Imagine you just walked into a bakery. You’ve just ordered a large loaf of bread, and as the store attendant packs the steaming hot loaf into the paper bag, the smells rise into your nostrils. Your mouth waters. Such a good and powerful smell.
Are your senses firing? Can you smell that amazing loaf of fresh hot bread?
Scientists have discovered that just reading certain words or phrase, like “hot bread” and “perfume,” make the olfactory cortex of your brain light up - even though you may not be holding a loaf of bread at that moment. Yet even if it’s only a string of words, you can smell the loaf of bread.
Such is the power of imagination: it makes things that are not even slightly real very present. It’s the foundation of the axiom “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
This psychological trick is the power of storytelling: it makes the unreal real.
Stories aren’t just for children, nor are they limited to Harry Potter novels or Netflix series. It’s a skill rooted in our most basic instincts. It’s a way of life. It’s how we have survived and a key factor in our evolution as a species. Stories are what make us human.
Our ancestors told stories around the fire to transmit learnings about hunting, gathering and survival. To survive and thrive as a species, we developed deep physiological responses to stories. They can be used to explain, to inform, to sell, to inspire, and to communicate.
And even in today’s modern context, where shareholder reports and profits, not dinosaurs, are the present danger, we still use story to ensure survival - to inspire coworkers, convince investors and make sales.
As Larry Kim of MobileMonkey puts it…
“Everyone is wired to enjoy a good story.
And everyone has a story to tell, no matter how small.
A brand story is the narrative of your brand, which includes your struggles, successes and mission.
Using storytelling not only strengthens your brand identity, but it also evokes feelings.
You can communicate your brand story through any piece of content to tell a brand story: It could be through visuals on social media, or a long blog post, through fun messenger chatbots, case studies or even explainer videos!
It allows you to engage on an emotional level, and ultimately gives people more insights about your brand, which makes you relatable and help you cut through the noise.”
People buy from brands or individuals whose stories align with their values. This paragraph from David Perrell’s Naked Brands article aptly summarizes the power of stories, “in this modern age; fans don’t just want to support favorite brands. They want to establish emotional connections with them. They want to shape their evolution and feel intimately close to the people who inspire them.”
It is why the most successful brands invest in storytelling. You would have also noticed that the best brands tell a consistent story. Take Johnnie Walker’s long-running “Keep Walking” story theme or Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign as an example.
Our ability to tell stories – which no other species on earth is capable of doing (as far as we’re aware – has made us the dominant species.
Stories allow us to imagine, inspire, and bring powerful meaning to new concepts and ideas that change the way we live. Let’s take money as an example…
Logically, we all know that the paper note in our pocket is not worth the same amount as the number printed on it. It’s just a piece of paper. But we assign it greater worth because we tell ourselves a story about it being an accepted way of storing and exchanging value with other humans. If you think of anything in life that you value, you’ll notice that its value is almost always connected to a story.
In 2006, the New York Times Magazine journalist Rob Walker set out to quantify the power of storytelling. He began by collecting two hundred items of low value (the average cost of each item was $1.25), taking care to ensure there was nothing special about any of them.
A plastic banana here. An old wooden mallet here. Even a plastic motel room key. You get the idea: they had no intrinsic value, whatsoever.
Next, Walker contacted two hundred authors and invited them to become part of his ‘Significant Object study’. He asked them if they would each write a story about one of the objects and then auctioned all the items on eBay with the stories included in the descriptions.
One of the items was a small, plastic horse’s head which Rob had paid just $0.99 for. What did it sell for now that it had a great story attached to it? $62.95. Was this a one-off? Not at all. In total, he spent $197 on the two hundred items and ended up selling them for almost $8000.
That’s a markup of over 6300%.
Stories had transformed these seemingly worthless objects into things of value. Stories are a powerful tool for any brand or individual. They make us susceptible to buying or doing things we might not have otherwise.
Like buying a plastic horse’s head for nearly $63!
Today, there are more ways to tell stories than ever before. But it’s important to remember that what makes a good story today is, at its core, the same as it has always been.
If you’d like to receive updates on my writing and the most interesting thing I have learned in marketing within the week, you can join the 1110 folks who subscribe to my weekly newsletter, Dozie’s Weekly Digest. You can use the unsubscribe link in those e-mails to opt out at any time.