You love your product. Believe in it. You have all the unique features memorized and can rattle off the stats about how effective and efficient it is.
But customers aren’t clicking. Viewers don’t seem to care.
Maybe it’s time to engage your audience’s whole mind with storytelling. Recent neuroscience has illuminated how our brains process and respond to information, leading to some surprising takeaways for brand messaging and visual marketing.
We’re Wired for Story
Tell me a fact, and I might remember it. Tell me a story about that fact, and I’m twenty times more likely to remember.
A lot of this has to do with how our brains work. When you intake facts and figures, they engage the language-processing center in your brain. You’re just trying to decipher what the words mean.
But when I tell you a story, your brain lights up in all the same areas as if you were experiencing the story firsthand. When you see a topflight athlete doing what they do best, or watch an ad of a happy couple kayaking with their dog, your brain lights up in the same areas as if you were doing a triple axel or having the summer Saturday of your dreams.
Why does this happen?
Because stories involve other people, and our brains are wired to empathically respond to other humans and find the similarities in our circumstances, stories also release hormones that inspire familiarity, connection, and trust. Stories tap into our emotions and sense of self without a broader community. And when it does come to logical facts—because stories do communicate those too—it turns out that stories are highly efficient at organizing and conveying complex information.
So how does this play out in content marketing?
What’s Your Story?
Every business, every brand, every product has a story. They came from somewhere, there’s a reason they exist, and they’re inevitably heading somewhere else new.
Research has shown over and over again that consumers don’t buy a product because they care about your profit margin or increasing your followers online. As Vladislav Vaduvescu explains, they buy into your brand identity because of the story it tells—and how they too can be a part of the values and significance woven into your story.
Every satisfying story has these five key elements:
1. You might think, “Doesn’t a good story start with a plot?” but really the plot comes from the characters. The characters’ desires and the lengths they go to accomplish those desires are what drive the plot. Who you are, and the desires that birthed your brand, generate the story you’re telling.
2. No desire worth achieving is fulfilled without a fight. Who are the antagonists and naysayers, whose desires conflict with your own? What are the setbacks to grieve and overcome? Conflict not only shows the value of the character’s desire but also builds tension for viewers, who have come to empathize with the characters.
3. Is your story global in scope or particularly local? Every country, city, and backdrop evokes a specific set of assumptions and emotions for your viewers. The setting should be immediately recognizable to draw viewers in, but distinct enough to intrigue them and teach them something new.
4. Viewers like a happy ending. How does the fruition of the character’s desire make the world a better, happier place? How can readers buy into the brand or product to participate for themselves in the story you’re telling?
5. You’re telling your story for your viewers—not for yourself. Who are you trying to reach? What do they care about? Always keep your audience and their needs in mind when telling your story.
These five essential elements apply to any story, whether it’s a novel or a TV episode. But what are the specific tools of the visual storyteller for making the characters and conflict of your product come alive for viewers?
Focus: Who or what is the focus of the image or shot? What is out of focus? From whose perspective are viewers seeing the story? The literal center of the image is most often the center of the story as well.
Movement: Visual movement entails everything from the physical actions of the characters to the placement of people and objects in the composition of a shot to the movement of time from the first frame to the last frame. The movement shows the interrelationships of the characters without saying a word.
Contrast: Light and shadow, up and down, fast and slow, bright and muted, loud and quiet, hard and soft all show viewers what is unique or different about your product and helps tell a visual story about your brand.
Rhythm: From repetition in shot composition to musical cues to repeated characters or actions, rhythm is a form of emphasis that also draws viewers to what’s important.
Proportion: How much of the story is about one character? How much of the frame is dominated by one object? Viewers make instantaneous judgments about the importance of a visual image based on proportion and disproportion.
So who is the main character of your story? What do they want? How will you tell your story clearly and compellingly? And, most importantly, how can your viewers join your story with their whole minds engaged? Answer these questions and see the wonders that storytelling will do for your brand.
About the author
Joel Armstrong is a fiction writer based in the American Midwest. He works as an editor at Kregel Publications and is also a conference speaker on the topics of story structure, suspense, and genre.