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The Psychology of Storytelling
  • Contest Factory
  • October 31, 2021

Psychology of storytelling

Storytelling is powerful – beyond what you may understand.  While it has become popular in marketing to use storytelling to build your brand, this is not new, just being talked about in a new light. Storytelling is as old as it gets and how we find the oldest writings on rocks to tell the stories of our ancestors.  So why has this age old method of communication started to be talked about as though it was “found” in research in the past decade?  Because of its age old power to appeal to your emotion.

And when you feel connected to a story, you become emotionally involved… and we know that 86%+ of all purchases are based on emotions.  This right here is exactly why it is being talked about – marketers are learning something we have known but not as elaborately nor have we had the place until the internet to tell a story about our brand, product, or service.  Packaging has not lent itself to long form content generation, but blogs, social media, and storyboarding media using cookies to deliver parts of your story to users at different times in the sequence you want them presented.

Because stories are authentic, they make us feel connected to the characters in the story; in real-life stories you are connected to the characters as these are your family, friends, and inner circle that create your story.  And storytelling is being craved like it has never been before – or maybe we did not know how much we craved it until binge watching became available.  Consumers of all ages are binge watching, reading, and listening to content at stifling rates.

Hill Holiday’s Origin research conducted a study to learn why stories have such an effect on consumers.  The Origin research recruited 3,000 participants between 23 and 65 to review products paired with feature and benefit descriptions as well as products with more in-depth stories. The results were identified quickly that stories were much more effective at selling products.   Origin displayed the findings of their study in an infographic shown below.

The results indicate that storytelling not only has a higher conversion rate but that the perceived value is greater when storytelling tactics are involved.  A fictional story also had an even greater impact almost doubling the perceived value of spoons with eBay bids up to 84% greater than non-story telling ad copy.

The Real Story on Using Storytelling to Sell Products [Infographic]

Storytelling has another incredibly valuable psychological effect and that is retention; people retain information at a much greater rate when it is presented as a story as opposed to a list of facts and figures.  Harvard Business Publishing reports that researcher Leo Widrich notes, “The Science of Storytelling: What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains”, that there’s research to suggest that when we hear a story, “not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are, too.”  This suggests the sensory cortex becomes active as well as the motor cortex based on the words we’re using to tell the story. Your prospect starts to envision the story and this makes it more concrete in their cognition and memory.

Researchers have also found cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin are released in the brain when we’re told a story. These are meaningful for brand recognition in the fact that cortisol is known to help form memories and we all know as marketers, taking up memory share is one of our main goals for brand recall.  Oxytocin is associated with empathy which helps us build meaningful and lasting relationships, yet another goal of marketers. And finally, dopamine aides in keeping us engaged which may as well be the jackpot these days in marketing. We have learned engagement is a key indicator of impending conversion.

Further support of storytelling comes from Harvard Business School as they encourage its use in education. For all the reasons it works in advertising are the same reasons it is beneficial to teach using storytelling. Students connect with characters, engage with the storyline, and feel a part of the story when learning in this capacity.

And if there has ever been a time where storytelling has its own home, consider your social media platforms. These platforms are built for storytelling. From words based to image based to audio based, there are platforms for every medium of storytelling. Never before have brands been set up for storytelling success so well.  Each place your brand advertises is yet another place to tell your story.  Make it memorable.

 

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