Good Storytelling isn’t Easy, but a Simple State Dept. Model Can Help

[Editor’s Note:Summer can be a good time to catch up on reading. One of the books on our list is “Crafting Persuasion,” by Kip Knight, Ed Tazzia and PRNEWS Hall of Fame member Bob Pearson. The book became available at, Kindle and in e-book formats from July 1. We asked Bob to preview the book and provide tips from its framework for storytelling.]

Bob Pearson, Strategic Advisor, W2O Group

Creating and telling a story that makes a difference is hard work!

Yes, it is part art and part science. But it must be centered on a simple and strategic model. This allows “storytelling” to be not only scalable, but also achievable, regardless of location or budget size (or lack of it).

This became abundantly clear during our work with the U.S. State Department. I and my co-authors serve as a professors at the U.S. Marketing College, which started in 2008. The 20+ professors who have taught courses during this week-long college have faced a fundamental and intriguing challenge.

A Different Sort of Student

The students are unique. Yes, they work throughout our State Department and government to share our story or help others in doing the same. That is straightforward.

But their skills are off the charts. They often speak as many as five languages, many quite difficult. Often they have lived in half a dozen places that are not exactly vacation destinations. They deal with issues that we read about in the paper and online. These people are patriots who care deeply about improving or safeguarding our world. They also are usually missing classic training in communications and marketing.

Our professors are executives who have worked as CCOs, CMOs and even as presidents and CEOs of the world’s top brands and agencies, ranging from P&Gto Dell to E-Bay to Farmers Insurance Group to Mattel and more.

A Simple Storytelling Model

This mashup of talent, both teaching and in the audience, led us to create a simple model, so that anyone anywhere can create and tell an effective story. We refer to it as the ABCDE Model.

So, 11 years later, we decided to write a book to explain how it works. Here are the basics of what the model entails.

A is for Audience: We want to know who we are trying to persuade (using demographics, behavior, attitudes, psychographics and more to define our audience).

And then, based on consumer research and analysis, what do we know about our target audience? And how will that be helpful in creating a persuasive communication campaign?

B is for Behavioral Objectives: What exactly do we want our target audience to do based on this communication campaign?

C is for Content: What is the “benefit” we receive? What are we promising our target audience will get in return for the behavior we are advocating? Basically, what’s in it for them?

Then, what is the “reason to believe”? Why should our target audience members believe we can deliver the benefit we are promising them (e.g. endorsement, mechanism of action, ingredients, product/service attributes)?

And finally, what is the “tone/character” we need? What is the personality, attitude and look/feel of our message (expressed in three words or fewer)?

D is for Delivery:We determine what “media” we will use. Which online and offline media channels are we using to get out our message? (e.g. Facebook ads, YouTube videos, print ads, PR campaign, TV commercials and more).

Next, we think of our “message.” What’s the overall message we are going to be delivering to the target audience? Then, is the message “on brand,” meaning does this communication campaign tie into and leverage our overall brand image? Is it “recognizable,” which gets us to ask if the campaign will make it easy for our target audience to quickly identify it with our brand.

Simple Yet Compelling

Is it “simple”? Basically, is our message clear and simple enough that the target audience will be able to understand it quickly and easily? And is it “attention grabbing” so that you will get the attention of your target audience?

E is for Evaluation: What metrics are we going to use to evaluate the overall success of this communication campaign? Over what time period?

Back to Basics

Our group of professors has worked on some of the most significant campaigns over the years. What we all realized in designing this model is that, like any simple model, everyone initially thinks, “Oh, I already do that.”

In reality, we find that it is way too rare that we follow all five components with discipline. In fact, the “A” and “B” steps are often glossed over in our excitement to get to “C.”

Remember when our parents told us we have to eat our vegetables before we could have dessert? They were right. Make sure you finish “A” and “B” before you start creating the next campaign.

And do what we do. Print this model every time you create a story or campaign. It’s worth the effort.

CONTACT: [email protected]