The Science of Storytelling: 5 Ways to Get People to Engage with Your Brand

December 2, 2021

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Stories are innate in our culture. 

We grow up with stories from the moment we are born. Some are created as warnings. Stopping children from venturing too far out into the woods, or playing at rivers. Others are told so we remember the champions of old and continue the great spirits for romance and adventure.

Branding is your company’s story. It’s how people recognize and understand what you offer. As Jeff Bezos so adequately quoted “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room”, so it helps if you are memorable.

two women talking

Branding is both an art and a science. This article looks at some of the many evidence-based methods and formulas to help get your brand noticed.

Joseph Campbell reveals one such formula in his book ‘A hero with a thousand faces’. He compared stories from cultures around the world and found they shared common traits. He called them the hero’s journey. A Twelve steps cycle that all great stories still use today, from Star Wars to Harry Potter.    

You can use this formula for building a brand. This can help make your customer the hero of their user journey, but you still need to get your customers’ attention. Here are five ways to aid in that with the help of the science of storytelling.

mother holding her child

1. Go Dr.Frankenstein in your language

Online, you are competing for the attention of potential customers and get very little time to stand up on your soapbox and tell them about your company. So when you communicate, you need to be consistent and you need to engage. Cut-through is very important, and one way to get this is to twist words, making them memorable and distinct to your brand. 

Budweiser did this very effectively by introducing the mantra ‘Whasssup?’ in their ads. In doing so creating amazing recall that was replicated within society, ingraining the brand and achieving maximum memorability.

I have happened to see the effectiveness of this method firsthand while working at Paddy Power. The Cheltenham festival is one of the biggest events on the betting calendar. Creating a cut through in the sea of competing businesses is a must. That’s just what one of the creatives did. They came up with a word that effectively described the energy and atmosphere of the March Cheltenham horse racing festival. Thus the ‘Go Cheltmental’ campaign was born, and the front-of-mind awareness was amazing. Helping us stand out from our competitors while staying true to our brand.

a yellow flower among purple flowers

2. Just ‘Because’

A very effective way of getting a prospect to become an acquisition is by adding the word ‘because’ into your copy. That seven-letter word has a very powerful psychological effect.

In the 1970s in Harvard College, a study was conducted by Ellen Langer on the effectiveness of the word ‘because’ in getting people to comply.

Their experiment was conducted around the campus’s busy photocopy machine.

Subjects were asked to try and cut in line using a number of specifically worded requests.

The requests without using the word ‘because’ had a 60% success rate while the ones that had ‘because’ in them had a 94% effective rate.

person pointing at a paper

3. Be Objective, not Subjective

The power of this is in the information. Subjective views are imprecise and don’t contribute to decision-making. People react negatively to buzzwords and qualifications without data.

There is quite a difference between this statement ‘with this product, sales increased significantly in Q2, outshining expectations’, and this one ‘with this product in place, sales increased by 35% in Q2 of 2021 outshining the forecasted 5% expected growth quarter on quarter made in Q4 of 2020.

This approach is more effective. Always be able to back the data up, as advertising a false claim can land you in deep water.

person swimming in deep water

4. A Picture is worth a thousand words

As important as the written word is, some would argue the picture still conveys more in a shorter time. You just have to look at the art in the Maltravieso cave in Cáceres, Spain. We have been using images to tell stories first and foremost. It’s very effective and has been used in advertising really well over the years.

A good example of this was the advertising for Silk Cut cigarettes in the 80s. When restrictions came in regarding the advertising of cigarettes in 1984, Silk Cut produced some of the most simple image-centric campaigns with an image of purple ‘Silk’ (its brand color) and a thin slice or ‘Cut’ in the fabric, cleverly depicting it with the name ‘Silk Cut’ with one 100% on brand image. Continuing this for over a decade successfully. 

Over the last few years, imagery has taken a front seat in how we communicate. And in this time-scarce landscape of social media images can get your story across clearly and quickly, and convey more emotion. Even more effective than one image is the power of thirty every second, video and motion graphics have raised the bar on what we can get across to someone in a limited time using an image, motion, and sound that can be a powerful way to engage.

video camera

5. Help Paint a picture, don’t paint it for them

Finally, think visually. Look at the game charades as an example. In the game, you describe a movie with the action of hand cranking the camera to show you are filming, something that was only required in the infancy of the medium, but it still translates. Sure, we still signal to the waiter and at the end of the meal with a gesture of signing a check, I like so many others have never had a checkbook yet we still do the signaling. That works effectively for general items, but when it comes to individual items of attraction and desire, less is most definitely more.

S. Lewis always challenged writers to describe an emotion not use a word for it. ‘Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description’.

people in cinema

This works well when describing an object of affection or luxury. Detail can be your enemy. If I was to describe traveling around the winding roads of the west of Ireland in a Chevrolet Corvette taking in the majestic rural beauty, you are guaranteed I will have alienated a number of readers because of the choice of car. Now, if I was to phrase it as traveling around the winding roads in an open-top classic sports car that clings to the corners allowing you to take in the majestic rural beauty. Everyone who reads it has a picture of their dream classic car, removing any unnecessary obstacles for the reader. Sometimes the best copy is no copy.

About the author

I’m a Pi-shaped marketer with a wide breadth of skills and knowledge across various marketing disciplines. I help get brands noticed through better storytelling and creative content. I have grown teams of truly amazing individuals and have helped them deliver stand out campaigns, hitting KPI’s and collecting a few awards along the way. With a talent for connecting the dots, helping tell amazing stories for brands within the Animation, Gaming, SaaS and Pharma industry’s for nearly two decades.

Shane Stafford

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