Discover the Power of Story with Park Howell

Our very first guest on Touchpoints is considered the World's Most Industrious Storyteller helping purpose-driven brands grow by as much as 600% through the customer-centric stories they tell.

He is the host of the popular Business of Story podcast, which is ranked among the top 10% of downloaded podcasts in the world. Park is the author of Brand Bewitcher: How to Wield the Story Cycle System to Craft Spellbinding Stories for Your Brand.

And is co-author of the new book The Narrative Gym for Business, which is a short 75-page guide on how to use the ABT narrative framework to revolutionize how you communicate.

He also consults, teaches, coaches and speaks internationally to help leaders excel through the stories they tell.

Yes, we are fortunate enough to host the wonderful Park Howell.


03:28 – Glenn: What's the two-minute life story of the business of story?

Park: I've been playing the piano since I was in the third grade, and I wrote music, songs just for the fun of it. Went on into high school (to) college.

I actually got a degree in music composition and theory, and I was thinking I would really like to become a show producer, you know that mix between business and creativity and whatever. And I dabbled in that a little bit and really found advertising as my main vehicle.

So, I studied communications as well, and I got into the advertising industry, and I was everything from a copywriter to a media buyer to an account executive. So sometimes an attorney, although I just played one of those on TV basically and started my own ad agency in 1995 called Park&Co, ran that for 20 years, but I really found story and the power of story in the early 2000s, when technology took over and levelled the playing field and when brands used to own the influence of mass media. I saw that appreciably change, and now the masses had become the media and their louder, more vocal than ever today.

And it's almost impossible to stand out unless you use the proven power of story structure, not just stories, but a structure to hack through the noise and hook the hearts of your audiences. And I found when I started studying that teaching and coaching England that I loved that way more than running my ad agency, and I kind of grew out of running my ad agency.

So, in 2016, I pivoted away from Park&Co and started Business of Story, because I had been teaching it for about five years while running the agency. (I) knew that's where my love was.

That's why I'm here with you today because I could still teach, coach, and speak on the power of story around the world. And, you (Glenn), I got to meet a couple of years ago when speaking in Auckland, and we've had a great friendship ever since. So, that's the power of story.

05:44 – G: What are the commonalities that you see with organisations that think that they are very, very customer-centric when you start working with them and then you open their eyes to the power of communication and that story structure?

P: There is one underwriting commonality with everyone, and it doesn't matter where you are in the world, especially in the B2B world. And that is brands think they are the story. That they are the centre of the story, and it couldn't be further from the truth. They actually play the more important role of mentor/guide. Do you know Star Wars?

You got Luke, who's your protagonist, but he could have never vanquished Darth Vader and the rest of the universe without the likes of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda etc. Well, you are the Obi-Wan Kenobi/Yoda to your Luke Skywalker customer, and that's the one major paradigm shift I see across the board.

07:19 – G: So, we, as organisations that are out there to help our customers, we're we are just playing a part in their journey. And so does that mean that the language that we use and the messaging that we communicate should reflect that?

P: Yeah. So, if the number one rule is the story is not about you, it's about your customer, the number two rule is your story is not about what you make, but what you make happen in your customers’ life and what you start making that transition, you will get away from the jargon and the big words that you love to use that talk about your features and your functions with a little bit of benefit sprinkled in and you'll start using vernacular from your customers point of view because these stories have to be told from their point of view, not yours.

For Example, I was doing some work with Sharp Electronics earlier this year, working with 125 their sales and marketing people.

And I teach them this framework called "And, But Therefore" (ABT). When you use the ABT, it makes you place your audience at the centre of the story. It uses the three forces a story of agreement, contradiction, and consequence that our brains, our audiences, limbic system absolutely love because our brains are cause and effect pattern-seeking things. And so, you want to deliver a story in the same sort of pattern. And when you use the ABT you can place it from your customers perspective. So, all I have to do and I invite any of your viewers and listeners to go to their own website and pull up a landing page and see if they are making the same mistake that Sharp Electronics made.

And I'm not going to read you the whole landing page, but it goes something like "For years, Sharp document products and certain solutions have been earning high praises and prestigious awards from leading MFP testing organisations. For Sharp, it represents more than just an accumulation of accolades." It's all about them banging their chests and nobody cares.

But, listen to what happens and feel the difference when you use this, “And, But Therefore” from your customers perspective?

So, change the copies of this, “Shorter runs, quicker turnaround times, complete control over your in-house printing, it's what you want, but your productivity is currently stuck on pause. Therefore, sharp digital MFP's and copier printers will have you printing like a pro with our industry-leading innovation. User-Friendly design, outstanding reliability, unsurpassed security, and boundless expandability.”

So, I could get all or a lot of those little, you know, braggadocious features in there that all brands want to talk about. But it doesn't come until the third part of the story.

We want to set up the problem from your customers point of view. What is that they want? But why don't they have it? Therefore, here's how we are here to help you get it. It's just a fundamental change, and it just takes a little bit of work to get us out of those features and functions what we make communication and talk about what we make happen from our customers point of view.

11:29 – G: What's the history behind the ABT?

P: Well, I learnt about it from a good friend of mine now, Dr Randy Olson. He was an evolution PhD, evolutionary biologist from Harvard turned USC film grad who went into Hollywood, made three documentaries on climate change and global warming, but has written six books now teaching scientists how to use different story frameworks to communicate their big ideas the same sort of frame frameworks he learnt in Hollywood in his second book called Connection. I read in 2013 when it first came out, and that's when he first introduced the man, but therefore to the science world and from a brander communicator, sales and marketing guy.

I saw the power of the ABT immediately to make a complex sales and marketing message simple. And the other thing about it, Glenn, is, you know, a lot of times I was teaching at Arizona State University at the time and I would get a lot of these big thinkers, these PhDs, and they would cross their arms and say, Oh, here comes Park. He's the soft skills guy. You know, communication, “shimmunication”, you know, we just need numbers and data and charts and graphs. Well, when I could show them the ABT in the power of it in process, and I could demonstrate to them, look, this actually came from an evolutionary biologist who says this has been around and maybe is more important for our survival and evolution than our opposable thumbs. Then I got their attention. Then, all I have to do is show it to them in action and have them work an ABT.

And you can feel it because it plays to that limbic system. Set up problem resolution. So since then, Randy and I became fast friends. We even just co-wrote a book together called the Narrative Gym for Business. A 75-page guide that will walk you through how to use the And, But, Therefore, in business, he teaches it in the science world. I just translated those teachings into the business world.

Once you understand how to implement that structure, it is so easy to implement it at all levels of communication. And I love that origin story in the science world as well.

Because while they may think that what they're doing is all for the benefit of the world and they're doing research and they're publishing articles, they're in sales as much as anybody else. Because if they don't get those research grants and if they don't get that funding their entire career is at risk because they've got nothing to pay for what they're doing. And unless they can communicate those amazing big hairy ideas and everything like that to those with the chequebooks, they’re dead in the water, and then they pitch in for hundreds of thousands of dollars sale at any one stage when they're going through that process.

14:49 – G: How powerful is it when you can get an academic to any sense pitch and win a massive hundred thousands of dollar deal by simplifying their research into a simple three-sentence paragraph catchcry?

P: Randy always introduced me as, all right, now, here's the business guy. He's from outside our world and I know what all you scientists think of business guys are all a bunch of hucksters out there. And then I always get pushback from the business folks saying, Well, I'm a scientist, I'm not a salesman.

I say, Look, if you are trying to get grant funding, you're a salesperson and you're trying to get a boss to buy into your way of thinking and the initiative you want to go after, you're a salesperson.

So we all are if we're ever trying to get anybody to buy into anything that we are trying to promote, to push, you know, I hate to tell you, we're in sales at the ABT. It also does something for them, just like we talked about earlier.

It gets them to talk about their big programmes and their studies from the audience's point of view, from the boss's point of view, from the federal point of view, from that audience, you know, and say, it's not about me.
Here's what's happening out there. Here's what you want in your world, but here's why you certainly don't have it at the moment. However, if you come and help fund me here, I can help you get what you want.

16:21 – G: The other thing that I love about it is when you start with the customer first, when you start with their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations and at the centre of everything is what they want to achieve.

That, for me, is customer-centricity at its best, because it shows that you understand them. It shows that you understand what they're trying to achieve and then you understand the problems and the challenges that they're facing before you start talking about yourself and how you can help them overcome those obstacles.

And it's sad that we have to have that terminology because I should just be saying, if you're in business, you should be talking like this.

P: But it's not people's fault, they don't think about it. You get educated. You get a career going. And what do we all want? We all want the same thing as a professional. We want to look smart. We want to sound smart. We want to be the go-to resource for someone to help them along the way.

But in all of that, we tend to lean on our logic and our reason to sound smart when what our buying audiences want is the emotional appeal of a story. And it's not that they know consciously that they want that.

It is embed embedded in our limbic subconscious system that this is how we make meaning out of the madness of being human beings is through the context of a story, not data. Data makes no sense to us unless we put it in the context of a story, not numbers.

What's the first syllable of numbers? No, because it doesn't mean anything to us unless we put it into the context of a story. So we talked about some of the main rules to be thinking about. Don't hesitate to call them rules.

These are guidelines. So put your audience first at the centre of your story. Your story is not about what you make, but what you make happen in their lives. And then the third one as you incorporate this and, but, therefore, what's the one thing you have to do to be good at it?

You have to be able to research, understand and totally empathise with your audience on every step of that journey. And you know, you know, full well in your world. We have all kinds of data points, touchpoints and your company's touchpoints to be able to do that to get that information, bringing it in and then really know how to communicate with your customer from their point of view, communicating what you're going to make happen in their life. And oh, by the way, this happens to be the vehicle to do that.

19:22 – G: Yeah. And I know when you were teaching organisations around the ABT structure and how to develop it, you say to start with the but first, when you're developing it, not when you're talking about it, but when you're developing it, what's the importance of creating that, that golf, that conflict?

P: Yeah, you want to start with the “but”. And here's what I get pushed back a lot on the ABT is salespeople in particular say, well, Park. I've always been taught to start with the problem, and we have found that that's not correct. That's not where you want to start with the “And, But, and Therefore” you want that statement of agreement in the and to demonstrate who your audience is, what they want and why it's important to them. So, you're trying to paint this brighter picture for them,

That! It sounds exactly like B and G. You understand me because, you know this is what's at stake for me and why that's important to me. Exactly right then with the but, the trigger word, the most powerful trigger word in the English language because it represents a turn in the plot. This is what you want, but this is what's standing in your way, and it ignites that limbic system.

So that's where the problem comes in and you want to build as much conflict and contradiction between that statement of agreement and conflict that then the brain is saying, well, close the story loop for me, man. What, how? How can you help me? Therefore, let me show you how to do it. You know, or what we can do for you? So, to go back to your original question when you're writing an “And, But, and, Therefore” we have found.
Start with the problem as you're crafting it. But Glenn doesn't have this because you know this is what's standing in his way. That's what I know Glenn is. That's Glenn's major pain point, right there. All right. So now let's go to our statement of agreement.

Set that up, Glenn is the new podcast host, and he is so excited about the opportunity that lay ahead for his new show, but he's new to all the production that goes into this. Therefore. Park is here or consultant is here to help Glenn walk through the ten major steps he needs to make this show a success from the get-go. Now, I just pulled that one totally out of my backside, but I wanted to think about what's the main problem starting a big show like this? Absolutely. There are a lot of moving parts, but I don't know what all of them are.

What do I need to pay attention to and what do I need to prioritise? So, you got the aspiration of the show and why it's important to the brand? That man, from the host standpoint, here's what I'm dealing with right now. Therefore, here's how I can help you do that. I want to start with what would be Glenn's major pain point right now. Let's just say it's that he might have several, but I only want to focus on one singular narrative. In this case, it's like, what are the next steps? Yeah, and that's and that's how you set up an ABT.

22:17 – G: And you find that by focusing on that one, you're not necessarily excluding everybody else that have got slightly different pain points because they still resonate with it. It may not be the number one pain point, but it's still like, oh, that looks like me, and I completely get that pain point as well. That's not my exact pain point today, but man, I'm with you on that. But it helps you be laser-focused on your ideal client, doesn't it? And you still pick up that peripheral in and around them.

P: Think of it like a Christmas tree. Now the main thing in this ABT that I just literally made up on the fly with you is the trunk of the Christmas tree. And that's like confusion stems. I don't know. I'm not sure what steps it takes. Let's just use confusion, and we want clarity out of confusion. Now we're going to hang some ornaments on our Christmas tree, but our singular narrative is around confusion.

But we can also then hang a couple of other problems on it that relate to confusion. So then Marvin is kicking off the Touchpoints podcast, and if they really get it dialled in, he knows the impact it can have for his listeners and the brand. But it's confusing on which steps, to begin with, including what kind of microphone? How much time should I budget for this? How much money should I budget for this? Where do I find my guests and others, therefore to clarify this?

You know, Glenn has hired such and such a consultant to help you get through this. This, this, this and this, is the is about confusion, but now we're hanging a bunch of other problems on that singular narrative.

24:05 – G: And the other the other great little story that I love that you tell is in and around how this system is used in so many different areas and the South Park story, I think there would be a great little point to finish off on. And then we can just wrap it up and get on with our days. But I love that self-back story about how they found the gold to keep the audience hooked and engaged and become such a successful show.

P: Yeah. Well, when I first learnt about the ABT again from a Harvard PhD evolutionary biologist who also happens to be an enormous South Park fan, he introduced me to this video that you can see on YouTube called Six Days to Air.

And when Matt Stone and Trey Parker are producing a new show if a new show is coming up this Sunday, and now we're recording this on a Monday, Tuesday, your time Monday here in the states, they are literally writing that script right now.

And I take a couple of days and then I think it's Wednesday. They ship it off. They go into production. So think about how long South Park has been on the air. It's one of the longest-running shows ever second longest-running animated series only to The Simpsons.

So you have no room for error. And what they do is they call this rule a replacement. And this is really where the ABT all started coming together for Randy. And then when I looked at them like, Oh yeah, and what they do is they say, if you have and and and in your script or in your writing and you can replace an and with a butt or therefore do it because it makes a show that goes to this, to this, to this. But here's the complication to that. And what we typically do in business is and and and and and and our audiences to death.

You get one and then watch this, and it's important to him because of this, but he doesn't have it because of this. Therefore, do this. And when I saw that, there's a great little clip of him talking about that, Trey Parker talking about it.

I started doing a bunch more research and I found almost every nursery rhyme is based on the And, But, Therefore, in every major speech from leaders, you're going to see the same thing right down to pop music, Carly. Rae Jepsen, Call Me Maybe. It's got like 1.3 billion views, billion views on YouTube, and it's got an ABT right at the heart of it in the chorus. You know, so this is where you see it. You see it in academia, you see it in science, you see it in pop culture. You see the leadership and you absolutely see it in sales and marketing.

26:44 – G: And if world leaders are using it and we know the power of language and how you use it, and they are masters, they have teams that spend millions of dollars on research and crafting and understanding what gets the most impact. It's a pretty simple first step to then say, well, we should be able to incorporate that into how we communicate with our audience.

P: So, here's the thing that everyone should know about this. Most of these people that I just rattle off that use it don't know about the ABT. They're just intuitively powerful storytellers and know this kind of story tension that they're trying to create with the set of problem resolution thing.

What I would love all your listeners, the viewers to do is do because you're an intuitive storyteller as well is to move from an intuitive to an intentional storyteller using this very simple framework. It's trickier than it appears, so it just takes practice, practice, practice. Your emails are a fantastic way to practise your ABTs.

We really appreciate Park sharing this knowledge with us because when we take those little golden nuggets and we apply it to those things that we do, the impact that it can have, not just on us and our business, but on our clients and our customers. Click here to listen to the full episode and subscribe to join us every fortnight as we discuss how businesses can become more customer-centric, and learn from the leaders themselves.

Where to find Park Howell
Website: or

Links Park mentions:

The Narrative Gym for Business
How to Wield the Story Cycle System to Craft Spellbinding Stories for Your Brand

Call Me Maybe 
South Park Creators - 6 Days To Air 

If you want to understand your customer feedback better, talk to the team at Touchpoint Group.


Contact Us

Fill out your details in our contact form and we’ll help answer your questions!