The Essential Ingredients for a Narrative.
By: Taylor Zabloski
Here’s a quick story: I grew up in South Florida. One time, when I needed a haircut, the quarterback for the NFL Dolphins was also at the same barbershop, getting a buzz. I couldn’t believe it.
Maybe you’re sensing that story didn’t have much impact. And you’re right. It’s awful, because I just told an anecdote. Not a story. How do you know?
As humans, we’re primed for hearing stories. Our brains are literally wired to experience pleasure from causal chains. It can still be difficult to know how to tell a story, and we often end up reciting anecdotes: amusing incidents without the “oomph” of a proper tale. So what makes a good story?
There’s the classic beginning, middle, and end — but we’ve got to go a little deeper. All stories really have five necessary parts that link up, one after the other. These sequential moments light up our brains and give us connection points to our own lives.
Even better, the parts can be used way beyond memoirs or fiction. From branded podcasts that interview industry leaders, to deep-dive podcasts on your chosen market — anything can incorporate these five story parts to build a tale that draws listeners in, allowing your audience to connect with your podcast and therefore your brand.
The five parts are:
- The Inciting Incident
- The Progressive Complications
- The Crisis
- The Climax
- The Resolution
Let’s look at each part, and how we can incorporate it into a branded podcast for maximum power.
The Inciting Incident
This is the initial spark of the story. It sets the whole thing in motion. It’s the big change in the main character’s life. Let’s go with a business example. Once upon a time, there was a woman who was CEO of her company. Every day she got up at 6 am and went to work. BUT THEN…
It’s the BUT THEN. If there’s a half hour about a woman getting up every morning and going to work, we’re gonna get bored.
So what does that look like for a branded podcast? If it’s an interview, make sure early into the conversation that the subject discloses something that altered their life or viewpoint. What was the moment that started a chain of events for them?
“I was supposed to close a huge deal that day, but when my alarm went off for me to go to work, I got a notification that I actually couldn’t go in. COVID had hit and my office was completely shut down.”
When were things the same…and then suddenly different? This will keep your listener engaged from the get. Remember, when you’re looking at podcast KPIs, it isn’t just the number of downloads, it’s also the percent listened (known as consumption, or listen length). An inciting incident that hooks your listener will help extend that percentage.
The Progressive Complications
The train’s left the station, but there are a few more stops on the story journey. Things get tougher for our main character because of the inciting incident. This is the second part of the story — the progressive complications.
This part should be complications that are…well…progressive. Different problems, and BIGGER problems. You can’t have our CEO not be able to go into her office, then her laptop breaks, then her phone won’t work. It’s gotta get harder and harder (and different types of hard).
Another way to think about this part: If your story/interview/deep dive was a movie, this would be the trailer.
For podcasts, we can structure these interesting moments with the “progressive complications” mantra in mind. In an interviewee’s story, are we asking the right questions to reveal their chain of more difficult and different problems? If we’re doing a deep dive on a topic — is our information getting juicier, are more questions arising, and is our audience demanding answers?
We’re now in the perfect position for….dun-dun-DUNNNN!
There’s been challenge after challenge, obstacle after obstacle until finally, our character has a CRISIS!
We can also call this “the big decision.” Our CEO has hit a fork in the road. The character has to make an irrevocable choice, and no matter what, they’re going to be affected by it. Maybe she has to let go of a significant portion of her staff due to budget cuts (hello, tech companies of 2023) or kill a product she’d been putting her heart and soul into because of supply chain issues.
For a branded podcast, this should happen around the midpoint of an episode. Is there a place to zag when the audience expects you to zig? Can things only go one of two ways here? In the narrative you’re telling, be it an interview, deep dive, or something else, make sure there’s a clear choice made at the halfway point.
Cue the explosions, because we’ve arrived at…
This is the big moment, what the audience has been waiting for. It’s also the natural result of that middle-crisis choice. Is our main character going to learn a lesson, and are they going to get their goal? Will they change?
If our CEO went down the left path… Well uh-oh, there’s a big competitor breathing down her neck. And there’s only one way out.
For a branded podcast, this should be the reason the audience came to the episode. It’s probably the title or a tease within the title. The key is: there’s no turning back from here. In the case of interviews and nonfiction narratives, make sure everything is leading to the big insight of the climax. The climax is also the place where your brand really gets to establish its values in the audience’s eyes or maybe its expertise in the field.
Whew! The audience has been holding their breath. Now it’s time for…
This is the final breath out. A sigh of relief at a mission accomplished. Our CEO has outsmarted her competitor and found ways to pivot her business and achieve success during uncertain times.
The best stories tend to circle back around and the main character finds a way to see their initial situation in a new light.
In a branded podcast, a summary of the key takeaways from the interview or subject matter makes for a satisfying resolution. Our audience can process everything they’ve experienced, and get closure before the next adventure. They’ll also truly understand the value your brand has added to the conversation at hand and feel like they left with something more than what they came with. This is crucial for developing a return audience and reaping the benefits of what a branded podcast offers.
Take This Is Small Business: Next Generation, for example. Each episode is a small, educational story that’s all part of one, larger story — How entrepreneurs tackle the Rice University Business Plan Competition (and their chance to win $3M for their startup). When one episode ends, the next continues the adventure.
Speaking of the next adventure…
The Next Adventure
We’ve got our five parts to a great story, and how to incorporate them into a branded podcast. Take it from me, you don’t want a life full of measly Dan Marino anecdotes. There’s so much a well-told story can do for your branded podcast endeavours. That’s why many companies take the time to hire a writer to ensure every episode contains captivating storytelling. An excellent narrative will engage your audience and keep them coming back. It will also ensure they’re receiving insight and value that resonates with them, which burgeons your brand and establishes its core values in a memorable way.
Interested in how to work with writers for branded podcasts? Check out our other blog post here.