Hitmetrix - User behavior analytics & recording

When Science and Storytelling Collide: How This Translates to Increased Demand for Your Brand

storytelling and science

It’s No Longer Profitable to Simply Churn Out Content

We all live busy lives and are constantly flooded with messages, adverts, and content. To try and overcome this problem, businesses are resorting to simply “shouting louder” into the digital void. This involves churning out more and more content, produced with little or no consideration for any real business goals. The result is content chaos: businesses trying to stay afloat by producing as much content as possible. All results in an endless cycle of ineffectual content. Instead, businesses need to take a more scientific approach to their content. While many of us might associate storytelling with watching a movie or reading a book, we can actually approach it systematically, harnessing its power to create better business outcomes. But what does this look like in practice when science and storytelling collide?

Unraveling the Power of Stories – How Do Our Brains Respond?

Once upon a time, the B2B buyer was considered a rational, emotionless being. Now, behavioral science and new buyer research tell us otherwise, but this myth is still deeply entrenched in B2B marketing. While brands battle it out over the latest product feature and pricing, there’s one competitive advantage proven to outmatch all others: story. It’s time to invest in the one thing that can’t be copied.

Before we look at the business implications of storytelling, we need to understand the human implications. The two are tightly bound. The human brain recognizes patterns in information and assigns meaning. The stories we derive from these patterns allow us to better understand the world around us. When science and storytelling collide, we see ourselves in them, and the stories we hear become personal.

Stories Affect Our Chemistry

Listening to a story releases chemicals in our brains. Cortisol and dopamine can grab and focus our attention. Endorphins can make us more relaxed. Perhaps the most magical of these is oxytocin. Oxytocin is strongly linked with empathy in social interactions. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak explains, “Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others.” It’s also been identified as the neurochemical responsible for “narrative transportation.” Or rather, the moment when we begin to emotionally resonate with a story’s characters. When our attention has been captured and our brains intuit their emotions so we feel them too.

Stories Affect Our Actions

Research shows a link between hearing a character-driven story and increased oxytocin synthesis. These increases in oxytocin affect our behavior, even after a story ends. When Paul Zak’s team told test subjects the story of a terminally ill child and asked them to donate to a charity, subjects with higher levels of oxytocin gave more generously. Similarly, when two test audiences were dosed with artificial oxytocin or a placebo and shown public safety ads, the group riding an empathy high reported being more likely to follow the safety advice.

Basically, when you tell your audience a story – especially a personal, emotionally compelling one – their neural activity begins to mirror yours. You alter the chemical balances in their brain, and they become more receptive to your message. When science and storytelling collide intentionally, you only stand to benefit. Yet still, we see many brands in 2022 continue to neglect centering storytelling in their internal communications and external materials.

Stories Even Affect Our Relationships

Neuroscience illuminates the way stories affect us as we listen to them. But we have to turn to anthropology and history to understand how stories affect our lives and communities on a much grander scale.

Since the earliest days of oral storytelling, stories have helped to define, develop and preserve human life. A clear example is the Indigenous Australian ‘Dreamtime’ story of Tiddalik the Frog. In the version told by the Gunnai Kurnai people of Gippsland, Tiddalik is a greedy frog who drinks all the water in the billabongs, rivers, and sea. Rather than punishing or outcasting the frog, all the local animals team up to make Tiddalik laugh, sending the water rushing back to where it belongs and helping the frog return to normal. By telling and retelling Tiddalik’s story across the land for tens of thousands of years, communities to this day won’t soon forget the preciousness of natural resources, the dangers of selfishness, and the power of working together towards a common goal.

What Does This Mean for Businesses? How Can They Use Storytelling?

Narrative psychologists argue that the stories we tell about our lives are a form of identity. The events we choose to include, and the events we choose to edit out, simultaneously reflect and shape who we are. As The Atlantic’s Julie Beck writes in her introduction to the field, “A life story doesn’t just say what happened, it says why it was important, what it means for who the person is, for who they’ll become, and for what happens next.”

For business leaders, all this begs the question: Does your brand have a story that fully reflects its brand “identity”? And how might you change that story to shape your organization’s future? In short, how can we harness the power of storytelling to make a positive difference for our business? 

  • Use It to Engage

“If you ask a group of nine-year-old children about gravity, one or two will perk up,” says author and journalist, Lucy Hawking. But tell them if they were on Mars they could jump 2.5x higher, and then ask them to imagine playing football on Mars—and it’s a very different outcome. This principle holds true for 20-year-old students, 40-year-old CIOs, or whoever else you want your content to engage. To create more engaging content, tell stories.

Crucially, if we want to educate our audience, we need to tell stories that: take place in a world they understand, that revolve around their interests, and that allow your audience (not science or your branding) to take center stage. 

  • Use it to Persuade

We know how profoundly listening to a good story can affect our brain chemistry and our subsequent behavior. There’s a huge opportunity to put this knowledge to work in the content you create. It helps your audience receive and act on your messages. You don’t have to read Joseph Campbell from cover to cover. You should familiarize yourself with the basics of “the hero’s journey,” and understand three- and five-act structures.

These common narrative models can play a powerful role in everything from your video content to your case studies. And you might be surprised by just how much more persuasive they make your messages.

  • Use It to Build a Brand

We all understand that a strong “brand narrative” can help us to define our organization’s purpose and values. It also communicates these to our employees and customers. But did you know that simply telling stories could positively affect people’s perceptions of your organization?

Researchers studying the Agta community in the Philippines found that good storytellers were more likely to be chosen as social partners. They also were more likely to receive support from the community when they needed it. This demonstrates the impact of storytelling as a means of building appeal. It works just as well for brands as it does for individuals. 

  • Use It to Make Your Data Meaningful

Culture transformation expert Karen Eber tells the story of a college advisor trying to convince a university that it’s failing students with autism. Rather than simply present the data – which the institution’s leaders already had – she related the struggles of a single student, Michelle, as she attempted to navigate the university’s processes. When she eventually presented the figures that only 20% of students with autism were graduating, her audience could understand what it actually meant, and why they needed to take corrective action. This is the actionable change that is made when science and storytelling collide.

Data is an increasingly plentiful, valuable resource for modern organizations. But whether you look to motivate teams or convince customers, use stories to give context and increase its strength.

  • Use It to Create Value

Could telling better stories about your products and services actually increase their market value? It’s a bold idea, but there’s reason to think it might. The organizers of the Significant Objects Project bought objects from thrift stores and garage sales. Then they asked writers to create new narratives around them. The items then sold on eBay with the stories in the place of the factual description. Whether elevated by the power of their story, or by their new status as muse for a recognized author, the tchotchkes which had cost a total of $128.74 to buy, sold for a total of $3,612.51. Simply put, a strong story can work wonders in increasing perceptions of a brand’s value.

Final Thoughts

Whether a business wants to see improvements in conversion or engagement, a story should always be at the heart of its message. The data we see at Turtl continues to suggest that consumers see greater value in having content presented to them in a modular structure. This helps build narratives with a story that is relevant and curated for the reader. People like stories and stories bring change. When science and storytelling collide, your consumer is engaged, and your business profits.

Related Posts
E-Book Popup

Unlock the Secrets of Digital Marketing in 2024!

Subscribe to our newsletter and get your FREE copy of “The Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing Trends in 2024"