9 Reasons Your Brand Should Tell Stories

For CMO’s today, options for building your brand are changing before your eyes. These days, leading brands are thinking like publishers, creating editorial calendars, hiring chief content officers and curating their asses off. This is all good and well, but curated content simply won’t deliver the benefits of creating original, emotive content that tells stories. While a good content strategy most often includes curated content, if you want to control your brand, engage your constituents emotionally over time (a key aspect of branding), control messaging, and generate a desired behavior then creating original content is the way to go.

Consumers today want something more than rehashed content in exchange for their attention. They like stories. Stories spark their imagination and make them want to engage. They want to be led to the magic garden or ride that monster wave. They want to laugh, to cry, to be empathized with.

Great stories make ideas stick, they inspire people to take action. Over-reliance on curation does the opposite and never comes close to the magic of brilliant storytelling based on rich insights about your customers. Great stories can lift a brand’s reputation, build trust, grow fans and create influence.

Here are 9 reasons your brand should be telling stories:

1. People are “wired” for stories.
Stories are how we make meaning of life. Stories are how we learn, teach, how we justify and persuade. Since the dawn of time stories are how we understand and communicate our identities and define and teach social values. Good stories feed our imagination and imagined experiences are processed in the same way as real experiences. Stories create real emotions, the sense of “being there” and elicit behavioral responses, it’s just how we are wired.

2. Research supports it.
In his book Tell To Win, Peter Guber evangelizes the power of storytelling as a core part of the human condition. Gruber argues people are moved by emotion. He states “The best way to emotionally connect other people to an agenda begins with “Once upon a time…”. Results of psychological studies repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story. Additionally, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than copy designed to persuade through argument and bullet points.

3. It lowers our defenses.
When we are being sold through traditional advertising, our defenses are up before we read or hear a word. Skepticism is the rule. Yet when we are absorbed in a story our guard is down, we are open, engaged. When we are moved emotionally we are left defenseless and open to messaging. Remember the Trojan Horse?

4. Stories provide emotion and emotion sells.
In the 2003 Harvard Business Review article Storytelling That Moves People, screenwriting expert Robert McKee wrote that using only logic to persuade rarely works, because while you are using statistics and quotes to make your case, others are arguing with you in their heads using their own statistics and sources. All marketers know people tend to buy on emotion and justify rationally. Ah.. to be human.

5. I vs. We.
Brands alway told their story with “we”. If you want to engage me, you must tell me about you. A good story demands first person, not third person. This is how we relate to one another. “I” means you are giving me something that demands your respect and attention. “We” does not. “I” connects emotionally. And not to be redundant, but emotion sells.

6. Stories are sticky.
Stories have arcs. They have beginnings, middles, and ends. We stay with stories as they unfold. We anticipate the next telling, our emotions moving with the arc of the story. A good story will make people come back for more. They will plan to consume the next episode. If you give people that, they will give you themselves. And they will do so over time. Why did NBC spend so much airtime on the backstories of the Olympic athletes? Exactly.

7. Stories get remembered.
Unless our specific task is to remember, we tend to filter through the massive amount of data we are exposed to daily and remember very little. Our brains have not kept pace with how technology is delivering content. But when information is nestled in a story, we remember. In lieu of a conscious decision to remember, details stay with us because they are embedded in a story. In Pamela Rutledge, Ph D.’s article The Psychology of Storytelling, she states “The human brain has been on a slower evolutionary trajectory than the technology. Our brains still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience.”

8. Stories get shared.
Stories, by their very nature are interactive. We recall our own experiences and our own emotions amplifying the story we’re engaged in. Stories are about collaboration and connection. They transcend generations, they engage and they connect us to others. Through stories we share pure joys and sorrows, our trials and tribulations, our successes and failures. We share meaning and purpose. People share stories.

9. It’s a cluttered world out there.
Today in the United States, 89 million people are going to watch 1.2 billion online videos. Videos, the premier storytelling medium are the fastest growing content form on the web today. That means a lot of clutter. A product demo just won’t break through. Consumers spend much of their time curating an over abundance of content and if you want to stand out, engage them in a story. Otherwise, you’re in the trash. If you can’t tell them a story, there’s little reason for them to pay attention.

I’ll leave you with this intriguing thought about stories from George Dawes Green, the novelist and poet who is the founder of Moth. “At the center of every great story is some kind of human flaw,” says Green. Green believes that some of the most compelling business stories of our time are also story-stories. He attributes much of Apple’s success to our knowledge of the rise and fall and rise of Steve Jobs. By contrast, “One of the great corporate failures in the last 10 years is Microsoft’s inability to find its story,” he says. “Bill Gates is a truly great man, and so we ought to be responding emotionally to Microsoft’s products. But there is a coldness there.”

So go on, tell a story.

Please comment and share and add other reasons to tell stories to this list. No doubt, there are more.