In our ancestral past, one of the most valued roles in society was the storyteller. These individuals acted as the ‘archive’ of the tribe or group, remembering events and stories, and passing them on to younger generations, to ensure learning was not lost.
But once we had books, and then computers, we forgot about storytelling. Nowadays, stories are often viewed as being just for children, or for leisure. Millions of years of human history and evolution cannot be overcome that quickly, however, and in our social media-enabled world, stories are becoming increasingly important, especially in marketing.
Neuroscience shows that we are programmed to have an emotional response to stories, especially when they connect with our own experiences and problems. This makes storytelling absolutely vital in content marketing. In fact, some experts have argued that content marketing is storytelling, and that’s our conclusion too. But just telling a story isn’t enough. It needs to be the right story, told in the right way, which is the focus of our coaching.
So what is the right story? It’s a story that connects and resonates with your customer. You have to build a shared connection, and really know your customer well. There is unfortunately no substitute for doing your homework and knowing your market. You have to ask questions so that you know what your customer needs. What’s their personal situation or problem that you can help solve? Your story has to go right to the heart of that.
And what about telling it the right way? Stories need to have a beginning, middle and end: a denouement. Research from Paul Zak, the pioneer of neuroeconomics, found that the brain responds to stories by releasing oxytocin, but only when they contain these elements. Oxytocin is also known as the ‘trust hormone’, and seems to be a key part of feeling safe. In other words, tell a story in this form, and you will start to build trust with your audience, making them feel that you can be relied upon. Omit these elements, and your audience will not recognise it as a story. The emotional response will not be there, and you will not build trust and rapport in the same way.
This structure may be the most important aspect, but there are also others. For example, it’s good to combine facts with your stories, because this seems to act as a bridge between the left and right sides of the brain. This link between logic, emotion and creativity helps to activate more of the brain, and ensure that people are engaged on both logical and emotional levels. The best decisions are made using both logic and emotion.
Metaphors are also useful to help us to experience stories effectively. Research shows that helping your audience to imagine the situation, for example, describing how something might feel, engages the brain more effectively. Brain scans show that those listening to a story engage with it as if they were participating. When something is described in sensory terms, it activates the sensory areas of the brain. Hearing about how someone moved activates the movement centres. Listening to facts, on the other hand, only engages the language-processing part of the brain. It’s not nearly so powerful.
Experiencing a story with more of the brain helps us to remember more effectively, as if it had actually happened to us. And after all, the aim of content marketing is to be remembered and memorable.
Making a personal connection
Your story also has to be personal, true and not contrived. As human beings, we can detect insincerity faster than almost anything else, and it turns us right off. You are aiming to make a personal connection with your audience when you tell a story, and that means an emotional connection. You can’t do that if your own emotions are not engaged. It has to matter to you too.
The stories you need are the ones where the product helped someone, preferably someone you know. You will be able to tell these as if they matter, because they do. And more importantly, your audience will be able to see how it could matter to them, too, and how it could help to solve their problem.
Storytelling is an art. Our ancestors knew that, which is why storytellers were revered and respected. It takes time and hard work to develop it. But in a social world, it’s a vital skill for marketers everywhere, whether online or in person.