What Pixar Teaches Us About Writing

Here, guest writer Olivia Poglianich explores a few of Pixar’s tried-and-true storytelling techniques.

Pixar movies have been captivating audiences of all ages since 1995. Movies like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and WALL-E represent the magic of storytelling: leaving a lasting impression on hearts and minds everywhere.

But the film studio’s lessons extend far beyond the silver screen. Here are a few tips marketers can follow to channel their inner storytellers—and enchant customers across the globe.

Characters come first

Many companies get caught up in the nuts and bolts of their business. (And understandably so. Of course you’re excited about that newly launched feature!) But products and services aren’t the heroes of your brand story—characters are.

As in any Pixar movie, each character has a unique history. You may start by considering your customers: When do they use your products or services—and why? What problems do you help them solve? What do their lives look like outside of this brand relationship? 

Your company founder is another critical character. Ask yourself: What brought them here? Why did they launch this business? What mission drives them, each and every day? 

By discovering who your characters are and what they want, you can create an authentic brand story—with a memorable (and maybe even magical) touch.

Define your beginning, middle, and end

Storytellers are masters of structure: setting the stage with an introductory scene, packing in the action, then wrapping things up with a clear conclusion. 

As a marketer, you may already exercise these tactics by including a table of contents at the beginning of a presentation to tease what’s to come—or by featuring recap slides at the end to ensure your core message hits home. But many people forget to weave an underlying thread throughout their communications.

To combat this, Pixar suggests creating storyboards. In the marketing world, this often manifests in the form of outlines. By adopting your audience’s mindset, you can develop a structure that strategically captures attention, addresses pain points, and secures sales. 

Imagination is everything

To inspire out-of-the-box thinking, Pixar uses a trusted brainstorming technique that resurfaces ideas which would be shut down by the rational brain. This method poses the critical question: What if there were no boundaries? 

It’s how Pixar came up with countless creative concepts. (For instance, “What if the toys in your childhood bedroom could talk?” became Toy Story—and “What if our feelings could talk to us?” inspired Inside Out.)

Marketers can use this exercise to keep imagination front and center—creating new storylines and imbuing messaging with dreamy, descriptive language. 

Show, don’t tell

Companies often tell audiences what to expect from their products and services—but Pixar suggests doing just the opposite.

Instead of saying you’re fiercely loyal, prove it (like Sully does by saving Boo in Monsters, Inc). Instead of telling customers to trust you, recall a time when you had their backs (like when Inside Out’s Bing Bong realized Riley no longer needed him—and selflessly let her go). 

Be as descriptive and visual as possible when telling your brand story. Ask yourself: Will readers be able to easily picture these scenes and identify with characters? Do I have a solid story arch—or am I rambling on and on (and on)? 

While fancy, abstract words may sound impressive in academic journals, everyday writing calls for a much simpler approach. Concise, vivid language allow readers to see what you’re saying—from beginning to end. 

Need help bringing a human touch to your business writing? Connect with our team of storytellers today. 

A champion of high-end content, Jean is a living tribute to copywriting for humans. In 2012, at a TEDx talk, she declared her now widely viewed “War Against Bland.” The visionary founder of MarketSmiths, Jean leads her growing team to captivate, inspire, and motivate readers. She has helped thousands of global clients generate revenue from words (up to 12,000% ROI), and transformed the writing of hundreds of seminar attendees at the SXSW Interactive Festival (2014 and 2015), SXSW V2V (2014), the Small Business Summit (2014, NYC), and other venues.

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