When you read a story (or watch or listen to one), it becomes a vehicle that transports you, psychologically and emotionally, away from the here-and-now and into an absorbing narrative world.
A great story switches your brain from thinking to feeling – a naturally powerful state that means you’ve got less capacity to criticise the content and are more susceptible to letting the story influence your attitudes and/or intentions.
How all the great stories work.
A new theory arrived at the turn of the millennium to account for this psychological phenomenon. Narrative transportation demonstrates how, when you get absorbed in a story, you stop paying attention to the world around you and focus your thoughts, emotions and mental imagery on the story.
Your logic centres disengage and you enter into the emotional world of the story, where feelings influence you more than facts.
Essentially, this means a great story is a kind of Trojan horse for whatever message the storyteller is trying to convey (actually, Virgil’s Trojan Horse story is the perfect case in point, spawning the age-old proverb – “beware Greeks bearing gifts”).
Think about it for a minute. What would happen if I forcibly tried to use facts and arguments to change your mind about something you felt very strongly about? You’d argue back, right? Or, if you weren’t feeling very confrontational today, you might walk away and dismiss me altogether.
When we’re confronted by efforts to persuade us to change our views about something we hold dear, we put our defences up. But when we’re told a compelling story, our guard goes down and we become more receptive to facts and arguments that seek to persuade us.
In fact, research shows the more you’re transported by a story, the more you’re likely to report having beliefs consistent with that story. You’ll also like the protagonist more, which makes you doubly open to persuasion, because we tend to agree with those we like.
And this makes a well-crafted story a uniquely formidable vehicle for compelling you to buy into what a brand is offering – even if you’ve never considered its products before.
What makes a great brand story?
We live for stories – no, we need them. It’s simply in our nature. We want our favourites to be told to us again and again. They comfort us, excite us, entertain us and educate us. We keep the best ones, those that really touch our hearts (or our amygdalas), with us forever and learn from them every day.
Now, imagine if your brand story became your customer’s favourite story.
Research demonstrates there are specific qualities to a good story that can make it more likely to transport and persuade you – and all good copywriters should know them.
- When you identify strongly with a character you become less aware of yourself and more connected emotionally and cognitively with them – even to the extent of adopting their goals and behaviour as your own. Example: The story of Little Red Riding Hood’s misadventures with the big bad wolf is particularly powerful for teaching children to listen to their mothers and not talk to strangers.
- Stories can be more powerfully persuasive when your goals match the character’s goals. The more you sympathise with a character’s narrative arc, the more you’ll identify with them and the more likely you’ll mirror that character’s attitudes. Example: If, as a child, you shared Little Red Riding Hood’s desire for independence from her parents, being intrigued by dangerous strangers or wanting to survive, you might find the story more compelling.
- It’s all about narrative templates.The great stories are almost always about people with problems and how they overcome them. That’s because we’re primed to identify with heroes who confront trouble head on and overcome adversity (after a brief but entertaining struggle). Why? Because the consequences of failure have been so important to the human learning curve since the beginning of time, we’ve learned to seek a safe way to practice our emotional responses to trouble. Stories are kind of like flight simulators. They let us experience strong feelings that we don’t have to pay for later. That means following advice in stories has literally become hardwired into our brains.
- Stories are just plain fun for us humans. You know that instinctively. It’s why movies, TV, the web, newspapers and books are likely a large part of your life. It’s why you return to your favourite stories again and again.
Your brain feeds on stories for some very important reasons – not the least of which is the chemicals released when your amygdala feels strongly in turn strengthens the imprint of a story’s key messages on the memories your hippocampus creates. And, remember, your memories are what make you uniquely you.
Telling your unique brand story in the right way – by helping others identify and feel at one with your brand – is a hugely powerful tool for building your business.
Just like us humans, the stories you tell about your brand configures your business’ biology and ultimately creates the blueprint for its success, making it more memorable in the minds of your most loyal customers.
Want to use the neuroscience of storytelling – or, as we like to call it, storyselling – to boost your brand’s profile and attract more paying customers? Let’s chat!