News article

The psychology of storytelling and how it can transform your marketing

In his best-selling book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari wrote:

“Homo sapiens is a storytelling animal that thinks in stories rather than in numbers or graphs, and believes that the universe itself works like a story, replete with heroes and villains, conflicts and resolutions, climaxes and happy endings.”

His all-encompassing history of humanity posits that it is our love for stories and our ability to believe in a collective narrative that sets us apart from other animals.

Indeed, stories govern almost every aspect of our lives. The companies we work for, the laws we abide by, and the governments that make them are all narratives that we collectively subscribe to. When we get home, we spend our free time watching stories on the TV or reading them in books. Even when we’re asleep, our brains dream wild stories with us at the centre.

For some reason, our brains latch on to a good narrative, and the right story can evoke emotions and guide our behaviour in powerful ways.

That’s why stories are a vital part of your marketing. If you don’t tell the right story, you won’t attract the right clients.

Read on to learn more about why narratives affect us so much, and how you can leverage this aspect of human psychology in your marketing.

The “moral molecule”

Studies show that when we hear a story, our brain releases oxytocin. This is known as the “moral molecule” or the “love molecule” because it makes us more susceptible to social cues and emotional stimulation.

So, when we hear a good story, a physical change happens in our brain that makes us more engaged and more receptive to what we are hearing. It also encourages us to form emotional connections.

Conversely, our brains do not respond in the same way when we hear a simple statement of facts. Instead of the emotional centres in the brain lighting up and releasing oxytocin, the language centres activate, leaving us less engaged.

As such, the right story has the power to change our brain chemistry, and that change helps us to establish valuable connections that can boost your marketing.

Stories build bridges

It took 14 years and 2,000 people to build the Golden Gate Bridge.

To achieve incredible feats like this, and build the technologically advanced world we live in, humans need to work in groups on a much larger scale than most animals. That’s why it is so important that we can forge connections with one another quickly and assess whether somebody that we are talking to is a friend or foe.

We often do this through a process called “transportation”.

Most conversations consist of stories about our lives. When a story catches our imagination, and the subsequent oxytocin release triggers the emotional centres in our brain, we begin to mirror the emotions described in that story. Our brain transports us into the narrative.

It’s why we get excited when watching an action film or cry over a good book. Logically, we know that we aren’t really jumping out of the back of a plane, but our hearts still race anyway.

This emotional stimulation is the foundation for empathy, and when you feel a shared emotion, it allows you to connect with another person. It builds a figurative bridge between you.

And when we build these emotional bridges, we can cooperate on a large scale, allowing us to achieve feats we otherwise couldn’t. Like building the Golden Gate Bridge, for example.

If you can create narratives that trigger this process in your marketing, you can forge valuable connections with potential clients.

Here are some key tips to help you improve your storytelling.

1. Lead with the emotion

You’d likely be disappointed if you went to see the latest instalment in the Mission Impossible franchise and Tom Cruise spent half the movie doing paperwork or filing his taxes.

Presumably, secret agents have to do “life admin” at some point, but the writers skip this because it doesn’t create an emotional reaction in the audience.

Consider this in your own marketing and lead with the emotion. People are unlikely to feel anything if you talk to them about what percentage of their salary they should contribute into their pension each month, for example.

However, if you talk to them about the lifestyle and experiences they want to have with their family in retirement, you evoke a strong positive emotion. This triggers that response in their brain and engages them with your narrative. As a result, they may want to learn more about pension contributions.

2. Build narratives around a conflict

The “hero’s journey” is a narrative template that forms the basis of many stories, from ancient myths to modern TV shows. It tracks the hero as they leave their familiar world and go on an adventure, overcoming conflict and ultimately returning to the status quo at the end.

In almost every narrative you’ve heard, there is likely a central conflict that sparks the hero’s departure from the familiar world. Without this, there is nothing to drive the story forward.

In your marketing, conflict doesn’t have to be especially negative or dramatic, either. It could be a common question that a client has, such as deciding whether to put their wealth in cash savings or investments, for example.

The important thing is that there is a challenge to overcome or a question to answer, and that this conflict resonates emotionally with the reader.

3. Add a unique twist

Seasoned director M. Night Shyamalan is known for the absurd plot twists in his films. The psychology behind our love of misdirection may help you with your marketing.

Every plot twist has two parts – the set-up and the big reveal. The reason we enjoy the big reveal so much is that it allows us to go back and make sense of the information we saw in the earlier part of the film.

In other words, our brains respond to being given a puzzle, and then being offered an unexpected solution.

You can do this in your marketing by adding a unique twist, much like how this blog started with a quote about narratives and storytelling. Your first instinct may have been: what does this have to do with marketing?

Nevertheless, you read on because you were curious about where I was going with this. Hopefully, everything clicked into place as the link between the psychology of storytelling and your own marketing became clear.

Adding a unique twist to your marketing content allows you to create that “plot twist” experience, ultimately making it more engaging. This is something that Katie covered in more detail in a recent blog.

Get in touch

If you have a story to tell but you can’t quite find the right words, we can create high-quality content to connect with your audience.

Please get in touch by emailing or call us on 0115 8965 300.

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