Have you ever watched a movie or read a book to discover that you already knew what would happen? That you could guess the plot before it even started unfolding?

Ironically, predictability is far too common in storytelling and even worse in advertising.

A story that has no intrigue or excitement leaves the audience with an unfulfilling experience. It’s a story that is quickly forgotten.

So why do so many stories fall victim to predictability?

The answer may lie in the writer’s desire to craft a ‘safe’ narrative. After all, we all love stories where the guy gets the girl, or the hero defeats the villain.

These stories, however, need more depth and complexity, with unexpected twists and nuanced characters. They need the courage to take the risks necessary to create something truly memorable.

Maybe the guy doesn’t get the girl because she ends up with someone else, or they both end up alone. 

Maybe the hero turns into the villain.

People love a mystery, a twist, an unexpected surprise. But they also want the story to reconcile by the end. 

Let’s break down the four basic steps in every good story.

The Good, the Bad, and Brilliant Story Tellers

When it comes to crafting a good story, there are a few key elements that must be present:

1. Create a character people like, believe in, and can relate to.

2. Launch that character on a journey.

3. Do terrible things to that character.

4. Surprise your reader/listener/viewer with what happens next.

Unfortunately, many authors can execute steps one and two but falter at steps three and four. To become a good, or even brilliant, storyteller, you must complete all four steps.

The key to succeeding at steps three and four is to be creative, imaginative, and unpredictable. As a storyteller, you must think of ways to shock and awe your audience. You must surprise people with your story, or they will lose interest.

This unexpectedness can come from plot twists, unexpected character interactions, unusual scenes, and even surprising story endings.

While crafting these components, however, it must make sense. A brand story must be more realistic and logical for your audience to remain engaged. Instead, you must find the perfect balance between unexpected and plausible to keep people hooked.

If you can create a story that is both unexpected and logical, your audience will eagerly await the next chapter.

Predictability Is the Silent Assassin of Storytelling

Every good story begins with a statement that triggers more questions than answers.

This unexpected element—this twist and that turn—keeps readers, listeners, and viewers entranced. Our authenticity is compromised when we provide too much information upfront or tell a predictable story.

Ocean’s Eleven, one of the most famous heist films, is an excellent example of how to avoid predictability in storytelling. Here is a swift line of dialogue from the movie:

“I’d say you’re looking at a Boesky, a Jim Brown, a Miss Daisy, two Jethros, and a Leon Spinks. Not to mention the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever.”

While this may seem like an unrelated and strange string of references, I was intrigued. This line alone sums up the entire plot.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

A Boesky is a reference to the stock trader Ivan Boesky, convicted in 1986 of insider trading.

Jim Brown is a reference to the NFL running back.

Miss Daisy refers to a character from Driving Miss Daisy who uses a chauffeur to drive her around.

Two Jethros is a reference to Jethro Bodine from The Beverly Hillbillies.

Leon Spinks refers to the Olympic gold medal boxer who unexpectedly beat Muhammad Ali in a Las Vegas prize fight.

Finally, Ella Fitzgerald is a reference to the iconic jazz singer who shatters a wine glass in a television ad.

Using these references together, Ocean’s Eleven successfully provokes the audience to consider the film’s implications.

And while we may not all be as talented as writers Steven Soderbergh and Ted Griffin, their storytelling can inspire us.

“Once Upon a Time…”

So, how do we use this technique to tell our own stories?

For example, think about a few of the most remarkable jobs you’ve done if you own a home service business. How did you help them? Who did you serve? What did you do?

Now that you have the details, make it fiction.

That’s right, even if it happened in real life, change the names, locations, whatever you need to.


Once upon a time, 87-year-old author William Lederer said, “The public is more willing to believe fiction than non-fiction.”

The Ugly American, the famous 1958 novel he wrote alongside Eugene Burdick, was based on real events. It wasn’t until James Michener, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, told Lederer to fictionalize the story that it became a hit.

The Ugly American stayed on the New York Times list for 78 weeks. It also inspired what we know today at the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute.

So what can we learn from Lederer’s success?

  1. Fiction allows us to introduce characters and tell stories that can be more engaging than facts. When we create stories—whether for marketing or teaching—we give our audience something to connect emotionally. And when our content evokes an emotional response, it sticks in the minds of those who experience it.
  2. Just because it’s “fiction” doesn’t mean it can’t inspire real-life action.

How Microsoft Tells Their Story? – according to Steve Clayton

Unlike Lederer, Microsoft doesn’t use fiction to tell its story. Instead, it focuses on creating content that tells an inspiring story of progress and growth.

An example is Microsoft’s “Microsoft by the Numbers” and the story of 88 Acres.

88 Acres, written by Jennifer Warnick, describes the evolution of Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington. It tells the story of Microsoft’s journey from its start in 1975 to becoming an innovative global leader.

The story was published off-the-radar without any amplification from within the company. That was until Jennifer’s story received correspondence from multiple corporations the following morning. A variety of organizations and storytellers alike has since recognized 88 Acres. In fact, many corporations offered to purchase the technology, or some variation of the 88 acres, for their own use.

But what was their secret to storytelling success?

Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller, Steve Clayton, may have an answer.

The 5Ps of Storytelling

Over time, Microsoft has developed a framework for successful storytelling.

Derived from their company values, they identified the 5Ps of storytelling: People, place, pictures, platform, and personal.

1. “People”

People are the heart and soul of any story, and Microsoft’s audience is no exception. When telling a story, Microsoft always starts with the people they have helped. This is beautifully showcased in Project Emma, where Microsoft’s Haiyan Zhang creates a watch to assist people with Parkinson’s Disease.

Clayton emphasizes that every story should start and end with the people who benefit from Microsoft’s work. The campaign should focus on how the product will help people and make their lives easier.

Discuss why you are telling the story; who will be impacted and how?

The story can be truly compelling by understanding the impact of the product/service and how it helps people.

2. “Place”

Like any good story, you must create a deep connection between the reader and the environment.

What is the setting? What are the locations? Where did you bring people together?

By describing the setting, the reader can imagine themselves in the story. As a result, it helps your audience understand why the product/service is important to people.

Take Microsoft’s story on empowering Kenya and the world with high-speed, low-cost Internet, for example. In the story, Microsoft virtually transported readers to Nanyuki, Kenya, and explained how they bridged a significant gap.

By connecting people, culture, nature, and technology, Microsoft’s solution contributed to a thriving community by making information more accessible.

Microsoft also used powerful imagery to illustrate technology’s impact on people’s lives, such as empowered entrepreneurs and students.

Microsoft’s story was an inspiring, powerful example of what setting and language can do for a story.

3. “Pictures”

According to Microsoft’s very own Satya Nadella, “great assets will travel.” In other words, if you have a great visual asset, it can be used to tell many different stories.

Microsoft has had great success with this approach. For instance, when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was announced, they released a single intro video and interview.

What was the reason for this?

External platforms had no choice but to use Microsoft’s content, which gave them more control over their narrative.

The result?

Millions of people saw and shared the content, reinforcing Microsoft’s narrative.

Nadella’s announcement, however, was one of many assets that were controlled. If you Google image search “Satya Nadella,” you’ll see mostly branded assets from Microsoft.

Again, this is an example of how a company can control the narrative and ensure that its message resonates seamlessly. Not to mention, many people saw Microsoft— which is critical for any business.

4. “Platforms”

Platforms are fantastic tools for amplifying a message and ensuring it reaches the broadest possible audience. There’s only so much an individual can do to promote a message before they run out of steam.

Businesses need to look beyond their channels when promoting their brand or messaging. By leveraging the power of various platforms, companies can ensure their message reaches the right people at the right time.

Microsoft’s 2019 Super Bowl ad is an excellent example of how powerful platforms can be. Microsoft spread its message to millions in just one night by using broadcast and digital channels.

Their beautiful story, however, didn’t begin and end with the Super Bowl.

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller ad continues to live on today, inspiring viewers to make gaming accessible to everyone.

Using different media outlets, Microsoft continues to share its message and make a lasting impact beyond the Super Bowl stage.

The takeaway?

Refrain from counting out the power of utilizing various platforms to make your mark. It is the way to reach millions of people around the globe and make a lasting impact.

5. “Personal”

If you’re a business owner, you understand that your business was built on a foundation of love, passion, and care. You put your heart and soul into creating something you can be proud of. 

The same principle should apply to how you promote your business.

Personalizing your marketing efforts is key to connecting with customers on a deeper level. Show them that there is a natural person behind what they are buying. Tell them about your business, your story, and why they should support you. This will make customers feel more connected to your brand, create trust, and ultimately increase sales.

In 2014, Microsoft showcased this idea with its Skype Translator demo. The demo shows the audience how technology can remove language barriers and help create a more human connection.

This example demonstrates how technology can create a more personal connection between people and businesses. During the demo, Steve Clayton speaks in English to a German-speaking woman, Melanie Schoebel, who resides in Germany. Through the Skype Translator, the two can communicate effortlessly. 

The same concept applies to your personas as well. Your personas should represent your target audience in a way that makes them feel connected to your business.

So, during your next campaign, foster a humanized connection.

Be genuine in your communication.

Show some excitement in your content.

Go the extra mile to make your audience feel special.

Creating an authentic connection will establish a stronger relationship with your target audience. 

How Predictable is Your Story?

Following our discussion of predictability, take a moment to think about the elements that make up your story. 

Think about the good, the bad, and even the ugly.

Now, ask yourself, “Is my story predictable?” Are the love, devotion, and determination behind your business apparent?

If not, it’s time to create a more consistent narrative that accurately conveys your core message.

  • Bring the depth, complexity, and emotion behind your story to life.
  • Elevate your story beyond facts and figures, and create an impactful narrative.
  • Showcase the unique experiences and moments that led you to your current success.

You’ll create an emotionally charged story that resonates with your customers by creating an engaging narrative. Your account may inspire others along the way.

At Wizard of Ads®, we believe everyone has a story. And it is our mission to help you bring your account to life.

We specialize in helping brands create powerful, meaningful stories that help them connect with their customers on a deeper level. To get started, book a call with Ryan Chute of Wizard of Ads™ today! Your story can make a difference – so let’s get to work.