So many organizations are looking to tell their story; corporate storytelling has become one of the buzzier terms in marketing. And with good reason – a company’s story is the essence of its brand. When a brand comes up with a great corporate story, you know it, you remember it, and you tell it to your friends. A great story can be magical, and that’s why companies are dying to tell them.

However, most organizations are doing it wrong.

A story has dramatic tension. It has characters you identify with. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, a climax and an outcome. Stories work because of the way our brains work; science shows that stories light up more parts of our brain than bullet-riddled PowerPoint slides; rather than just processing the information we’re being told, the parts of our brain we would use when actually experiencing the events of the story are activated.

That’s powerful. But in order to get the full impact you must understand the way the audience experiences it.

A story must speak to the audience in a way the audience wants and expects. As branding veteran Michael Leis said Saturday at the Bar Camp News Innovation/Content Camp in Philadelphia, most campaigns are fairly narcissistic – they’re focused on what the brand wants rather than what the audience wants. What the audience wants is a story that follows the classic story arc.

And yet, as Leis said in his talk, most marketing campaigns don’t follow this arc – they either climax at the very beginning (a big launch) or tease us and then climax at the end (think movie premiere). But in a story structure, that climax should come towards the end, but it shouldn’t be the end. After all, after the dragon is slain, the prince and princess need to share a kiss in the moonlight.

The advent of social media, changing technology and new consumer behaviors have created a greater opportunity for brands that want to tell stories, and they’ve also created greater responsibility. As Leis said Saturday, it’s our job to “manage the play” – and that often means including the ever-more-participatory audience as the characters in a brand’s story.

It isn’t easy to create participatory opportunities for the audience in which they get to play the role of explorer or hero, but the brands that take the time to build that opportunity will win the day. It requires loosening control of your brand message and allowing someone outside the walls of the organization to share in the spotlight. It allows those outsiders to offer their own interpretation of the character, which might not be exactly what the brand manager envisions. But if the right actors get involved and pour themselves into those characters, the impact will be far greater than that of traditional marketing.

Is your brand capable of involving your audience in its story? Can you build that story around something other than your features and functions?

More and more, that’s exactly what you have to do in order to succeed.