Is your story tattoo worthy?

Is your story tattoo worthy?

Creating a compelling story turns your customers into delighted fans anxious to share your message with the world.

Text by William Knight


Everyone loves a captivating story. From the return of an iconic founder to the company he helped found in a garage, to the espresso maker turned European-style coffeehouse that inhabits every corner, we’re fascinated by the trials and tribulations overcome to achieve success.

More than mere fascination, we want to associate with these stories, to represent their ideals and embody their success. In return, we gladly exchange our hard-earned money to become a part of the experience.

Consider the rebellious American motorcycle manufacturer with a base of fans willing to tattoo the brand’s logo on their bodies. Or, the notorious film franchise whose British secret agent prefers his martinis shaken, not stirred.

Whether your brand is tattoo-worthy or responsible for the highest grossing media franchise of all time, the euphoria for your product spreads by having a captivating story that people want to join.

Your organization has a story to tell. You, as a professional, have a story to tell. But how do you communicate your story in a way that conveys intriguing information, intense emotion and a unique message?

By communicating your story effectively, you can create a connection with prospects and customers that will inspire brand loyalty. You’ll be able to not only attract more customers, but also inspire fans.

At the end of this article, you will walk away with a simple, easy-to-remember structure on how to craft your unique story. However, instead of discussing the same organizations we’re all tired of hearing about, lets shake it up 007 style.


Thousands of loyal customers from around the world having your logo tattooed on their bodies, hundreds of your fans camping outside of your retail stores, and every individual leaving with a memorable story to tell.

Does this cult-like following sounds too good to be true?

Meet Johnny Cupcakes. Today, Johnny Cupcakes is a multi-million dollar, highly exclusive t-shirt brand that was started in the trunk of founder Johnny Earle’s rusty car at age 19. Despite a learning disability, Johnny Earle was able to build the brand and move into some of the world’s most sought after retail locations, such as Boston, Los Angeles, and London.

Named by the Boston Globe as a “Top Innovator in retail” the brand uses its cupcake logo to poke fun at pop culture, replacing well known references such as the Simpsons or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with cupcakes. Ironically, the only time they sell cupcakes is on April Fool’s Day.

Johnny Earle began making t-shirts as a joke. After taking a break from college, Johnny was making t-shirts for his band and he thought it would be funny to get a few made with his new nickname, Johnny Cupcakes. After wearing the t-shirt to work at a local record store, interest grew and Johnny began selling the t-shirts. Johnny would sell t-shirts out of the trunk of his car, out of his suitcase while traveling with his band, and later on in his online store.

As momentum picked up, Johnny took the risk to quit his day job and band to focus 100% on the brand. Johnny hired his immediate family to help manage the growing demand, having his mom and sister help fulfill orders while his dad created a storage space in the attic to accommodate the inventory. After hiring close friends, the next step was to open a retail store.

Instead of having an average retail location to sell t-shirts, Johnny Earle and his father transformed their flagship location in Boston into an old fashioned bakery where they display culinary themed t-shirts in vintage, industrial refrigerators and on baking racks. As you enter the store, it even smells like frosting. The aesthetics of the t-shirt bakeries are so convincing that most people walk into the bakery expecting to get a cupcake.

When you buy a t-shirt, it’s packaged in a signature pastry box. Now, that is a customer experience. Everyone who enters the retail store leaves with a story. Customers become fans and fans spread their one-of-a-kind experience.

To break down the emotional appeal of our example story, we’ll touch upon a simple three-act formula for storytelling that inspired the likes of George Lucas during his creation of Star Wars. Lucas’ inspiration was Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In Campbell’s book, he outlines the Hero’s Journey, a concept of adventure and personal transformation that is used in nearly every culture’s storytelling framework.

This framework will give your brand, yourself, and even your customer a unique story to tell.


Prior to learning the storytelling formula, you must understand the power of storytelling and the impact it can have upon your success. Through storytelling you have the ability to leverage what makes you and your brand unique. Then, once your story is created, you must communicate your message to the audiences who are most important to your organization, repeatedly.

What good is a captivating story if no one can hear it, remember it, and share it?

Given the array of media channels you have available today, you should communicate so that not only can your audience understand and convey your message, but also they are enthralled to share it with their community.

  • The 3-Act Formula of Storytelling:

Act 1: Introduce the characters and the conflict

Act 2: Reveal the varied attempts by the characters to resolve the conflict

Act 3: Show the heroic resolution of the conflict by the lead character

In our one-of-a-kind retail story example of Johnny Cupcakes, we meet Johnny, a 19 year old who begins making t-shirts as a joke to poke fun at one of the nicknames he was given. If we dig deeper into the story, we learn that Johnny was inspired to be an entrepreneur in order to work and still spend time with the people he loves. He saw his parents spend too much time in traffic and wanted to make a change. Despite his learning disability, he found his passion as an entrepreneur, starting 16 different businesses before the age of 16.

In Act 1, we meet a character which we find engaging and interesting. We are then able to connect with the character by placing him in a conflict. In this case, taking the risk to pursue the t-shirt brand full-time and leave other commitments behind.

Act 2 consists of the journey Johnny goes through to take his business from a mere joke to opening a retail store in London. Here lies the varied attempts by the character to resolve the conflict, from selling t-shirts out of his car and suitcase, and building out space in his parent’s attic to hold inventory.

Act 3 entails the heroic resolution as we see Johnny and his father launch their flagship retail location in Boston that generated a fan frenzy and later spreading to other locations.

Whether it is a brand, a person or a movie, captivating stories with interesting characters can maintain the interest of an audience for years. Today, nearly 16 years later, Johnny Cupcakes is considered a top innovator in the retail space and maintains a growing fan base.

But how can you use the same 3-Act formula to create similar success for yourself and your organization?


You must begin by introducing characters that the audience cares about and a conflict that the audience desires to be resolved. Most businesses are born of a founder’s desire for a better product or life. However, most of us tend to dismiss our own struggles. We tend to disregard our “why” for beginning the journey, and as a result we remain undifferentiated in the workplace. It is your “why” or your reasoning to resolve your conflict that will help you differentiate your story from that of your competitors.

Ask yourself: What conflict did you desire to resolve when you started your business? Or, what challenge did you seek to resolve when they began it? You want to find the conflict that was begging for resolution.


Now that you have established the characters and the conflict, you have captured the interest of your audience. Next, you want to focus on the pursuit of the resolution. As in any great movie or in real life, the main character never seems to arrive to the resolution at the first attempt. Otherwise, the story would be boring.

Imagine the movie Gladiator, where Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, goes on a journey to seek revenge for the murder of his family and his emperor.

It is the trials and tribulations that Maximus endures from being forced into slavery to rising through the gladiatorial arena that captivates the audience and builds interest. Without the main character’s journey to resolve the conflict and overcome hardships, this epic historical drama would not be the Oscar-winning film we know today.

This is where you want to describe the failures you encountered and the obstacles you overcame to achieve success. You want to build anticipation and raise the tension in the mind of your audience.

Ask yourself: What aspects of your journey, or the journey of your founders, help demonstrate the struggle that was overcome along the way to your resolution?


This is where you will describe your heroic resolution, or the resolution of your founders. What product or service do you offer that your audience desires to be a part of?

Your heroic resolution may not be as intense as a battle to the death in the arena, but what is important is to identify the best way of communicating your resolution in a way that is most appealing to the desires of your audience.

For example, Johnny Cupcakes describes the one-of-a-kind experience that fans walk away with as opposed to the characteristics of the t-shirt itself. His fans want to be a part of the unique customer experience as their primary desire, and Johnny Cupcakes delivers.

Ask yourself: given your resolution or that of your founders, what is the ideal way to position your offering for your prospects and clients?

From cupcakes to gladiators to tattoos to camping, we’ve seen how the power of a story can transform an audience. Joseph Campbell’s three act formula is simple enough to remember, and significant enough to have inspired George Lucas. It is the formula behind your favorite blockbuster movie and is present in nearly every fascinating story that we hear of today, both fiction and non-fiction alike. You can apply it not only to your business, but to your personal story as well.

Now, like Maximus, you are armed for battle, ready to find the drama and emotion in your story. The euphoria and elation you create for your product or brand will spread by creating and repeatedly sharing your story. Use this three-act formula to engage your audience, inspire brand loyalty, and convert your customers into lifelong fans.



About the Author:

William Knight
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