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How many of have ever watched Superbowl Commercials? At the heart of those commercials is an intricate story that marketers plan to instill in the viewer’s minds and hopefully motivate them to purchase their product. Does anyone remember the 2014 Budweiser commercial about a Labrador Retriever puppy and his horse friend? If not – watch it here (it’s only 1 minute). It gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. Yes, it’s that good. Whoever came up with that story is a genius!
But why was this commercial so memorable? There are a few reasons that I can immediately think of. First of all, it provides an example of how to tell a story effectively (even if it doesn’t use words), and build an intimate connection with the audience. Secondly (and most importantly), it also shows how stories can manipulate our brain chemistry to change behavior.
Storytelling changes brain chemistry which leads to changes in attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.
When someone tells us a great story with vivid details, we are captivated. We place ourselves as actors of the story being told. We establish a connection and empathize with the events of the story. But do you know what is really happening? Your brain secretes a neurochemical called oxytocin. This study has shown that people who identify with the story or characters within it produce significantly more oxytocin than those that don’t. Furthermore, in the same study, the researcher offered money to participants to spend as they would like. Results? Those who had more oxytocin flowing through their blood were more generous with their money.
Businesses, bloggers, and marketers care, and you should too. It’s been a few years now that storytelling has been popularized by the media. Corporate companies and businesses often train their employees about how to become better storytellers and therefore better persuaders. I’ve gone through a few workshops through work myself and can share my perspective. It takes practice, trial-and-error and more practice in order to really master the skill. But, if do you excel at storytelling, you’ll be able to persuade effectively and mold your audience’s behavior.
Above all, storytelling gives your audience something to hold on to. Something to remember you by. You can build your brand and what you want people to remember you by through storytelling.
Case Study: Steve Jobs
Just think about it. When you hear someone talks about someone successful, like Steve Jobs, they would mention some story that leads to his success as an innovator. Maybe it’s the story about how he built his first Apple computer out of his garage. Or maybe it’s the story about how he was ousted from Apple. In his continued pursuit for innovation, he went off to work with Pixar and played a huge role in transforming it into a multi-billion dollar business. It wasn’t about where he worked, it was about his persistence in succeeding and taking businesses to the next level.
Steve Jobs was an innovative genius and all the experiences (and stories) that lead him to his successes help us remember who he was and what he stood for. (If you are interested to learn more about Jobs’ story, I highly recommend “Steve Jobs” biography by Walter Isaacson).
Most importantly, Jobs’ presentations about newest Apple releases inspired people and prompted people to act (buy the product).
Similarly, the best blogs out there usually share a story of what brought them to blogging. Sometimes it’s to share their journey through getting out of $100K of student debt. Or maybe it’s to share advice on how a family of 5 survived on a single income with a single salary. And yet there are others that share their journey of building a blogging career, and the personal struggled that they overcame to get them there. So, once people connect with your story (whether it’s a blog or a business), they will be more willing to engage with you.
Whether it’s marketing your company, your social presence online or promoting your blog content, it’s a good practice to really build a story around how you want people to remember your blog by? What will that story be that your readers will be telling when they are telling their friends about your blog?
What’s the general idea of storytelling, or storyselling?
Storytelling is about sharing an experience (i.e. story) with the purpose of building a connection with whoever it is that you are trying to persuade, or simply motivate. Stories make ideas stick. And most importantly, stories help change behaviors, whether it’s to support your efforts or to buy a product from you.
What’s the Success Formula to Storytelling?
You’ll probably hate what I’m about to say, but there isn’t one styled approach to storytelling. One of the most recent storytelling workshops that we had at work was arranged by me. I’ve read and interviewed quite a few storytelling experts in the field: actors, professors, comedians, business owners, consultants. What is the one thing they had in common? Nothing. Their approaches were completely different.
But I don’t want to leave you hanging. There are a few resources that I want to recommend. Here is a 17 minute Ted Talk about storytelling. Your jaw will drop when David Phillips will begin covering exactly how we are affected by hormones. He also covers some really awesome examples of stories, pays attention to how he tells them and also step back and really pay attention to how those stories make you feel. It’s truly fascinating!
Excellent Books on Storytelling
I’d also like to also recommend a few books for the bookworms out there. These are really easy and insightful reads: “Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results” by Rob Biesenbach.
“Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller
“The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human“ by Jonathan Gottschall
How to Practice Storytelling
Begin including stories in your daily life, your blog writing, or talking to clients about your business. One way that I do this at my job is by including a story, or an experience that I heard one of our customers share with us (anonymously, of course), which takes anywhere between 1-2 minutes (maximum). And then I talk to them about what this story means to our relationship (with the company), which is a general conclusion that you can draw from the story. And then I’ll talk about the “so what?” of the story, what do I need from them, how I want them to move or act.
Storytelling can be a very effective tool for you to use in motivating, persuading or selling (as we saw in the story with Steve Jobs) if done right. Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to storytelling. It requires a lot of trial-and-error, figuring out how to adjust your storytelling and continuing to practice. Don’t be afraid of failing. The stories that you tell may not resonate with all of your audiences.
For example, you may not succeed in persuading a CFO of a company to support your effort simply told by your story. Most likely, they’ll want that story to be told using data and numbers. And if your audience is a mix of different backgrounds and skills, you’ll most likely need a healthy balance of storytelling with empathy and with the use of data and numbers.
Successful [Real] Story
I want to premise this by saying that this is not a story about selling a product or an idea, but an illustration about how to use stories to really become memorable. This [true] story, or a closing statement to be more accurate, is told by a well-known lawyer Moe Levine addressed towards the jury as they are about to reach a verdict. He really wanted the jury to be left with a strong story, empathize and act on it.
As you know, about an hour ago we broke for lunch. I saw the bailiff come and take you all as a group to have lunch in the jury room. Then I saw the defense attorney, Mr. Horowitz. He and his client decided to go to lunch together. The judge and court clerk went to lunch. So, I turned to my client, Harold, and said ‘Why don’t you and I go to lunch together?’ We went across the street to that little restaurant and had lunch. (Significant pause.) Ladies and gentlemen, I just had lunch with my client. He has no arms. He has to eat like a dog. Thank you very much.
And if you are curious, yes, Levine won this case.
Storytelling is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal, whether you own a blog, a business or simply want to use it within your day-to-day job. Maybe you’ll use it to persuade someone through a presentation, or maybe to pitch your innovative concept to a potential investor, or buy a product or service that is core to your business. Remember: storytelling telling changes brain chemistry and leads to changes in attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. It helps bring the audience closer to you. Once that connection is established, they are more willing to engage with you. So … what is your story?
Leave a Comment!
I love hearing from you and as always would love to learn your ideas, perspectives, and comments. You don’t know, what you don’t know and I am all ears to hear about what you have to say. I would love to hear your story, so please share it in the comments below! And if you just want to say “hi” – would love to take the opportunity to say “hi” back!