A good story grabs your attention, makes you feel connected, and moves you to action. Sound familiar? It’s the ideal marketing process. The natural progression of thought that occurs when you experience a good story is exactly what a marketer is searching for in a good marketing campaign. This explains why brand storytelling has been such a hot topic in the marketing community lately.
But what exactly is it about a good story that makes this process occur?
Let’s take a look at the science behind storytelling, and how modern storytelling techniques play on this science to optimize the compelling effects of a good story.
The Science Behind Storytelling:
Our brain reacts differently when we hear a story versus when we hear facts.
The neurological effects:
Stories activate 7 areas of the brain vs the 2 areas that facts do. More brain activity means higher attention to the topic and retention of the information.
Stories activate the sensory centers of the brain not the data processing centers (like facts do) this makes it feel like we’re experiencing the story first hand. When we identify with the characters in a story, we experience something called “transportation” which means our brains react as though we are experiencing the story first hand. This allows us to experience something vicariously through a story’s characters.
The Chemical Effects of Storytelling:
When you listen to a story your brain releases the following chemicals.
Cortisol: This is the chemical that tells our brain that something warrants our attention. It induces the fight or flight response that heightens our attention.
Dopamine: Dopamine affects your memory, learning processes and retention of information. When you are interested in something your dopamine levels increase and you are more likely to remember it.
Oxytocin: This is the chemical behind human connection. It affects social interactions and how close we feel to people around us.
Endorphins: Endorphins trigger a happy peaceful feeling in our brain. They ward off anxiety and sadness. Endorphins are triggered by laughing and finding something amusing.
In terms of marketing, if the audience you are trying to reach is in the upper echelon of the marketing funnel in the “awareness stage” you want to trigger cortisol. Cortisol allows you to get the attention of your audience and let them know that the topic you are talking about is something they should be paying attention to. These stories frame the problem your company tackles as something that is important.
Dopamine makes your brand memorable. It moves them down the marketing funnel from the awareness stage because now they are already paying attention and ready to consider and remember what the audience has to say. You trigger dopamine by building suspense and using action scenes. A story with a good hook or one that ends on a cliff hanger is a good way to get your audience to feel this.
You can also trigger dopamine through your narrative choices. By telling the story chronologically and not giving away the ending, you build suspense.
When Oxytocin is released during a story it allows people to identify with the protagonist. As we are taken through a story arc we begin to empathize with the pain of a customer in need of a product or service or with the brand persona themselves. This chemical is most effective on people in the decision-making process, because when it is released, they feel a connection with either the brand or the customer.
When you tell a story using a frame in which the character needs to overcome struggle in order to persevere, such as the hero's journey, we empathize more deeply with them. This can be done by framing the founding of the company as a narrative hero’s journey that leads up to their success or by framing the customer as having to overcome a struggle with the help of the brand.
When you personify your brand, it releases oxytocin in the brains of your audience, allowing them to connect with it on a deeper level. When you share your founding story or information about a brand in a narrative form it allows them to connect with your brand on a deeper level.
You can also frame case studies as stories with your customer being the protagonist. This form of storytelling puts your audience in your client's shoes, allowing them to "experience" their success. When using this method, you want to establish a connection between the audience and the protagonist before you move into the problem your company solves, the reason being you want them to experience the problem and solution as the character from the beginning.
Endorphins are released through funny stories. When you make your audience laugh through one of your stories, they feel more relaxed, creative and focused. This is the perfect mindset to be in when you want them to make a decision, like enjoy your product.
Modern Forms of Storytelling:
Creative storytelling means constantly finding ways produce these chemicals and neurological responses in the minds of our audiences. By better effecting the motions of the audience, the creators’ story can better drive their audience to action.
Modern storytelling is more about catering an experience over telling a direct story. Brands can do this by using social media to craft an overarching brand narrative or using augmented and virtual reality to make a digital experience feel more real.
Social media is engaging to an audience because it uses transmedia storytelling to let the audience experience a story in a nonlinear and multi medium way.
On social media, capturing your audience’s attention is extremely important. With so much content to choose from, the visual choses a creator makes and what they choose to tell on each social media is vital to their story.
To ensure they gain the attention of their intended audiences, brands can utilize artificial intelligence to look for patterns in the type of content their audience engages with most. Implementing technology to help with the creative choices that go into content creation is a great way to ensure you are able to emotionally affect your audience.
Modern social media also brings attention to the authentic story that is being told by brand users. User-generated content can be powerful because it is coming from an actual person as opposed to a brand. This makes it easier for the audience to empathize with the story. Find out how AI is discovering the authentic brand stories being told through user generated content in this case study.
The effect of “transportation” is so powerful that our brain reacts as though we are experiencing the effects of a story as one of the characters. Immersive environments like virtual reality expand on this effect of storytelling by also transporting the audience through multiple senses. Stories active the sensory parts of an audience’s brain. When you pair this with added transformative audio and visual technology the feeling of transportation grows.
Augmented reality is another way that a storyteller can allow an audience member to experience a story rather than be told it. By blending aspects of reality with computer generated images and sounds it makes the story more engaging and creates more interaction between the storyteller and the audience.
Virtual and Augmented Reality play on the transportation effect to make stories even more effective. By creating a closer bond between the user and the characters in the story it could affect the chemical responses in the brain as well.