Steve Jobs' Storytelling Framework

The 2007 iPhone product launch is a 7-step storytelling masterpiece

Yesterday, I found a case study comparing the words Steve Jobs used in the 2001 iPod launch to the words he used in the 2007 iPhone launch.

It shocked me how different the presentations were.

One was highly technical, the other not. One was full of numbers, the other barely mentioned them. One read like a monologue, the other a story.

Today, I want to talk through the storytelling framework Jobs used for the 2007 iPhone launch.

Hope you enjoy — Nathan.

PS: I added a referral program at the bottom of the newsletter. Refer 1 friend, and I’ll send you the swipe file I use to create quality Twitter and LinkedIn content fast.

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| 1 Storytelling Tip |

The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.

Steve Jobs

That quote comes from a 1994 Rolling Stone article. At the time, Jobs was the CEO of Pixar in between stints at Apple. He spent the rest of his life turning himself into one of the best storytellers ever.

And his 2007 iPhone product launch (full video) is one of the best examples of business storytelling you can find.

The talk is ~80 minutes, but let’s break it down into the 7 steps he used to tell a story so irresistible people were applauding him for charging them “just” $499.

  1. Make your Promise: Your hook. The reason your audience should listen to you instead of dozing off or scrolling. Jobs makes a promise. He says he’s introducing “a revolutionary product that changes everything.”

  2. Share need-to-know context: Set the context by using comparisons on the scale you hope to achieve. Here, Jobs compares what he’s revealing to the Macintosh 1 and the iPod. Two products that, as he reminds you, changed entire industries. He gives a brief backstory but reinforces the promise from earlier.

  3. Introduce conflict / Create a villain: Every hero needs a villain. Batman has the Joker. Harry has Voldemort. The iPhone is no different, so Jobs makes a villain for it. He chooses the current state of the smartphone. “The problem with smartphones is they’re not so smart and they're not so easy to use.”

  4. Raise the stakes: Now, the iPhone needs to take on that villain. Jobs says, “Apple is going to reinvent the phone.” He was right. But think about how bold that claim was in 2007 before anyone had heard the word “iPhone.”

  5. Show off: Jobs shows people the iPhone. But instead of explaining it like a new product, he connects it to ones the audience already recognizes. "An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator… Are you getting it?[…] This is one device!”

  6. Raise the stakes (again and again): Jobs bashes on the poor Blackberry every chance he gets. He says its buttons don’t work properly, its screen is ugly, and its not worth its lofty price tag. The people, he implies, need something better.

  7. Make them want what you want: In 30 seconds, Jobs lists 13 different features of the iPhone that traditional phones don’t have. He knows what he wants people to do — buy the iPhone. But he doesn’t say it directly. Instead, he lists out all the features, then brings up the price. Remember those crappy phones he talked about? Well, they cost $499. So does the iPhone. After listening to Jobs, you know which one you’re going to buy.

That’s the general breakdown of Jobs’ approach to storytelling. You’ll notice it’s similar to the classic “Hero’s Journey.”

Jobs didn’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, he mastered it.

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| Nathan’s Picks |

⚒️ You and I could use Jobs’ framework and have a presentation go horribly. Structure matters, but so do the details. Your gestures, your pauses, your rhythm, your tone, your confidence.

  • I don’t like public speaking. None of those things come naturally. If you’re the same, check out Charisma on Command. They make videos to help people be more confident and charismatic, even if you’re naturally quiet or shy.

  • This one, drawing on Peaky Blinders, is my favorite.

🎶 An AI-generated song by Drake and The Weeknd went mega-viral on every social platform. A stunt by an anonymous genius? A marketing ploy by the artists? A stealth startup? Nobody knows.

  • We’re already seeing AI perform creative projects at extremely high levels. I’m writing a novel with GPT-4 to see if it can tell a story. So far the results are… terrifyingly good. More to come.

💎 “Stop holding yourself back from creating because you’re afraid of being cringe.”

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A message from... Me!

The interest in this tweet blew me away...

In my experience, there are two ways to get good at storytelling:

  1. Study the greats (what this newsletter is for)

  2. Practice, practice, practice

I do a lot of practice through StoryWork.

And so many of you liked, commented, and sent me DMs about the practice I decided to turn it into a guided course for you.

Check it out:

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Looking for more resources to level up your storytelling?

  • Sign up for StoryWork. Copywork is the fastest way to improve your writing. But most writers have either never heard of it or only done it for sales copy. So I created a storytelling copywork course to guide writers like you to become better storytellers. Click here to get StoryWork for just $95.

  • To sponsor the newsletter, reply to this email for details.

I don’t usually look to the business world for great storytelling. My hunch is much of the best happens behind closed doors. But Steve Jobs is an exception.

Other (modern, non-famous) exceptions:

What business leader do you look to for great storytelling?