In our digitally frenzied life where data overload and tech tools become predictable extensions of us, consider how it’s the simplest things that are the ones we carry with us. It’s a story. A piece of oratory history that continues to be passed down through generations. So we wonder what exactly makes a story so compelling in a modern tech-fuelled environment? It’s this: people will always listen to and remember a story. Stories get our interest and motivate us to action. Journalist and CCO of Contently, Shane Snow, predicts storytelling will be the #1 business skill throughout the next five years, arguing that “those who can create, find, and share the good stories will build followings, to outsize their advantage.”

While storytelling has always been around, it’s a recent buzzword because of the increased competition for our attention. A Google study entitled “Multi-Channel Deliver” showed that the average user spends about 17 minutes on their smartphone, 30 minutes on their tablet, 39 minutes on their laptop/PC and 43 minutes on television watching. Masters of multitasking, 77% of this figure uses another device while watching TV. 49% also connect with their smartphone, while 34% are wired on a laptop/desktop. These figures define the need for storytelling in a whole new way. Since digital technologies like web and social media have enabled a bi-directional conversation, more and more users are now expected the same flow of conversation with brands.

An effective story will distinguish your business and share why you matter. Better stories will get your customers involved through either literal or figurative inclusion. The best stories will bring your business or message to life, inspiring empathy or allegiance among your customer base. If it’s something so simple a child can understand it, then anyone will. As Snow encapsulates it, “Good storiessurprise us. They have compelling characters. They make us think, make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.”

A compelling story moves it. It becomes as much a part of us as we feel we’re a part of it. It’s a mirror for how we see ourselves and the world. This is essentially the thread marketing pioneers have to tug at to differentiate their brand and their campaign from the slosh pile. The right story moves beyond entertaining us or informing us. It captures us emotionally. Whether we borrow classic and give it a twist or work with a new model, a story will always have these three essential components.

First is the hero. Every story needs someone your audience can rally after – an underdog (like Henry Ford) or a visionary thinker (Steve Jobs). Next, you need a goal. Ask yourself what’s the idea, or the mission statement? What is your product, service, campaign striving to achieve and how does that fit into the story? For Ford it was about building an affordable automobile for the average American. For Jobs, it was about innovation on multiple levels. Not only did Jobs change the product, he changed forever changed the user experience. Finally, you have the obstacle. What’s the challenge, how does it define or transform us, and how do we overcome it? For Ford it was a pivotal race against the leading car manufacturers. A race he won that proved he could build a functional (and subsequently superior) car without the support of the automotive association.