story that has little
or no relation to the situation at hand. In other words,
“finding a story is one thing; choosing the right story is
Hall suggests that if you’re having difficulty bringing
stories to the forefront of your memory, try focusing on
nouns. Other prompts include: thinking about firsts,
making a list of customer objections and questions,
looking for when you’ve seen your message in action,
and asking yourself lots of questions.
Crafting Your Story
In this chapter, Hall offers tips on how to write your
story—even if you don’t count writing as a strong suit.
She reminds the reader of the storytelling framework
(Normal, Explosion, and New Normal) and of the
importance of being open and authentic, no
gimmicks needed.
Hall tells the reader that daily occurrences are all
potential stories. She says, “Small lessons, little events,
collections of minutes where we learn something new or
understand things in a different way. Minutes we might
otherwise forget. Except now you’re a storyteller. Now
you know that stories are what matter most. Now you
know the more stories you can tell, the more effective
you’ll be.”
Hall believes that you can tell a story when the
framework and proven components, no matter the
length, no matter the seeming smallness of the
moment. If crafted well, any story is possible.”
She encourages the reader to “be the one who people
look forward to hearing from, even if they can’t quite put
their finger on why. You know why. Because people love
stories. They want stories. So go ahead. Give them what
they want. Tell your stories.”
Hall shares “one final, surprising truth about
storytelling. If you look back at the times when things
went well, it was often when you were telling a story.
When you were happiest. When you felt the best. When
you were rocking it out, closing the sale, winning the
girl/boy, getting the gig, you were likely telling a story.”
Telling Your Story
Hall instructs the reader: “When in doubt, tell a story.”
She suggests stories be told via emails and email
campaigns, on voicemails, to an autoresponder, in
meetings, in webinars and online—basically, tell stories
as frequently as you can to create connections.
She cites a 2014 study conducted jointly by social ad
tech firm Adaptly, Facebook, and Refinery29, a fashion
and style website, that “concluded that telling a brand
story—bringing customers through a sequential series
of messages—was more effective than simply using
traditional calls to action. But not just more effective,
way more effective, with the storied approach leading
to a ninefold increase in view through and subscription
Hall wraps up the book by reassuring readers that “every
story needs to start somewhere. It needs a beginning.”
She warns that beginnings can sometimes look like
endings—“the thing fails . . . the end.” However, she
reminds that “there is no greater freedom than
recognizing a beginning disguised as an end.”
“I realize that storytelling can be daunting,” she admits.
“Sometimes we don’t have a single idea. At other times
we have so many that the paradox of choice keeps us
frozen in place. It’s easy to be intimidated by the blank
page or the full auditorium. There are days when even
the best storytellers freeze.”
She says that the best way to move forward “is to simply
Kindra Hall is an award-winning professional storyteller and national speaker.
She has been published at Entrepreneur.com, is a weekly columnist at Inc.
magazine, and is a contributing editor to Success magazine. When not on the road
speaking, she lives in New York City with her husband and young son and
Connect with Kindra
Online: kindrahall.com
Blog: kindrahall.com/blog
Instagram: @kindrahall
Twitter: @kindramhall
Facebook: @kindrahallfan