Storytelling—A Crucial Element to the Success of a Brand

Brands can use the emotional response of their audiences to storytelling to achieve their vision and goals.story-telling-collage

Long gone are the days when brands could just rely on broadcasting their messages to reach and motivate their key audiences. We have entered a consumer-centric age in which a new media environment is on 24/7 and digitally accessible from anywhere. This empowers audiences with more control over the information they receive and the brands they decide to endorse.

In this new paradigm, companies must learn the art of storytelling in order to effectively reach, engage and convert their audiences into brand evangelists. Storytelling is what captures an audience’s attention, as it prompts individuals to connect to their emotional and spiritual energies to establish whether they agree or dissent with the story being told.

The use of storytelling to promote the sale of products, services or brands is not a new concept. It is instead the ongoing evolution of technology that has empowered companies with new and highly effective ways in which to engage and interact with their audiences. On a broader level, storytelling can also help a company define organizational values, establish a company culture and, ultimately, educate others giving them the opportunity to better understand its mission, philosophy and core values.

The need for brands to shift from message broadcast to storytelling has become a crucial element for success. A brand is not an abstract philosophical concept that resides outside of a company. It is rather an enduring account of multiple emotional experiences that audiences experience when they think or come in contact with a product or images that evoke that brand. When a company tells an inspiring, motivating and engaging story, social media platforms become the most powerful conduits to share the story virally around the world and drive attention to the brand.

Growing the client base, promoting sales and conquering increasing market share continue to be some of the key goals of the traditional brand building process. However, today that process has undergone significant change. While in the past brand building focused chiefly on feeding customers facts about a product/service, today audiences report that storytelling is what captures their attention and gets them also to fancy a particular product or service over another.

But what is this fascination with storytelling? Some argue that it could be a consequence of the exponential growth of social media, as an optimal conduit to promote and disseminate stories. Others simply state that stories help us to understand who we really are, establishing an emotional connection to the main character or topic of the story–ultimately, connections lead to loyalty. However, a post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network by Paul J. Zak –a professor at Claremont Graduate University and President of Ofactor, Inc.—reveals how recent scientific work is putting a much stronger emphasis on how stories change individuals’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

In his post Prof. Zak explains, “As social creatures, we depend on others for our survival and happiness. A decade ago, my lab discovered that a neurochemical called oxytocin is a key “it’s safe to approach others” signal in the brain. Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions. Empathy is important for social creatures because it allows us to understand how others are likely to react to a situation, including those with whom we work.”

Further studies conducted by Prof. Zak and his team revealed that character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis. In addition, the amount of oxytocin released by the brain was identified as a strong predictor of the degree of willingness of people to help others; i.e., donating money to a charity associated with the story being told. Subsequent studies also revealed that to motivate a story attention must be generated by developing tension during the narrative. Stories that can trigger that tension will most likely prompt an audience to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, be prone to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of such characters.

A compelling example of the discoveries made by Prof. Zak and his team are provided by the Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches video, which registered within a couple of months nearly 150 million total views. In this short video an FBI-trained sketch artist draws women first based on their own self-perception and then on that of a stranger. The stranger’s descriptions resulted consistently closer to what the subjects actually looked like. This helped Dove underscore the point that women have a propensity to be exceedingly critical of their appearances and failing to recognize their true beauty. The emotional feelings stirred by this video sparked incredible brand awareness, without a single mention of Dove and its products throughout the video.

Undoubtedly, good stories inspire and motivate us all. They ignite an emotional connection to the plot and/or character(s) that sparks passion. Storytelling is crucial to the success of a brand due to its powerful connection-loyalty and trust-building attributes. Ultimately, we are beasts of emotion more than logic. We love to tell and hear stories. Consequently, for a brand the journey to effectively engage and motivate its audience must begin with “Once upon a time.”