Post updated June, 2017.
Consider two business presentations.
In the first, a sales rep goes through a power point reciting facts about the features of his product. Nobody remembers a thing.
In another, the sales rep tells a story about how a business, on its heels, learns about his solution and uses it to turn the tide. His story uses the business owner as an archetypal magician, showcasing his innovative, creative approach to using the solution and achieving incredible results.
Nobody can forget it – even if they wanted to. The story is detailed enough that it creates a movie in the listener’s minds. They understand the value of the solution without hearing a list of its features.
Who do you think gets the sale?
Sometimes people wonder why storytelling is a part of marketing. After all, stories do not – by design – get directly to the point. They force the audience to draw their own conclusions. Don’t you just want people to understand your product?
You do, but you also have to make an emotional, memorable connection. Both experienced salespeople and brain researchers – in their own way – get this. They know why humans react the way they do. You can’t just state the facts. You have to create an emotional bond.
Storytelling has an effect that transcends fact, rationale, and even conscious thought. It delves into the neurochemistry of our brains, tapping ingrained behaviors and collective experience.
The pertinent question for marketers is asked by Seth Godin:
All the marketing theory, insight and blather that I’ve read fails to explain some obvious phenomena. For example, why do some products seem to market themselves while others struggle? Why are some consumer behaviors so ingrained, while others disappear almost overnight?
His answer covers complex marketing territory: the crossroads of behavioral economics, neuroscience, and the traditions of storytelling.
Neural Coupling: the Science of Storytelling
Star Trek fans know of and telepathically share the thoughts of another. Turns out this is not just science fiction.
Neuro-scientist Uri Hasson of Princeton studied how brain impulses synchronize during communication. It happens most deeply when a story with characters we can empathize with unfolds. Minds “meld” so that we are literally sharing the same mental experience of the story. This is called neural coupling.
You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the power of this connection. When a story creates a kind of “movie in your mind”, the mental images are hard to forget. You remember a great story throughout your life.
If you’re marketing a product and can turn its benefits into a story your audience connects with, you create a far more powerful message than a list of features ever will.
People will understand why they want your product because they’re making a connection to their own lives.
And if the story is well told, it’s a connection they won’t forget.
Beyond the Persona: Archetypes
Marketers know about creating target personas: a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer. You use this “character” to better understand how your real audience will react to your marketing message.
Stories, of course, need characters. In persuasive communication, we often leverage what psychologists call the “identifiable victim effect“, where the details involving one individual evoke deeper feelings of sympathy than a large group.
This is another reason stories are so important to marketing. Weight Watchers can say 80% of people lose weight on their plan, and it goes in one ear and out the other for most of it. But when it’s a story with Oprah in it, the message really hits home:
These individuals don’t have to be spokespeople. In fact, most of time marketing stories use “everyday” people based on archetypes.
With character development, archetypes are recurring motifs/myths, such as the hero, sage, explorer, outlaw, magician, lover, everyman, ruler, jester or creator.
Archetypes are based on Carl Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious.
For example, I don’t know the guys in this picture used with Specialized bikes, but I connect with their story. They are explorers:
Pampers tells stories about the caregiver. Harley Davidson, the outlaw. Apple, the magician. Coors beer, the everyman.
Stories create an image in our mind where we put ourselves in as a character. They trigger emotions that give the message power beyond words. They even tie into the collective psyche of the human race, using character motifs we automatically recognize.
This certainly goes beyond just listing the features of your product.
Create Your Brand Story
All of this may sound over your head, but in fact it’s mostly in your head (literally). Creating a story is not as complex as the science behind understanding why it’s effective.
Consider the main ideas:
- Stories trump “facts” in rational decision making. You gain attention and create memory more effectively.
- A story encapsulates your concept in the tale of an individual, making it easy to relate to.
- Archetypes tap into the subconscious connection to characters we automatically understand.
Business story-lines connect to consumers early in the buying cycle. You draw them in with your story, get them to relate to the value you offer with a character, and use a structure that is easy to recognize yet hard to forget.
With digital marketing, your mediums are limitless. Start with blog posts. Create some short videos. Customers success stories are a natural. Tell a story during a sales call. Definitely try it for a group presentation. Instead of explaining how something works, tell a story that helps people deduce meaning without a factual summary.
Consider your audience. How can you grab their attention? Who is your hero, your outlaw, your ruler? What happens to them? How can you get your audience imagining the same thing you are?
That connection is a powerful tool in the marketing arsenal of any business. Become the best storyteller in your marketing space, and you win the battle of attention – which goes a long way towards winning the market share war.