Why do we love stories?
Freelance content writers know that storytelling is as old as the time. We all heard of old folks gathering villagers around to tell an ancient legend: “the night was dark; fire was crackling in the background, when a loud knock on the door broke the silence…” The story magically transports us into another place - we switch off our minds and focus on the plot. The tales connect with our emotions - we feel what the author feels and see what they see.
Here’s how it works
Stories paint a picture instead of serving dry facts. If I told you: I’m having a cup of tea in the garden, it would make a little impact. But if I described a fragrance of the earl grey infusion, the floral design of a cup and an air filled with a fresh cut grass, this picture would be more convincing, right? By showing a positive emotion – relaxing with aromatic drink after a long day, you’d feel warm towards the scene and a storyteller.
Yes, that far. Your parents used to read stories, which had the magical power of taking you to another world. You were slaying dragons, looking for lost treasures and escaping from a bad witch. Do you remember how captivated you used to be by the plot? You felt the same as the heroes in the story.
You were not alone
And the good news is the power of a good story still works now when you’re an adult. There is scientific proof to that.
Science behind storytelling
You see, there is a function in our brain called ‘neutral coupling’ – it coordinates a storyteller’s brain with a listener’s brain. Through a narrative transport, reader connects emotionally with the author. There’s more to that. If we are presented with the facts, only two areas of our brain are stimulated - Broca’s and Wernicke’s. But exposed to a good story, many more areas activate - including the motor cortex, sensory cortex and frontal cortex.
Interestingly, our brain doesn’t distinguish hearing or reading a story from experiencing it in real life – it’s because in either case, the same set of neurons is being activated. Isn’t that fascinating?
Stories make us remember facts quicker – it’s because a part of our brain responsible for memorizing is the same part we use for imagination. A great example gives us Steve from RPC headquarters: he tells of a history teacher in his college, who was always passionate about the subject. He used to discuss a Mexican War or Bubonic Plague so vividly the whole class sat mesmerized listening with the jaws dropped. None of the students ever before gave a flying flip about these wars, yet all were transported into the events by the power of great storytelling.
Storytelling techniques in marketing
That’s why a good story plays a major part in brand building. Let’s define brand building here. It is creating a positive image of a brand, giving it a personality your customers can relate to. Can you connect the dots?
Good story can affect our behavior
Let’s take the case of Dr. Paul Zak. The neuroeconomist performed an experiment on two groups of people selling trinkets online. The first group was told to write simple descriptions listing only facts. The second group was instructed to craft an emotional unique story for each product.
Pretty incredible - trinkets in the first group were selling for $129, their true value. However the same products with emotional story attached, were all hitting $8,000 mark. That’s how valuable words can be. Quite impressive, right?
It won’t surprise after analyzing a Nielsen study, where the advertising survey questioned 28,000 respondents across 56 countries to discover that consumers want a personal connection when looking for information.
Psychology Today further explores how emotions influence the way we shop. They say our brain, and MRI neuro-imagery precisely, stimulates the way we perceive brands. We pick companies that make us feel good, and not the ones selling best products. Interesting, isn’t it?
So how does it translate to you, as a freelance content strategist?
Let’s start by referring to Antonio Damasio and his book Descartes’ Error – “Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain”. Here, the author shows that emotion is a necessary ingredient in a decision making. When faced with a choice, we refer to feelings and previous events when we had similar dilemma.
The study in the book involves people whose emotional and thinking areas of the brain became disconnected due to a previous damage. These people could process the rational information but were not capable of making any decisions, as they didn’t know how to feel about them.
We choose brands like our friends
Studies show that a positive emotion for a company translates into loyalty and trust. The neuro-imagery in our brains makes us use sentiments rather than facts when sticking to certain brands. That’s why customers pick one product over another – after all many have similar features, yet we are generally drawn to one label – even if it’s more expensive than others.
We pick the brands based on the perceived personality, just like we pick the people around us. We choose the labels driven by emotions and want to connect with companies having similar values to ours. A brand’s personality is expressed through its’ packaging, imagery and the types of words they use to describe themselves.
Hence if you want to connect with the customer, you have to show your personality, tell a story about your brand to trigger positive feelings. Don’t just list features - tell a story about each product.
Have you ever searched for a house? Then you know stories can be powerful. You see, you were not looking for three bedrooms and one en-suite. No – you were buying an idea of sitting in the secluded garden in the evening with a glass of wine. You wanted to hear of a tale of taking an evening shower and going straight to a fresh bed without passing through a hallway. The soft carpets in the rooms told you how fantastic it will be step on them instead of cold linoleum. That’s one of storytelling marketing examples showing how good story affects our emotions and the decision making.
But property is not the only market that uses stories to sell. Each and every brand do it too: Coca-Cola with their Christmas truck rolling in to your town or McDonalds trying to tell us their burgers were growing on the fields just yesterday. Yes, these are all stories.
But let’s get to facts
Let’s say you are after new patio furniture for the summer. You go through a home store catalogue to pick the right one. Which is more likely to catch your eye – the simple ad with a description listing number of chairs and dimensions of the table – or a full size family scene: parents relaxing on the chairs while kids are playing around a table?
Emotionally you are drawn to the other option, right?
You picture yourself in the scene, you see benefits this particular table can bring you – the other table can offer exactly the same features – but emotionally you have already made a decision. That’s how strongly emotions affect our choices. It’s much greater force than a reason alone. That’s why brands refer to storytelling techniques in marketing.
Another example is Johnnie Walker whiskey. They portrait their brand as a traditional, Scottish artisan company that treasures recipes and keeps them in the family. They are also amazing storytellers. Just check The Man Who Walked around the World video above, where Robert Carlyle takes us on a journey to the Scottish Highlands. The bag pumps fill the air, the mist sits in the mountain ridges and a spellbinding Scottish accent tells us a story. Aren’t you captivated and transported to that scene?
See, they don’t mention any offer – no - this would break the spell. They create an emotional connection with the viewer. They entertain while strengthening traditionally Scottish brand image. They bond with us by the power of words.
Now’ it’s your turn.
Be confident. Believe in your story – tell others to follow you. If you don’t believe in your tale, no one else will. We already know storytelling is more powerful than advertising – after all, we do filter most of the ads we see online. They just tune out of our radar. But stories have a special ability to connect with us.
Human factor is important too – no it’s not like you want to be friends with customers, but show a human face behind a brand – look how Co-op and Asda feature their staff in the TV commercials. That’s also part of the story. Find what fits with your brand message – and consistently use it with the right tone of voice, images and colors. Branding also spreads to social media and newsletters.
If you are not sure how to craft a story to capture your viewer’s imagination, hire freelance content writers to do it for you for a fraction of time it would take you to achieve similar results.
Story can trigger good or bad emotions and it’s hard to strike the right chord. Remember that people don’t buy products – they buy how you make them feel. Do you know how your customers want to feel?