The Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing


Lois Kelly is the author of Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. This is her explanation of the top nine types of stories that people like to talk about. If you’re pitching your company to investors, customers, partners, journalists, vendors, or employees and you don’t use at least one of these story lines, you probably have a problem. And most likely you’re too close to what you’re doing, so you think that you’re uniquely “patent-pending, curve-jumping, and revolutionary.” 🙂

  1. Aspirations and beliefs. More than any other topic, people like to hear about aspirations and beliefs. (This may be why religion is the most popular word-of-mouth topic, ever.) Sun Microsystems’ Scott McNealy’s point of view about ending the digital divide is aspirational as is Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s views about how companies can grow by reducing pollution and creating more sustainable business strategies. Aspirations are helpful because they help us connect emotionally to the speaker, the company, and the issues. They help us see into a person or company’s soul.

  2. David vs. Goliath. In the story of David and Goliath, the young Hebrew David took on the Philistine giant Goliath and beat him. It is the way Southwest Airlines conquered the big carriers, the way the once unknown Japanese car manufacturers took on Detroit, and the way social media is taking on the media giants. Sharing stories about how a small organization is taking on a big company is great business sport. Rooting for the underdog grabs our emotions, creates meaning, and invokes passion. We like to listen to the little guy talk about how he’s going to win and why the world—or the industry—will be a better place for it.

  3. Avalanche about to roll. The mountain is rumbling, the sun is getting stronger, but the rocks and snow are yet to fall. You want to tune in and listen to the “avalanche about to roll” topic because you know that there’s a chance that you will be killed if caught unaware. This theme taps into our desire to get the inside story before it’s widely known. It’s not only interesting to hear someone speak about these ideas, they have the ingredients for optimal viral and pass-along effect.

  4. Contrarian/counterintuitive/challenging assumptions. These three themes are like first cousins, similar in many ways but slightly different. Contrarian perspectives defy conventional wisdom; they are positions that often are not in line with—or may even be directly opposite to—the wisdom of the crowd. The boldness of contrarian views grabs attention; the more original and less arrogant they are, the more useful they will be in provoking meaningful conversations.

    Counterintuitive ideas fight with what our intuition (as opposed to a majority of the public) says is true. When you introduce counterintuitive ideas, it takes people a minute to reconcile the objective truth with their gut assumption about the topic. Framing views counter to how we intuitively think about topics—going against natural “gut instincts”—pauses and then resets how we think and talk about concepts.

    Challenging widely-held assumptions means that when everyone else says the reason for an event is X, you show that it’s actually Y. Challenging assumptions is good for debate and discussion, and especially important in protecting corporate reputation.

  5. Anxieties. Anxiety is a cousin of the avalanche about to roll, but it is more about uncertainty than an emerging, disruptive trend. Examples of anxiety themes abound: (1) Financial services companies urging baby boomers to hurry up and invest more for retirement: “You’re 55. Will you have your needed $3.2 million to retire comfortably?” (2) Tutoring companies planting seeds of doubt about whether our kids will score well enough on the SATs to get into a good college. Although anxiety themes grab attention, go easy. People are becoming skeptical, and rightly so. Too many politicians, companies have bombarded us with FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) with no facts to back up their point.

  6. Personalities and personal stories. There’s nothing more interesting than a personal story with some life lessons to help us understand what makes executives tick and what they value the most. The points of these personal stories are remembered, retold, and instilled into organizational culture. Robert Goizueta, the respected CEO of Coca-Cola, said he hated giving speeches but he was always telling stories—often personal ones about how he and his family had to flee Cuba when Castro took control and had nothing more than his education.

    Similarly, when Steve Jobs gave the commencement address to Stanford University in June 2005, he shared his personal story and life lessons. That commencement address, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish,” was talked about on thousands of blog and was published verbatim in Fortune magazine. It helped us see Jobs in a new light.

  7. How-to stories and advice. Theoretical and thought-provoking ideas are nice, but people love pragmatic how-to advice: how to solve problems, find next practices, and overcome common obstacles. To be interesting, how-to themes need to be fresh and original, providing a new twist to what people already know or tackle thorny issues like how to get IT and marketing organizations to work together despite deep culture clashes between the two.

  8. Glitz and glam. Robert Palmer sang about being addicted to love. Our society is more addicted to glamour and celebrity. Finding a way to logically link to something glitzy and glamorous is a surefire conversation starter. For example, tagging on to the widespread interest in the Academy Awards, Randall Rothenberg, former director of intellectual property at consultancy Booz Allen-Hamilton, last year talked about the similarity and challenges between creating new “star” product brands and movie stars.

  9. Seasonal/event-related. Last, and least interesting but seems to resonate, is tying your topic into seasonal or major events. Talking about industry predictions around the New Year, advertising during SuperBowl season, executive compensation reform when an executive of a well known company “resigns” with an especially bloated compensation package are examples of this type of story.

Here’s a good exercise for your team: Have it read this posting and then answer the question: What story line does our marketing currently use? Then, if you’re brave enough, ask the question: What story line should our marketing use?

By | 2016-10-24T14:20:03+00:00 July 5th, 2007|Categories: Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Sales, Pitching and Presenting|Tags: , |53 Comments

About the Author:

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.


  1. 60 in 3 July 5, 2007 at 9:12 am - Reply

    You mentioned that these themes work for pitching your idea, but they also work for getting readers interested. That is, using these themes doesn’t have to be a lead in to a sales pitch. The theme itself could be what you’re trying to sell.
    For example, I use a lot of these article themes on my blog. I find that 1, 6 and 7 are especially popular article styles when it comes to my niche, personal fitness. People want to hear beliefs and aspirations, they want to read personal stories so they connect with the author and then they want to read how to’s so they too can do what the author did.

  2. Escape from Cubicle Nation July 5, 2007 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Presentation tips for budding entrepreneurs

    If you are a budding entrepreneur, live presentations are great ways to test your content, build relationships and get to know the needs of your target audience. You can start very small, with a handful of neighbors in your living

  3. rebelution July 5, 2007 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    All people in all cultures have stories that are told and shared. All businesses in all industries have stories that those businesses hope are told and shared.
    Lois is spot on that when you peel back all of the buzz words and cliches of marketing, you are left with marketing being the art and science of telling a great story about a product, the company behind the product, the ideas behind the company, and the individual/s behind the ideas.
    However, it must be kept in mind that the key defining characteristic of any great story is its authenticity. Many goliaths have tried to market themselves as davids to be met with massive failure. Many companies have tried to take the same road as Mr. Chouinard and Patagonia, but few have been as successful because few have been as authentic.

  4. Mario Ruiz July 5, 2007 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    * Harry Potter is a good-triumphs-over-evil story surprises. The good open community over the evil establishment. Harry is orphan who fights against Voldemort who killed his parents. Harry lived with non-magical relatives. A romantic reason to fight: The cost of the licenses vs. the “nature of Internet” to share.
    * Funny book with funny names like that: Headmaster Dumbledore, Evil Lord Voldemort and Harry’s know-it-all friend Hermione. Or like Java, Red Hat, Google, YouTube, Wiki, Zoho, etc. Keep it fun.
    * Harry enters the new world and learns that he is famous (Cinderella Story), and meets the new Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Quirrell. Everyone has a genius inside us as long as the good master guide us.
    * Long before she was published, Rowling already had seven Harry Potter books meticulously plotted out on grids, one for each year Harry spends at wizard’s school; very well planned! We need to come to a plan without improvisations: the so famous Road Map.
    * Warner Bros. (proprietor of Harry Potter rights) receives 100 inquires a day, from Sony Corporation, Microsoft, Boeing, to make cups, saucers and all sorts of ridiculous, frankly, things,” says Rowling. “I’ve said no to absolutely all of them.” They are very selective. Do not give up the idea before the times comes.
    Mario Ruiz

  5. Sandie July 5, 2007 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    I have been using word of mouth advertising exclusively for 7 years and I stay pretty busy. I have been recently looking to branch out and your blog has been very inspirational. This particular article even inspired me to write about what I do. Thanks!

  6. Gubatron July 5, 2007 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    What People Talk About

    Hi Guy Kawaasaki!!!,Trackback from on What People Talk About at

  7. Dipesh Batheja July 5, 2007 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    This is pretty nice post after some really midi core stuff, Guy. Seems like you got a knack of pulling out some good ones now and then. Keep them coming 🙂

  8. Mónica July 5, 2007 at 8:41 pm - Reply

    El marketing es algo que me gusta mucho. Y es importante su estudio para aplicarlo a los negocios.
    Saludos. Mónica.

  9. Michael Fultz July 5, 2007 at 11:17 pm - Reply

    There are 300-page books that contain less info than what you put in this short article. I’m impressed! Keep up the good work!

  10. Lateef July 6, 2007 at 2:59 am - Reply

    Honestly this came at the time am preparing for few launches of product.
    Right post – Right Time

  11. client k July 6, 2007 at 3:10 am - Reply

    Stories With Buzz

    Lois Kelly, on Guy Kawasakis blog,
    talks about the types of stories
    with word of mouth power. 
    One of them, event or seasonal related,
    I use frequently,
    not by covering the obvious story
    but by offering a complementary piece. 
    A star wedding…

  12. Henk July 6, 2007 at 3:53 am - Reply

    I’ve heard her speak and attended a workshop of hers in – believe it or not – Estonia. She was hands down the best performer at that event. (y)

  13. Barb Heffner July 6, 2007 at 6:26 am - Reply

    This post is a must-read refresher course for every PR and marketing professional…

  14. jdee July 6, 2007 at 6:42 am - Reply

    oh do shut up.

  15. Ike July 6, 2007 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Where does the Cautionary Tale fit in? It’s a completely different story than Anxiety, because it makes the audience a third-person observer to something that has happened instead of a stakeholder. And Cautionary Tales can be easily backed up and verified.

  16. CapForge July 6, 2007 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    Hmmm. I can’t think of a story type left out of the list above. Everything fits somewhere here, more or less. I also don’t see anything here that is groundbreaking or “beyond buzz” or the next PR. Guess that means I can skip the book!

  17. James July 6, 2007 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    What would it take for you to add the banner to your blog to support charity? I have added it to my own and would love to see other bloggers amplify the need to stomp out poverty.
    If the activism irritates you then I understand…
    James McGovern

  18. Jeff Ward July 6, 2007 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    I think #5 is spot on. That’s why you see start-ups like and tutorvista gaining so much press and visibility.

  19. JP July 7, 2007 at 4:57 am - Reply

    Beliefs is a powerful tool, I’m just not quite sure how well you can convey to your customer their own beliefs, or a new belief. I guess I’ll have to read it to find out 🙂

  20. Solutions Talk July 7, 2007 at 5:33 am - Reply

    The Power of Aspiration

    Today’s Notable Quote: Aspirations are helpful because they help us connect emotionally to the speaker, the company, and the issues. They help us see into a person or company’s soul. – from Guy Kawasaki’s blogpost review of Lois Kelly’s new

  21. Steve Dragoo July 7, 2007 at 5:37 am - Reply

    The right ideas, coupled with aspiration, applied with diligence over time is the key to any “overnight success”.

  22. Anonymous July 7, 2007 at 6:48 am - Reply

    The Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing

    This post from Guy Kawasaki presents nine subjects that would make other talk more than most.

  23. Jadeflon July 7, 2007 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    You are right, everybody needs a dream, an ideal to fight for.

  24. One Man - July 8, 2007 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Wow. Your blog is priceless. I’m tempted to set it as my homepage.
    I’ve recently started quite the impractical journey and I would be honored if you’d consider giving me some advice.
    One Man. One Year. $100,000. How’s he doing it?

  25. SmallFuel Marketing Blog July 8, 2007 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    Great timing with this article. I’m actually being interviewed tomorrow, and was literally just thinking about how to make our story really exciting and memorable.
    Our story naturally has: Aspiration/Beliefs, David and Goliath, and a bit of Contrarian.
    I’m wondering whether it’s worth working more in there or if I should stick with the basics and do them well.
    Any thoughts?
    – Mason

  26. Jason July 8, 2007 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    Here’s one that I’m surprised didn’t make the list.
    10. Can’t have it
    There’s nothing more interesting to potential customers or journalists than a product that most people can’t get their hands on. Those that do have “it” feel special and want to brag about it, and those that don’t have it want to know how to get it.
    This may not qualify as a story or pitch, but it sure generates buzz. Great post!

  27. João Carlos Caribé July 8, 2007 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    Making meaning, that’s the core concept of this article. On the 9 story lines, the secret is to conect the message to user reality. That1’s right?

  28. Marketing & Strategy Innovation Blog July 9, 2007 at 5:39 am - Reply

    The Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing

    by: Guy KawasakiLois Kelly is the author of Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. This is her explanation of the top nine types of stories that people like to talk about. If youre pitching your company to investors,…

  29. Enrique Burgos July 9, 2007 at 7:06 am - Reply

    Thanks Guy for the summary, I think this book needs a deep read. I putted it on my wish list.

  30. kermit johnson July 9, 2007 at 9:06 am - Reply

    I have been selling real estate for about 15 years. When I was lean, mean and hungry, I used to use your first six types of stories, all with good results. I have drifted away from using these stories.
    The challenge is how to incorporate the others into my pitch, especially #8 and #9. You got me thinking. Thanks.

  31. chris July 9, 2007 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    Can’t get your posts to print properly. Would love to share with my team if I could.

  32. SmallFuel Marketing Blog July 10, 2007 at 5:56 am - Reply

    Mission Statements Dont Work, Get Something That Does

    Ideally, mission statements should do the following: Explain your company and your purpose Mission statements are designed to help your customer understand what your business is about. They are supposed to help align the customer with your beliefs a…

  33. Eric Feng July 10, 2007 at 11:01 am - Reply

    Guy, your article cannot be any more timely. I am an advocate of stories especially in business presentations or a speech that educates/inspires. One of the problems speakers have is what stories to tell. This is where your article comes in handy. I picked three top favorites and gave specific examples of how they are leveraged. You can take a look and give me some comments – thanks!
    Eric Feng

  34. Nameless, Faceless Love July 10, 2007 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    Great post, Guy, about the power of stories in business and life in general. As I’m sure has been noted before, Christ Himself spoke primarily in stories to those whom He wanted to convey His aspirations and beliefs.
    It’s interesting to note that He usually had to explain these stories to the knowledgable insiders with whom He worked (His disciples).
    Goes to show that, just because we may be well-versed in some aspect of business or life, we may not yet be plugged into how best to convey that to others. Your post helps us to do just that, Guy. Thanks!
    Your Friends at Nameless, Faceless Love

  35. Eran July 11, 2007 at 5:46 am - Reply

    A wonderful post.
    I believe the two most important ones are #2 (David & Goliath) and #6 (Personalities and personal stories).
    We love David and his underdog story. It gives us hope that persistence and belief is so important. In a way, anyone can make it if they want it bad enough. A “feel good” story.
    Based on experience, personal stories are a must, and so is honesty in telling them. It brings the speaker to a ‘human’ level. Showing the reactions in certain situations, and how it is similar to others’ reactions. This works great for comedians when they share stories that many people can relate to…turning to their friends and say: “I can’t believe it, but I do that”.

  36. Small Business Essentials: News, Tips and Advice July 11, 2007 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Sorry for the delay – We’ve been busy!

    Nikole Gipps of NHG Consulting launched a new blog today, “Web Technology for Entrepreneurs”, at

  37. Brian P Halligan July 11, 2007 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    I read your book “Art of The Start” on vacation in Nantucket last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, the book is covered with notes and action items that I’m busy pounding out this week.
    You’ve hooked me at this point and now I’m reading your blog. Well done.
    I liked this particular post so much, I posted it to — it’s right up DailyHub’s alley.

  38. mharris July 12, 2007 at 12:12 am - Reply

    fantastic, love this. we work with so called dissadvantaged young people here in the UK, and we find that all of the above is key to them WAKING UP to what is being offered. knowing that waking up starts on the inside!! i was wondering as i read about the stuff taught in NLP about meta programs and how the story lines seem to gell with those understandings. example: the meta program of ‘away from towards’, tell me a story regarding the approaching storm, and if i have the program ‘away from’ running, thats going to motivate me, and it will be outside of conciousness so i am just going to feel like running and not know why!! again thanks mate regards
    mark h uk

  39. SmallFuel Marketing Blog July 12, 2007 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    The Complete Guide to Getting More Referrals

    Open your conversations with a bang To put things simply, everyone is looking for a referral. If you want to be the company that actually gets the referrals, then youll need to be remembered first. A good place to start is your opening convers…

  40. David BERNARD July 12, 2007 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    Hi Guy !
    You and your ideas are so inspiring… even for french peoples like me (even if I sometimes feel more american than I should 😉
    …especially when I just read your posts !
    Thanks for sharing all your “stuff” with us !
    David Bernard – Paris (FR)

  41. Freestyle July 12, 2007 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    L’art de faire passer la pilule

    Communiquer, est-ce que ce n’est pas simplement faire passer la pillule ? Si vous avez à transmettre un message dont chaque bouchée n’est pas forcément des plus digestes, vous avez besoin de l’enrober dans un discours qui ouvre l’auditeur à votre

  42. Joshua Freedman July 12, 2007 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    Hi Guy,
    So do we get quadruple points using four? Six Seconds, The Emotional Intelligenece Network helps people use their full power and potential (aspiration) and discover that while they’ve been told to leave emotions at the door, actually emotions are a key source of wisdom for good decisions (challenge assumptions). We’re a small 501(c)3 nonprofit that now has offices around the globe, and our client list includes FedEx and the US Navy (Goliath who?) — and our programs keep people from joining the 1 in 6 CEOs who will lose their jobs this year by making poor interpersonal decisions (anxious??).
    The problem: These tips work better if you’re already a rock star!! Instead it seems to take a lot of 1:1 conversation.
    – Josh

  43. Direct Response Radio Advertising Blog July 13, 2007 at 8:58 am - Reply

    Mis-Applying Great Ideas

    “Here’s a good exercise for your team: Have it read this posting and then answer the question: What story line does our marketing currently use? Then, if you’re brave enough, ask the question: What story line should our marketing use?”…

  44. Jose del Moral July 14, 2007 at 7:26 am - Reply

    Manual trackback:

  45. Blog Marketing Tactics July 14, 2007 at 9:22 am - Reply

    Beyond Buzz The Next Generation of Word of Mouth Marketing

    How To Change The World and Beyond Buzz

  46. Greg White July 14, 2007 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Thanks for putting this post together. I also ordered the book by the way.
    Story Lines are the area where I’ve always felt I needed the most help in order to do a good job on blog posts, articles, and copywriting.
    I think these storylines will also help to take a current hot topic where a BUZZ already exists, and tie it to a post, article, product or service.
    I’ve seen other comments asking how to raise the awareness level of start-ups and tying a start-up to existing hot topics, BUZZES, is certainly one approach to doing that.
    This would be a perfect use for this new product being launched at Social Buzz Master

  47. Jim July 16, 2007 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    Great post. No question about it, people love the whole “David vs. Goliath” story, or the old garage startup thing. We love the underdog because we can relate and rally around the idea of our own company’s successes and growth. One thing not mentioned is failure, or more importantly, stories of coming back from a failure… very inspirational

  48. Michael Zuschlag July 17, 2007 at 7:01 am - Reply

    I have to admire Kelly’s generally optimistic outlook, but it seems to me people like to talk about a lot negative things too. Beyond anxiety, I’d say many stories play on suspicion (“look who’s screwing us now”) and contempt (“I can’t believe they did that”). Think perennial Microsoft stories for the former, and the recent Paris Hilton story for the latter. I guess the lesson for marketing is a little different than Kelly’s stories however –how do you _avoid_ having these stories told about you? To summarize the summary, someone I forgot in the news business once said there are only two stories: 1) Oh, the wonder of it! 2) Oh, the shame of it!

  49. Marketing Interactions July 18, 2007 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    The Role of the Story in Marketing

    Stories have been around forever. Folklore, legends, family histories, and yes, even gossip. All of them have the potential to resonate with people and be spread by word of mouth. Why? Because they’re interesting and engaging. Because they are relatabl…

  50. apple3346004 July 21, 2007 at 2:23 am - Reply

    Don’t Lose This Product key!

  51. Public Speaking August 5, 2007 at 12:32 am - Reply

    Word of mouth is very powerful…when it comes to movies and books.

  52. Geoffrey August 6, 2007 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    The “David and Goliath” post made me think that so many times today the David is eventually bought by the Goliath. Look at Myspace or Youtube, and the repeated attempts to buy Facebook. These companies were all started by young people. It is hard for them to stay steadfast when a ‘Goliath’ offers them a billion dollars.

  53. Martin August 28, 2007 at 12:31 am - Reply

    Here i got nine best story lines for marketing where you can improve your business. For more information about direct marketing just log on to…

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