Story Time with Tanner


On the first page of our website, you’ll read the words, “We don’t create ads. We tell stories.” Which, admittedly, is a very easy thing to claim. Anybody could say that. So I’ll show you what we mean, in case you think that we just sit around the office, talking about creating bomb-ass content all day.

My 2-year-old son penned a thought-provoking story a few nights ago when he yelled “light!” as I shut the door at bedtime. The strain in his voice made me pause after closing the door. He hadn’t done this before. Was he scared? Was he just trying to milk bedtime? Was he calling after my glowing angelic presence as I left his room? His one-word story pulled my heart-strings and made me act. I opened the door and went back into his room. 13 seconds later, I left his room, having been duped by his plea. Where am I going with this? Well, I’m glad you asked:

A story can be a single facial expression.
A story can be one word.
An effective story will elicit emotion
and make someone act, no matter the length.

Though, for marketing purposes, I’d recommend truthful motives, unlike my son’s dastardly attempt at staying up with daddy. Anyway, the word, “emotion,” is another deliberate addition to our front page. So let’s talk emotion.


Find What Resonates


In order for your story to evoke emotion, it needs to RESONATE with your audience. This can be hard, given that we all walk very unique and complex respective realities. At the risk of being super cliche, I’m going to just go ahead and say this: We are all humans. You and I have base wants and needs, bereft of any external variables resulting from our upbringing, opinions, or interests. What are some basic needs for the human? Well, rather than giving you the undisputed and definitive list, which I’ll save for another blog post, I’ll pose some questions that we ask ourselves when creating content for our clients.

  1. Does the story about this service/product/business make life easier?
    >> We want convenience

  2. Does the story about this service/product/business eliminate a fear of some kind?
    >> We want to feel safe, comfortable in a new environment, or both

  3. Can this story about this service/product/business help someone relate?
    >> We want a sense of belonging and understanding of how we see ourselves in the world-at-large

And then a couple of questions that take a deeper dive into the human psyche:

  1. Does this story have the ability to take someone off of auto-pilot while on social media?
    >> We come to social media to be entertained or to escape

  2. Will this story change the way someone thinks or sees the world?
    >> Although we’re on social media to escape, our minds still crave stimuli

If your ad can answer yes to any of these questions, depending on objective of course, then your ad has evoked emotion and has a much better chance of being remembered by your audience.

Emotion is the goal, resonation is one ingredient. Let’s talk two more.


Show DON’T tell.


We attach extra emotion into things which we invest. Show DON’T tell. You may have heard someone say this before, but most people don’t truly understand what it means. Its tough, but I’ll try to explain. I remember getting a baseball signed by players on the Idaho Falls Chukars when I was a kid. I took it to show and tell when school started that year. After pulling it out of a brown paper bag, I told all of my classmates who had signed it. It was cool enough, I guess. But imagine if I had just taken the ball out of the brown paper bag and passed it around the room without saying a word. What might have run through fellow 2nd graders’ minds? This is the reason why people like the book more than the movie, generally. The book only gives them part of the story. Imagination fills in the rest.

If that doesn’t explain ‘show don’t tell’ let me give a written example. Two sentences below:

Tommy was very angry about the situation.


Tommy kicked the flat tire.

Sentence number two makes you invest. It makes you work. It paints part of the picture, but you paint the rest. Most importantly, it appeals to the senses.

When you tell and show, you are also telling your audience what or how to feel, and how to consume what they are seeing; their work is done, and they move on. But if you allow them to make the subtle connections necessary, their investment in said thing pays off by evoking true emotion. Your audience doesn’t remember specifics about “an angry situation.” But your audience might remember that time they kicked a tire in frustration. Don’t be lazy and don’t let your audience be lazy.


Have Any of you tried that new NBC series, Manifest?

I actually love the initial plot of the story. A flight leaves Jamaica for New York, disappears, and then re-appears 5 years later. It’s unexplained and it is curious, to say the least.

I didn’t last through half of the first episode.

The seemingly normal, attractive main character, self-describes herself as a misguided rogue who can’t get her life together. She lays this out when talking to her brother-in-law. Rather than the writers slowly introducing that character’s idiosyncrasies, they just have her tell the audience what she is. I couldn’t keep watching after that. It was lazy. They told me she was a mess, rather than showing me through her life’s experiences. My investment in the character was over and I shut the TV show off.

Don’t undermine the human imagination and don’t patronize your audience.
They will lose interest as soon as they gained it.


Elevate the Ordinary


As I talked about earlier, you come to social media to be entertained. If you think about it, every single entertaining piece of content on your social feed is an elevation of the ordinary. Life is ordinary. Life gets mundane. But if you can elevate the simple things in life to be something more than ordinary and mundane, you are creating entertainment. Think of the last comedy sketch you watched. The comic talked about his or her first date, an interesting experience at the doctor, or something else rather ordinary. They just elevate it by story-telling, and we drink it in like… a nice refreshing beverage I guess.

I remember sitting on the couch in my little basement apartment with my wife one night while in college. I had to write an essay on plate tectonics. The TV was on, and an hour had gone by without me getting much done. After watching me stew on plate tectonics for a while, my wife suggested something that has remained super profound to me. “Write your essay about Bo Jackson.” (We were watching a documentary on Bo Jackson at the time) We laughed about it for a minute. And then I busted out a 1500 word essay on Bo Jackson and plate tectonics in less than 30 minutes.

I got a 98 on the paper. My professor told me he loved reading it. And I know for a fact he didn’t read another essay that was more entertaining than my explanation of Bo Jackson’s career-ending broken hip being like a convergent plate boundary. Two things are instructive here. I actually ENJOYED writing this rather boring paper, and my professor actually ENJOYED reading 1 of 123 term papers he had to grade.


To recap.

There are three ingredients to help you evoke emotion:

Find what resonates

Find what resonates

Show don’t tell.

Show don’t tell.

Elevate the ordinary.

Elevate the ordinary.


These are deliberate calculations you need to make when creating content. Do them long enough and they’ll become a part of who you are as a content creator.

Social Media, MarketingTanner