If you’ve seen the movie Inception, you may proceed.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you should stop everything you’re doing and go watch it. Right now. Stop reading this. Open another browser, buy it on Amazon Instant, and watch it. The entire movie. If your boss doesn’t intuitively understand the importance of this movie to their bottom line- then quit your job. If they’re ignorant to this obvious truth, chances are the company isn’t going anywhere anyway.

Ok, just in case you like your job, here’s a quick overview.



Now that you know the storyline a bit, lets look at stories and marketing.

What do I mean by stories?

Before I get to the specifics, how-to’s, and applications, you have to think of storytelling in two different levels. One is obvious, the other is not.

1. Tell a story all at once.

The storytelling method we are most familiar with is done with tv commercials- where a little story is dramatized in front of us. We get pulled quickly into an alternative world where something heart-warming, funny or dramatic happens. It’s a self contained story within the 15-30 seconds that we watch.

Look at a couple examples and you’ll see how commonplace these types of stories are in today’s advertising.

Straight forward example:

In this commercial, Budweiser tells a very simple narrative using a lovable puppy. Pretty simple storyline here, puppy likes the horse, puppy has to leave, horse doesn’t let him leave, so he stays with the horse. It’s the classic form of storytelling we are most used to- tell a simple storyline, add nice music, add a character we like, and add a happy ending. You know, the classic puppy meets horse love story.

Less straight forward example:

Dove tells a beautiful story here, but instead of one story about one character going through a series of events, they rely on a general experience that many can relate to. Many characters are shown, allowing them to appeal to a wide audience. Not as pure of a storyline and a slightly more complicated form of storytelling.

These examples show a common form of storytelling- straight up tell a story- and are very effective when a company has the talent and resources to pull it off. They often require the undivided attention of the viewer, and a long, long sales cycle. It’s used all over the place but it requires lots of attention, lots of time, and lots of money.

There is another type of storytelling that is becoming more common, especially with digital marketing.

2. Tell & insert just a scene. 

In our modern day of digital abundance and short attention spans, often a newer version of storytelling is required. One that inserts a little story-nugget, or scene, into the story of the customer. Not just the story of their lives, but the story they are telling themselves in their mind.

Scene Inception

In the movie Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio’s job is to hack into another’s dream and plant an idea, as shown in the summary above. An idea so simple and subtle that the person will accept it into their life and act on it.

Your job as a marketer is to insert not an entire story, but just one scene, one idea, into the storyline already in play in the mind of those watching or listening. I call this Scene Inception. Once the scene is in place, it can have an impact on their storyline and behavior. It reminds me of one of our Gravitisms a while back from the movie.


Scene Inception is pretty straightforward. It involves listening, creating and inserting. You see, ideas (scenes) are welcomed into the storylines of people because these scenes play nicely with the story the person has for themselves.



That’s Scene Inception in a nutshell.

However, before you can create and insert a story scene, you need to know the storylines people are living and telling themselves. You can only learn these storylines by listening.

Lets hope it doesn't come to this.

Limbo. Lets hope it doesn’t come to this.

Really listening. Really understanding.

So, you can hack several levels deep into the person’s dream, enter and insert an idea, and concoct a series of synchronized kicks to get you out safely, OR you can continue with this blog series. Just remember, if your dream-hacking efforts fail you’ll be relegated to decades of deep and eerie limbo.

Just in case you decide not to go at it alone, I’ll continue this series to help you along.

Next, we’ll learn how to really understand our customers. Part 4: Deduction is Elementary.