Mankind has been telling stories for centuries. Myths, legends and fairytales are simply stories passed from generation to generation as a means to entertaining, inspiring and most importantly teaching us about life. Among those to have stood the test of time, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ hit cinema screens again this week in its latest incarnation as a live action movie. Considering the original story was published first in 1740, when it comes to the telling of ‘a tale as old as time’ it’s up there with the best of them. As a story it teaches people not to judge based on appearance alone, to have faith that everything can change even at the very last moment and that, if you want more, everyone is capable of going out and getting it for themselves. More significantly, it enables the audience to not only hear these things but feel them too, every single time the tale is told.
As a species, we all love a story. According to Jonathan Gottschall’s book ‘The Storytelling Animal’ there are scientific reasons for this. He claims that for us to find anything plausible – religion, science, love, friendship and more – there must be a tale behind the claim. When it comes to businesses adapting their branding and getting people to buy into what their brand stands for, therefore, how does storytelling fit into to the modern business world? Is the phrase ‘no story, no sale’ as applicable now as it always has been?
Is storytelling still relevant?
Scientifically it is proven that when human beings hear stories, our brains are activated in many more areas than when we are exposed to purely factual content. Our minds light up as if we are a part of the story, not simply a spectator. This tells us is that when brands tell stories, consumers of such content are less likely to simply look on and far more likely to see what the protagonist of that story sees, and most importantly to feel what they feel. This is known as ‘Neural Coupling’ and as a principle is actually very simple – it is essentially a transaction where the speaker’s and the listener’s brain respond in similar ways during the course of communication. Considered logically, it is like watching a character in a movie experiencing something scary, and feeling scared with them. Using this information, brands have the capacity to engage with their target market on an emotional level, therefore, as well as a factual one, and increase the impact they have on the consumer as a result.
Does storytelling still work?
Put as simply as possible, stories make people feel. The full list of emotional responses stories are capable of triggering is far too long to include fully, and is why they are so effective as a marketing tool – there is no limit to what emotion you can inspire within your target market. Any story told by a brand must in any event strongly communicate what that brand stands for. A brilliant example of this is Nike’s ‘Find Your Greatness’ campaign (video), which tells the story of a number of sports people, all at completely different levels of ability but with each person giving their everything. Watching the promotional video created in which their story is told causes an emotional response whereby, as a spectator, you are willing the protagonist to succeed. Essentially, you become part of their team and want them to overcome their opponent. Through the telling of such stories, Nike activates an emotional response from the audience by enabling them to feel the success of the protagonist through neural coupling, and inspires them to think, ‘if they can, so can I’.
How are the best stories told?
It all comes down to this. You could have Shakespeare, Bronte and Hemingway team up to write your brand a story, but if they don’t know the target audience and your competitor does, the chances are your rivals will engage with them more effectively. Storytelling in business should encapsulate your audience’s aspirations, their needs, all their hopes and their dreams so that they can put themselves in the position of the protagonist and emotionally respond to the content you are producing. The only way to achieve this is to take time in getting to know your audience and communicate with them wherever possible.
Are there any new stories left to be told?
In business, ‘normal’ is not enough when it comes to communicating a story successfully. If all competitors in a market are pushing out the same story, the response to these stories is unlikely to be a significant one. We’re all familiar with Apple, but they quite literally challenged the norm with their ‘Think Different’ campaign and delivered a masterclass in telling the same stories, but differently, at the same time. Featuring iconic people already well-known for challenging perceptions, including Einstein and Gandhi, and the incredible yet familiar stories behind them helped Apple associate itself with some of the most famous individuals of all time. In doing so the organisation delivered a myriad of stories to an audience already engaged in them, but this time bearing Apple in mind and putting it on a similarly iconic level. After this innovative thinking became part of Apple’s DNA, and is something that has stayed with the company since it launched the campaign back in 1997.
In essence, as human beings we are wired to emotionally respond to stories and when brands get it right, storytelling can be an extremely effective marketing tool. It is vital to know what reaction you want to evoke, from whom you want to get it, and how your story is different to everyone else’s before you start. Considering these factors at the outset can lead to the creation of a story that will resonate with your audience time and time again – and help your business create its own tale for all time in the process.