Who could doubt the power of storytelling in marketing? In the 1960s, the Ford Mustang was introduced and sold in record numbers because it was marketed on the basis of a story of freedom and “the American dream.” Ford wasn’t just selling a car, but a way of life. Their story resonated at an emotional level—and it worked. Fifty years later and I still drive a Ford.
The Emotional Hook
Stories are so powerful as a marketing tool precisely because they work at an emotional level, engaging parts of the brain that data and hard facts do not. In fact, stories disarm the inherent scepticism we employ when we’re confronted with facts and figures. Making the right decision is not just a matter of statistics, but of feelings. There are few better ways of reaching people’s feelings than through telling a story.
Stories are how humans make sense of the world. Whether at a personal, corporate or political level, stories present complex information to people in ways that they can easily relate to and understand. As the world becomes more complex and we are subject to ever increasing amounts of information, the power of storytelling becomes ever more important.
Developing a Brand
Today, marketing is not about the stuff you sell but the stories you tell. Airbnb, for example, has effectively used stories based on their brand values of breaking down barriers between people. “There are still many walls that divide us between nations, ideas, and cultures”, says an Airbnb spokesperson. And they use powerful stories, such as “Wall and Chain” which is based on a real-life traveller’s experience of bringing people together in formerly-divided Berlin, to support their branding message. This story has been so successful that it has been viewed by at least 8 million people with 130 press hits in 15 countries, proving that people love stories.
But it’s not just businesses that understand the power of such stories. “The New Zealand Story” is an initiative using compelling storytelling about real New Zealanders to promote the country to the world by “defining the distinctly Kiwi attributes that make us unique and communicate our value to the world.” This story is a critical part of New Zealand’s efforts to enhance its global reputation and to market its export and tourism industries.
Some of the most dramatic changes currently taking place in the world are a direct result of the use of simple, compelling stories. The “Brexit” campaign in Britain (leading to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Community) reassured the people they could take back power over their own country—through a simple and compelling story—and the people reacted with a majority of votes supporting the plan. In a world where we are inundated with a bewildering array of information, the simple and compelling story that touches the emotions (for example, pride in one’s nation) is one of the most powerful tools that anyone can use to change people’s behaviour. Imagine if we could create just such a compelling story about how to address climate change.
The Power of a Good Story
There’s good reason why stories are so powerful. It is difficult for humans to know more than around 150 people. Groups larger than this are often held together through a compelling story that unites them with a shared narrative. Whether a nation or a company, they are held together by compelling stories that enable people to buy into a vision larger than themselves. Religions are perhaps the most successful example of this, motivating billions of people around the world on the basis of shared stories that give context and meaning to our lives.
We use stories to make sense of our personal lives too, creating narratives that provide some meaning and purpose to our often mixed experiences. Consciously or not, most of us are actively involved in marketing a vision of ourselves that we want the world to see as we shape our posts on social media in ways that we hope will impress our audiences.
New technologies, including social media, profoundly increase the opportunity for anyone to be involved in storytelling. Given that humans are “greedy for stories,” storytelling is going to become even more widespread and impactful because stories persuade in ways that facts never can. We love stories and they are a critical tool—perhaps the most profound tool for capturing people’s attention and changing their behaviours in an increasingly complex world.
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This post was provided by Stephan Rainbow