Have you ever spent hours agonizing over messaging — the word choice, the flow, the details — only to have your story come out sounding flat?

If your messaging feels stale, overworked, or just plain “meh,” chances are you’ve boxed in your story. This is what we call it when you become locked (often, unknowingly) into a certain channel of thinking and just can’t get out. It’s like wearing messaging blinders: When your vision is limited, it can be tough to tell stories happening outside your line of sight. As a result, you prevent your story from truly flourishing.

Boxing in your story can — and probably will — happen to even the most experienced communicators, marketing teams, and copywriters. It’s a common problem that can be easily fixed by reframing your thinking and asking tough questions.

Let’s walk through the three most common ways people box in their own stories to discover how you can make sure your story flourishes.

Have I Boxed In My Story?

Before we discuss how to unbox your story, let’s talk about what a “boxed in” story even looks, sounds, and feels like. Here are a few symptoms of a narrative that has been boxed in:

  • Your own internal team isn’t excited or engaged by your idea, product, or service
  • You have to read something multiple times — slowly — to understand what it’s trying to say
  • You forget what a sentence is about as soon as you’re done reading it
  • Customers aren’t engaging with your content, no matter the format or channel
  • Your team or customers understand your mission, vision, or idea but they don’t “feel it” because it’s too general

On the other end of the spectrum, stories that are truly allowed to thrive are engaging, clear, and compelling to both internal and external audiences. Good stories are also sticky, or memorable.

It’s important to note that a boxed-in story isn’t a reflection of the quality of an idea, product, or service. Even the most innovative, novel ideas can be boxed in by misguided messaging, and even the most “boring” products can be brought to life through the right narrative.

So how do people box in their stories? Here’s what we see most often:


Obsessed with the “How” But Forgetting the “Why”

One of the most common ways people box in their story is by putting too much emphasis on the “how” of the story instead of the “why.” This problem is especially prevalent when it comes to messaging for products or services.

In these cases, the message gets lost in the details about how exactly an idea works and how customers will use it. These stories are often filled with technical language and industry jargon.

This is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. Before your audience learns how to use your product, they need to know why they should use your product, or why your solution is better than what they already have. You can save the details of “how” for collateral down the funnel or — even better — for a sales meeting.


Ignores the Customer Point of View

The second way we see people box in their stories is similar to the first, as both are the result of stepping only halfway into your customer’s shoes. Often, messaging doesn’t resonate because it focuses too much on your own company rather than specific customer pain points. We see this in both brand-level and product messaging.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your company mission and how your products and services will revolutionize your customers’ lives. However, this “me me me” messaging fails to bridge the gap for customers between their problems and your product.



Creating a strong message that resonates with customers is a lot of work. It can take hours of research, several drafts, competitive audits, soul searching, and more. As a result, we often find that stale mission and vision stories are the result of half-baked messaging. In other words, all the grunt work needed to craft a finely tuned message — the personas, value proposition, differentiators — have not been fully thought through.

Really, we find that half-baked messaging is the root of most narrative and story conundrums — when you don’t have a strong foundation, it’s easier to focus on the “how” or on your company itself.

Going All-In with Your Story

To create a truly engaging, sticky story, you need to go all-in with your messaging. That means digging into the core of your idea, product, or service; building a thoughtful narrative around your buyer’s vision (or your customers unconsidered needs); and bringing that story to life.

At Everhouse, we package all this work into a process we call “Finding the X-Factor.” It’s a narrative, staged approach to reveal your message and let it sing. Here’s how you can craft your message using our method:

The Origin Story

This is where you dig into the foundation of your idea, product, or service. What is the underlying problem your product was meant to solve? Why does your product matter? Often, it’s best to go back to the inventor, engineer, or original idea-haver to get the most accurate answers to these questions.

For example, maybe your company is selling lab-grown meat to restaurants. Look beyond what your innovation is (lab-grown meat) and identify the Innovators Intent. Maybe this product was created with the intention of making high quality, environmentally friendly foods more accessible to a greater breadth of restaurants.

The Hero

Once you’ve built a strong foundation in “The Origin Story,” it’s time to look at “The Hero” — aka your customers. It can be tempting to glance at personas and quickly rattle off a list of pain points and customer concerns.

However, you need to take your thinking one step further. This is key to creating a sticky story. Your goal is to look beyond known pain points and uncover something that your customer has not considered. Ask these three questions:

  • What is the undetected need? Or, what is a problem for your customers that they don’t even realize they have?
  • Is there sudden urgency? Maybe your customers understand they have a problem that needs to be solved, but do they undervalue the gravity of the problem? Do they understand what they lose out on if they don’t address the issue ASAP?
  • What are our unseen strengths? What capabilities does your company have that address your customers’ unconsidered needs or unexpected urgency?

Again, it’s essential to work through these questions. You need to find where your true differentiation lies because that’s where the heart of your truly unique narrative lives, too. If you rely on the superficial pain points only, you can expect your narrative to feel superficial as well.

Take our lab-grown meat example. The obvious benefits are that it’s environmentally friendly, cruelty free, etc. But is that enough to convince a busy, budget-tight restaurant to switch from their local butcher shop? Maybe not. So, what are the unconsidered needs? Maybe lab-grown meat is more reliable, so restaurants don’t have to worry about price hikes due to a shortage of a certain type of beef. Maybe a smaller restaurant can now offer a higher quality meat than they would be able to afford otherwise.

Once you’re done with these questions, you should have a solid character sketch in your mind of your customer and what concerns and needs they carry.

If you’re having a hard time answering the questions in this stage, there’s a good chance your product or service isn’t differentiated. In this case, the solution is business planning, not message development.

The Journey

This is where you start to write your story and bridge the gap between your customer’s needs and your company, product, or service. Ask yourself: Why should a customer change and use my product? What is the conflict the customer is facing? And how does my company resolve it? When you have answers to all these questions, you should be able to craft a full narrative — beginning, middle, and end.

In our meat example, we know customers should change if they want a more reliable, affordable source of high-quality meat. The conflict is that our hero/customer can’t provide the quality and exact type of meat they would like due to high costs, natural market fluctuations, and unforeseen environmental issues. We would bring this together into a narrative about how our lab-grown meat allows small, mom and pop restaurants to serve Michelin Star-worthy meals with the finest ingredients without breaking the bank.

The Narrative

While you will have a usable message after “The Journey,” you can add in a few extra steps to really make a message memorable. At this stage, your creative team should summon all its storytelling expertise to find out what narrative storyline, archetype, and/or trope is at the heart of your story. Then, take the journey you’ve created and frame it in this new setting.

In this way, you can infuse drama, intrigue, surprise, and more into your message.

For example, our lab-grown meat story has the potential for a great rags-to-riches narrative. Maybe we personify our customers into a single character named Jefferson. It has been Jefferson’s dream to open a restaurant specializing in Wagyu beef dishes — a meal his family would prepare each holiday. When we add some conflict (Jefferson is struggling to get out of the red in a foodie hotspot, Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood) and a resolution (he switches to our lab-grown meat, which gives him budget for marketing while still producing quality meals, resulting in enormous success), we see a more compelling narrative emerge.

Visualize It

Messaging really clicks when it’s visual. Whether it’s a series of illustrations, an animation, a comic or a photography series — adding a visual component to tell your story really makes it sing.

One simple way to do this is to grab a designer and create a character sketch paired with simple illustrations of key moments in your story. You can package these into a simple “storybook” that’s easy to present and share. In this way, you can show a real stand-in for your customers. It also helps your team envision what your story might look like if turned into a video, animation, or collateral series.

Messaging is harder than it looks. But with some research, careful analysis, and creative thinking, your story can blossom into one that drives audience engagement, sales, and more.