The best businesses tell stories. And while stories can be used in a marketing strategy, there is no message that captures your audience’s attention more than a story told from the heart. The best brands know this: at the center of every great business is a story filled with passion and purpose.
My passion is story. I believe every business has a story to tell the world. I believe great stories do more than sell things: they bring people together, inspire action and build legacies that make a difference for the world.
This week I’m breaking down why stories work so well and the ways you can start telling yours to build brand engagement, loyalty and equity for the long haul.
If You Want To Stand Out, Start With Story
Stories get us out of bed in the morning. They propel us to take action when we normally wouldn’t. They dictate what we do in our day,our reactions and our beliefs on any particular subject.
Stories exist because humans exist. Without stories, our lives would be meaningless.
From a psychological standpoint, stories work in wondrous ways. Let’s start with language. When we see a PowerPoint presentation, the language processing areas of our brain (Broca’s and Wernicke’s to be exact) light up. If it’s a particularly boring presentation, nothing else happens.
But if we are told a story, our brains light up like the Fourth of July! Areas of our brains such as motion and sensory activate alongside the language processing areas. So if you talk about lavender or leather, your sensory cortex becomes aroused. You describe a particularly dynamic event and the motion cortex starts working.
And it gets better. When we tell a story, one that significantly shapes our life or has had meaning for us in the past, by simply telling the story to someone else our brains can synchronize (source). Known as neural coupling, identical brain areas in both the speaker and listener light up when told the story, meaning the listener can experience similar effects of the story simply by listening.
Which is all very fascinating but there’s more.
The Science of Story (and Why it Works Like Magic)
Humans are wired for stories. In the most basic form, a story is built from cause and effect. The human brain is built the same way.
We think in narratives all day (source). These narratives help us navigate the world, determine what is dangerous and help us relate to experiences and people around us. The reason we use narratives to relate to the world is so we can group similar experiences together (happening in the insula region) to better understand our part in the collective whole.
But it’s not just how our brain works that makes stories so compelling. The chemical response to story is another factor in why brands need stories.
Oxytocin is a powerful neurohormone known for its intimacy-inducing, empathy-building, lovey-dovey effects. While oxytocin is best known for its correlation with physical touch, did you know it also plays a role in creating bonds in storytelling?
Recent research has uncovered a link between empathy-inducing oxytocin and narratives (source). When telling character-driven stories that start with conflict, viewers’ emotions and empathy were activated more strongly than if told a simple cause and effect narrative. The monitoring of oxytocin showed a spike in the neurohormone as the story was told.
That’s A LOT of science but it’s important. It helps us understand why stories work so well when it comes to not only marketing our messages but sharing our experiences with others.
3 Ways to Get Started With Stories
1 | DISCOVER YOUR BRAND PURPOSE
Why are you in business? In what ways do you want to change the world? What legacy do you want to leave? These questions force us to think beyond our microcosmic world and into the collective.
Building a purpose-driven business isn’t just for big brands with large marketing budgets. Each one of us can actively participate in a better world through our body of work.
Use your brand story to not only sell but position yourself with purpose among the sea of competitors or peers in your industry. With everyone vying for attention, why not stand out with your mission instead of “look at me” messaging so common online these days?
2 | THE CORE OF ANY STORY IS ITS CONFLICT
Conflict is at the heart of any great story. There doesn’t need to be a significant amount of drama (though the greater the tension the better at times), but there does not to be opposition. The key here is to have a firmly rooted and passionate view on a particular subject and to voice it without reservation. For example, Apple does a great job of making sure they are anything BUT the classic suit and tie guy. Ben & Jerry’s has no problem talking politics.
Your conflict is personal. Why are you in business? What are you up against (maybe it’s a cause, organization or outdated way of thinking)?
My business conflict is sleazy marketing tactics sold by internet gurus claiming you’ll make six-figures in six days. That stuff drives me nuts!
I use my brand story to position myself outside that space and fight for the rights of women to tell compelling stories without resorting to the tactics most internet salesmen want you to believe.
So what’s your conflict? Say it loud, say it proud!
3 | TELL A TALE WORTH REMEMBERING
Where the rubber hits the road is actually telling your story to the masses. This is where things can get tricky. For some, telling their story means becoming vulnerable. For others, they don’t know how to tell their story in a way that engages their audience.
My advice: don’t worry so much about what’s happening with your potential clients, focus more on what’s happening in your heart.
Telling a tale worth remembering can’t be found in a particular formula, it can only be found in speaking from a place where passion resides.
Share a brand story your community can resonate with and they’ll remember you always.