The Top 3 Lessons Businesses Can Learn from Pixar-Style Storytelling to Keep Audiences Engaged


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How Aligning Your Customer to the Hero’s Journey Will Create Content That Results in Happy Endings

For centuries, storytellers the world over have used fictional tales not only to entertain, but to teach. From Aesop’s moral-laden fables to the themes of tolerance, friendship, and fate woven throughout the Harry Potter series, stories help us better understand the world and ourselves. But what about cartoons? Can a computer-drawn character truly offer life lessons worth listening to?

Sometimes great things come in tiny, uber-adorable packages. Pixar movies are beloved for their fascinating storylines and memorable characters, but there are some surprisingly deep messages underneath all those funny voices and silly antics, too. As I cuddle up with my kids and watch Woody and Bo Peep do their thing, I’m also amassing takeaways that fuel not only my own growth, but also the success of my business.

There are three big lessons I’ve learned from the Pixar-style storytelling, and in particular, from the heroes in those stories —but first, let’s take a look at what makes these unforgettable tales so powerful in the first place.

What Core Elements Make a Story Great?

There are some common themes that run through every great story, whether in business as a brand story or the one driving a movie we watch on screen. And, just as the lack of investment in a brand story will impede your efforts to reach your audience in a way that builds trust and customer loyalty, any story that doesn’t focus on its audience’s needs and expectations will not achieve a happy ending, regardless of how the script was written.

Connection and Relatability

Studies show that people experience a 47% jump in oxytocin levels when they’re able to empathize with a stranger. The connection people feel with a story’s hero can lead to actual physiological changes, in this case a surge in hormones, that increase open-mindedness and aid in decision making.

Think about the heroes in most Pixar stories. There’s often a need to overcome adversity. That’s because it’s far easier to relate to an underdog who eventually makes good than it is to feel connected to a hero who starts on top and seems to have it made from the get-go.


Easy answers aren’t typically very interesting. Will Nemo ever be free? Will Luca find acceptance? The tension that comes with uncertainty is endlessly captivating.

A Central Message

What’s the point? There needs to be a reason the story exists. A laundry list of facts won’t necessarily move people or make them feel like your story was worth the time they invested reading it. But a message of hope, of promise, of ambition — that’ll get people’s hearts and minds revved up.


What actions are the storytellers trying to inspire? For Pixar, the purpose might be encouraging kids to be better friends or value everyday experiences. In the business world, you can use storytelling to inspire actions like signing up for a newsletter or buying a product.

Pixar uses those elements to create art that translates far beyond the movie screen. Those lessons we talked about before? Here are a few of those in greater detail.

Lesson #1: Big Emotions Can Be Difficult to Manage — But the Result is Worth the Effort

Emotions are integral to great storytelling because they help foster the connection on which all relationships are built. You can make someone laugh, make them cry, make them want to share your newly published blog ASAP — all those actions are predicated by feeling some kind of emotion. But what happens when your message feels too big or too uncomfortable to break down into words?

Inside Out is a story about 11-year-old Riley, a happy, hockey-playing pre-teen whose life takes a 180-degree turn when her family abruptly relocates to San Francisco. The tumult that already accompanies teen angst is amplified considerably — so much so that each emotion takes on its own personality. There’s a bit of an internal battle, and soon Disgust, Fear, and Anger begin to win out.

In the end, Riley learns to lean into Sadness, because it’s not bad, just different. It’s a beautiful reminder that figuring out how to leverage those icky feelings, rather than ignoring them, can be one of the biggest a-ha moments you’ll ever have.

As content creators, we can use Riley’s revelation to find the power in core emotions. Don’t ignore the negatives attached to your product or service. Lean into every emotion and you may just find a new way to approach an old problem. Being inundated with feedback about slow delivery times? Design a marketing campaign around your QA process, explaining it takes a bit longer to execute but ensures top-notch content every time.

2. Appreciate the Little Things

It’s easy for businesses to get caught up in the big picture. You absolutely have to double revenue by the end of the fiscal year. You’ll accept nothing less than perfection from your content. Your blog has to rank at the top of the SERPS, or it’s all for naught.

But… where’s the Soul?

Soul’s hero is a middle-school band teacher named Joe. He’s a would-be jazz superstar, but he’s never realized his dream of playing full time. On the way to his “big chance,” Joe has a near-death experience, but instead of staying in the afterlife, he has the opportunity to get back to Earth (and his body) if he can only figure out the meaning of life. No biggie, right?

The core lesson from our hero here comes when he wades through all the existential questions thrown his way only to discover that his passion, his SPARK, isn’t what he thought it was. He was chasing one very specific dream and ignoring all the beauty he encountered along the way.

Joe teaches us the value in appreciating the little things, being present, and taking the world as it is. The dream is not as important as living in the now.

With storytelling, the soul is not the big reveal or major win at the end of the blog or email, but rather the little things that happen along the way. Every time something goes right, that’s a moment the reader can file away for later use. We might not all get to battle the dragon, but we can learn how to suit up, how to appreciate the people who have our back on the way up the mountain, and how to use our sword training to slay another day.

So write in plenty of little things, but appreciate the little things on the back end as well. Feeling particularly proud of a piece you just wrote? Rather than refreshing the page 100 times a minute to see how many hits you’re getting, focus on the positive comment someone left saying your insight made their day.

3. Persistence is Powerful

The easiest thing to do in life is to give up. This is especially true when you’re surrounded by reasons to throw in the towel. Challenges aren’t the exception; they’re the rule.

On the surface, Finding Nemo is a story about a father clownfish trying to find his missing son. There are a thousand reasons why Marlin might accept his son’s disappearance and likely death as a forgone conclusion, not the least of which is his own phobia of leaving his home reef.

But Marlin faces every obstacle in his path, not ignoring or overcoming his fear but continuing despite it. Along the way, he learns a lot about persistence and also about never underestimating what others have to offer. A regal blue tang with short-term memory loss seems like a poor hire, but Dory was so awesome she got her own spin-off, so maybe we can all reserve judgment a bit more, eh?

In any case, the lesson from Finding Nemo is “just keep swimming.” You have a perfect track record of surviving every worst day you’ve had thus far, and this latest challenge — a missed deadline, a bad client review, and product flop — won’t be any different. You learn, you persist, and you eventually win.

At its core, great storytelling communicates a message in a way that’s relatable to the person receiving that message. It takes into account the little things, and it teaches the audience a lesson that’s worth learning. Pixar has proven time and time again that the formula works, and who are we to argue?

Before I go, there’s one more Pixar message I wanted to share. This one comes courtesy of a certain fiery-haired princess who refuses to conform.

“There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it.” – Merida, Brave

Wise words, I think.

Carlos Meza
Carlos Meza serves as President & CEO of Crowd Content, a leading content creation service provider. A master of scale himself, Meza has been leading high-growth technology companies over the last five years. An industry veteran, Meza brings a background in engineering and corporate finance to expand the Crowd Content footprint of global brands served to better serve their own customers with people-first, publish-ready content. During the early part of his career, Meza spent 13 years working with multinational brands and banks that included Citibank and HSBC.


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