Why can we all recite lines from Shakespeare, remember characters in a Jane Austin novel, or quote from a movie and yet forget a pin number? It’s because stories are more meaningful and memorable to us than unrelated facts or information.
Storytelling is part of our DNA. For people of any age, from any culture, at any time in history, stories have played an integral part in how they understand their world and connect with one another.
For thousands of years, as evident by the cave drawings of early civilisations, telling stories has been our primary communication technique. A child learns a vast amount of knowledge – words, ideas, social intelligence and morality – through stories. Children are constantly creating stories: they turn toys and objects into characters with intentions and goals. Even a very young baby prefers when a spoonful of food is actually an aeroplane coming into land.
We are all social creatures. We create meaning and memories through social interaction, and stories capture the essence of our social interaction. It is estimated that personal stories and gossip makes up 65 per cent of conversation.
Do stories sell?
Stories are the touchstone underpinning out beliefs and values. Everything – history, science, religion, love – needs a story to be credible.
We cannot buy anything unless we know the story. What is it and why do we need it. This simple narrative triggers an emotive and cognitive response that influences our behaviour and real-world decisions.
Having a compelling story creates a competitive edge. The salesperson that tells a story about the product and how it works, such as a case study or story about its design, will be more persuasive than if they just list the features.
Why do stories affect us so profoundly? Scientists have found that different parts of our brains are activated when we hear a narrative, compared to when we listen to a list of facts.
Our brains recognise and respond in an interesting way when we hear a story. If we hear a description of physical activity, our motor cortex lights up. If someone speaks of a beautiful scene or delicious food, it sparks our sensory cortex to respond (which explains why we immediately get hungry). We are conditioned to recognise the causal link between actions, and we relate these to our own experience.
How can you use storytelling to sell?
- Start by telling your business story (including the personal story behind the brand or company) with your reason for being and point of difference
- Share real-world customer stories that describe the problems your products or services have helped to solve
- Use narratives and ‘characters’ to describe how your products works and who they might be perfect for
- Share news updates or behind-the-scene glimpses of your brand regularly with your audience – even day-to-day events that reveal a bit about your brand and what ‘a day in the life’ is like
Stories entertain, inform, persuade and motivate action – all the things that marketers aim to do with brand communication.
How are you telling your story?