I’m not a big popcorn eater but I do have a weakness for Sweet and Salty popcorn made by Sweet As Popcorn in Raglan, NZ. There’s something about the contrast of sweet and salty flavours and the way that they interact with my palate that I find intriguing and addictive. If I’m settled in for the night watching Netflix, its very difficult to stop halfway through a bag once I start.

I’m also a keen follower of the food series MasterChef. One of the comments that judges often make on the show about contestant’s dishes is that they need to balance the flavours better. Balance the sweet and sour flavours, balance the hot and cool, balance the crispy and smooth textures and balance the acidity and alkalinity. It’s the balancing of all these elements that makes food taste great, and it’s the creative and unusual juxtaposition of these elements that makes food exceptional.

Great storytelling needs to follow the same principles. Many B2B brands make the mistake of creating stories that are sickly sweet, have no flavour profile and are not engaging or memorable. Brand stories that are full of bragging and promising, talking about how wonderful their brands are and how successful they have been over time. These types of stories don’t resonate because they are not authentic, and they have no inherent tension or drama to bring them to life.

Like my favourite sweet and salty popcorn, great stories need to juxtapose contrasting elements to make them interesting. Every story needs a hero and a villain, opposing forces, contrasting settings, highs and lows, and struggles and triumphs to bring it to life. The reality is stories need inherent tension to move the story forward and keep the viewers or listeners interested.

The famous novelist Charles Dickens understood this principle well. Here’s the opening paragraph from his iconic novel A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

Think about your favourite movies. Star Wars would not have been the same without the opposing characters of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Lord of the Rings would have been boring as hell without the treacherous journeys, opposing armies, battles, near death experiences and victories against the odds.

When you’re telling your brand story think about how you can use contrast and tension to really bring your narrative to life. Don’t just talk about your successes. Also talk about your failures. Identify the heroes and villains in your story. And add texture, colour and drama by setting your story in a rich, sensory world full of possibilities. At the end of the day it’s the delicate balance of the sweet and sour that creates depth of flavour.