We see the term, “storytelling” everywhere as an important tool in marketing, but how can people actually tell stories about themselves, their brand, and business, especially as we re-emerge after COVID? Here’s a fun, tried-and-true formula that can get you started framing any brand’s story.

This simple story structure hails from the screenwriting world, courtesy of Kenn Adams, the creator of Story Spine. In addition to films, it can be applied to many marketing situations. Plus, it’s easy to remember. While most of us know that a story has a beginning, middle, and end, the Story Spine adds a bit more detail to round out story construction.


The beginning is not only where the character is introduced but also where her world is set. We see what’s normal for this person. We learn more about the character, her frame of reference, and what is important to her. It’s here where we start to connect and develop an investment in this person.


The main character’s world is disrupted, setting him on a path. Using the movie, Jaws, as an example, this is the point when the main character, Chief of Police Roy Scheider, sets out on a quest to kill the shark. In the marketing world, let’s say you want to create content about a home improvement project. The disruption in that story may be when the character, a family, has a baby and the parents decide the house has to be remodeled.


From that disruption, three ripple effects occur. In the marketing world, that may mean three tips about how to solve the viewer’s problem. The rule of three story points works. Here, the audience is unsure how the story will resolve itself.


Then, a defining moment happens to bring the story to a head. For our marketing example, it would be the reveal of the home improvement project.


Finally, a new norm is established through the main character’s success or failure. In marketing, we see the successful use of the brand being tied to the success of the problem solved.

The Story Spine Structure Function
Once upon a time… Beginning The world of the story is introduced and the main character’s norm is given.
Every day …
But, one day… The Event The main character breaks his normal routine.
Because of that… Middle There are consequences for having broken the routine. It’s unclear if the character will come out ok in the end.
Because of that…
Because of that…
Until finally … The Climax The main character embarks on success or failure.
And ever since then… The End The main character succeeds or fails and a new norm is established.

A good way to remember it is — Once upon a time there was [blank]. Every day, [blank happened]. One day, [blank changed everything]. Because of that, [blank happened and then two other things happened]. Until finally, [the character faced blank]. And ever since, [blank part of the world has changed].

So here’s an example that could be used for a CPG brand that may have been helpful during this COVID lockdown. This story draws from our family’s real-life experience of a brand that helped us during COVID. It includes potsticker wrappers and TikTok.

Once upon a time, a family spent much of its time racing to soccer practice, eating hastily prepared food, and dealing with a mom who was generally suspicious of screen time. Then, during COVID, their 11-year-old saw a video on TikTok for how to make potstickers. The family donned masks and gloves to secure all of the ingredients, such as the pre-made wrappers, from the grocery store. Seated around the family table to do a project for the first time in a long while, the folding of the potstickers seemed daunting at first, with ingredients often sneaking out the sides, not to mention the competition between the brothers over who could master the technique. After they got the hang of it, the family steamed the dumplings for a satisfying, smile-filled dinner. Potstickers are now a fun, go-to dinner staple, and mom isn’t as bothered when the 11-year-old watches a reasonable amount of Tik-Tok.

Brands can use the Story Spine to tell their corporate story internally. A company was set in a routine. Its people embraced a change. They felt consequences until there was a turning point. From there, success (or possibly, a learning experience) occurred.

Try it out, and let us know how you used it to tell your story. Just be sure to have dumplings handy.

Leave a Comment