If you’re already a fan of the photoblog Humans of New York, you may know this story already. If you love great stories and aren’t yet familiar with HONY, seriously – find it and read this blog post later.

Tangueray was introduced to HONY followers in the fall of 2019, photographed in Times Square. An older woman dressed elaborately from head to toe, including a hand-beaded faux fur coat she made herself, had a fascinating story to tell. Her tale rolled out through HONY’s social media feeds for over a week. In the first post, she’s holding an image of herself as an exotic dancer in the 1970’s. “Tanqueray, Tanqueray, Tanqueray,” it began. “When this photo was taken, ten thousand men in New York City knew that name.”

You’re already hooked, aren’t you? As each installment of Tangueray’s story unfolded, commenters were begging to hear the next. There were ups and downs, heartbreak, and humor. By the end, posts were garnering more than half a million likes and comments.

What does an aging former exotic dancer have to do with content creation? Quite simply, it’s a compelling story. As content creators, especially in an ever-evolving digital landscape, we must step back periodically and remember why we’re here. All the digital platforms in the world are nothing more than a bright shiny object if we’re not using them to tell great stories. Whether we’re aiming to educate, influence or delight, storytelling is the key.

How best, then, to build a successful narrative? Focus on four key elements.

Identifiable Characters

When was the last time you read a great book where the main character was an object? Exactly. Stories are about people and experiences. For brands, this means shifting focus away from the product or service and instead highlighting the story arc that the product or service can enable. It’s not a car, for example, it’s a ticket to adventure.

Specific Details

What image of Tangueray did you have in your mind when you read that she was an older woman dressed elaborately? How did that image fill in when you heard about her hand-beaded faux fur coat? To pull people into a story, brand marketers need to add details that create dimension. If you’re positioning a car as a means to an adventure, what’s the scene? Camping by a lake, catching fireflies as the sun goes down? Two best friends flying along Route 66 with the top down?

Authentic Emotion

Both of the examples above not only set a visual scene, but also play into emotions. Camping by the lake looks like the perfect answer to the hectic, fast-paced lives we all lead. Flying down the road with a friend would feel pretty good after a week of work and family obligations. Again, we’re not selling a car; we’re telling a story about what that car can do for us, where it can put us, and how that would feel.

Significant Moment

Of course, no story would be complete without a moment that changes everything. A few years ago, a Budweiser commercial created a story around a 20-something and his constant companion, a yellow lab. When the owner goes out for the night with friends, the tone changes as we see the dog wait and wait for his return. The screen then reads: For some, the wait never ends. Thankfully, our dread becomes relief as the owner returns home to his jubilant dog in the morning, having decided to stay at a friend’s rather than drive after drinking. The emotional rollercoaster delivers the “drink responsibly” message impactfully.

Coming off a year of tremendous forward motion in martech and adtech, brands have access to more channels than ever to deliver their messaging. By recognizing the power of storytelling, the possibilities are endless.

Oh, and Tangueray? She used her newfound fame to fundraise for one of her favorite charities. Thanks to the hundreds of thousands of people moved by her posts, that charity was gifted $2.65 million. If that’s not a story with a happy ending, we don’t know what is.