Scientific proof that storytelling sells

Greg Caleo
The Certainty Principle
Scientific proof that storytelling sells

As an avid fan of Freakonomics, I was listening to a recent episode entitled ‘This is your brain on podcasts’. The guest speaker was Jack Gallant, a psychology professor with a brain research lab at Berkeley University. He discussed many interesting concepts … but one of particular interest was a neuroscience test he had conducted that illustrated how the level of brain activity or ‘engagement’ changed depending on the content of the message and the language used.

The Professor put subjects into an fMRI machine and played a series of podcasts with real emotional content. They were hard luck stories, comeback stories, stories about family pets, tragedies, triumphs, etc.

Without exception, when the subjects heard these human interest stories, the recorded activity was broadly spread across almost every area of the brain. It was accessing memories and thoughts and personal experiences. In cointrast, when a single word (or a very rational statement) was played for the subject only a small part of the brain – that related to comprehension – showed brain activity.

So what does this mean for brands?

Harvard released a business article entitled ‘Why your brain loves storytelling’ which advises business people to begin every presentation with a compelling, human-scale story to ensure the audience was engaged.

Any journalist will also tell you this concept is not new. It is the essence of the old trope of ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. i.e. find a tragedy and put it on the front page and watch the paper sell. It’s why the world is so obsessed with reality TV.

The difference is, now we have real scientific evidence of why.

Naturally, I would never suggest you lead with death and destruction in your sales messaging. Rather, to ensure your marketing message includes a real human interest element – than just a product features or benefits - and this will lead to an increased ability of your customers to recall and prefer your brand when the next purchase opportunity presents itself.

Storytelling helps us access the deep memory structures we have imprinted throughout our lives across a broad cross-section of our brain. Helps us be, quite literally, more engaged.

Just being there in front of your consumer isn’t good enough anymore.

In the last ten years, the AdTech companies have provided the ability to be highly targeted with your campaigns. But in the majority of cases, this has come at the expense of the messaging. I wholeheartedly agree that being visible and consistent is key, but the proliferation and reducing cost of these technologies has now levelled the playing field.

Those brands who can establish an emotional connection to their customers via their memory structures will be the ones who will rise to the top.

The problem – and one you should ask your Creative Agency - is how do we achieve effective storytelling and create an emotional connection in an mrec under 80kb? No doubt this conundrum is also the reason Facebook has predicted they will be almost completely 100% video – no text - within a 5 years.

The scientific fact is … storytelling sells. The more brain activity you can evoke, the more likely your customers will remember you and buy your product.