By Jessica Walrack - April 8th, 2015

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Can storytelling overcome the modern day obstacles marketers face and gain customer buy-in?

Have you ever noticed how engaged a young, otherwise rambunctious child becomes when being told a story? If so, you have experienced the power of storytelling. But can storytelling overcome the modern day obstacles marketers face and gain customer buy-in? A person who is awake for 16 hours per day experiences over 7 hours of daydreams on average. This totals approximately 2000 different dreams each day, meaning that most people aren’t paying attention to what is going on for just under half of the time they’re awake.* (Klinger, 1978) Furthermore, the Statistic Brain Research Institute found that modern consumers in 2015 have a mere 12 second attention span, a 33% decrease from the year 2000, making it increasingly difficult to engage customers. Third, less than 25% of TV viewers and magazine/billboard readers place any value or trust in the ads they see. Considering these findings, how can marketers better reach their audience? Do stories truly hold the power to break through distractions, engage attention, and earn the buy-in of modern day consumers?

The Science of Humans and Storytelling

The beauty of storytelling is its ability to captivate and hold the focus of the human mind. Below are the interesting scientific discoveries which uncover what is going on inside the brain when a person is being told a story. Stories Improve Memory - The same part of the brain which creates stories using the imagination is also in control of memory. Therefore, when something is associated with a story, it becomes easier to recall. This effect is magnified when an emotional trigger is involved, because dopamine is released in the brain which improves memory and the accuracy of memories. Stories Change the Brain’s Chemistry - Stories that elicit emotional reactions are shown to also stimulate the brain’s production of oxytocin. This leads to increased kindness, trust, and compassion. People hearing the story will feel more empathy for the storyteller and be more open to what they have to offer. Stories Cause Neural Coupling - Neural coupling is a process wherein the brains of people listening to a story experience neurons firing along the same patterns as the speaker. This enables people to experience a story as if it is their own idea and personal experience, creating a sense of connection. Stories Cause Increased Brain Activity - Normally, when people hear information, the following two brain areas are activated:

  • The Wernicke’s area, responsible for reception and comprehension language.
  • The Broca’s area, also responsible for language processing and comprehension.

However, a good story can engage multiple areas including:

  • The motor cortex, responsible for executing movement.
  • The frontal cortex, responsible for problem solving, memory, language, judgment, impulse control, social behavior and motor function.
  • The sensory cortex, responsible for sensing sight, taste, smell, and sound.

This further suggests that the listener is experiencing the story as if it is happening to them, allowing for deeper engagement. Storytelling isn't just New Marketing speak, it's backed up by by real science and research. Next week, we'll take a look at brands who are reaping the rewards of a storytelling approach in their marketing. For more insight into spicing up your marketing through storytelling, check out the upcoming Incite Summit: West, May 18th and 19th in downtown San Francisco.

The Incite Summit East 2015

November 2015, The Marriott Brooklyn Bridge

The USA's best brand-focused marketing conference. Featuring CMOs, SVPs and marketing leaders from Dell, Citi, Chobani, Activision, HSBC, Mondelez and many more.

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