Stories Weigh More than FactsAug 21, 2023
Consumers buy products for a lot of reasons. What tops that list? Emotions.
In her Forbes’ article, brand storytelling coach Celinne de Costa reminds us that “Decision-making is more emotional than logical. A business with a strong story can win over its audience and raise the perceived value of its brand.” While Hillary notes that stories told alongside facts become as much as 22x more memorable, John Kotter and James Heskett authors of Corporate Culture & Performance demonstrate that companies who tell stories outperform their counterparts significantly when it comes to stock price, sometimes at a rate of 750x higher.
In fact, some internet personalities are cashing in on access to their stories. In an article from Vogue Business, Kati Chitrakorn explains that Instagram influencers with active followings have put up paywalls that offer exclusive access to posts, stories, and even personal emails written to their fans. Online personality, Caroline Calloway, chargers $2 a month for fans who want to be ‘close friends,’ giving them access to her monthly content. Gabi Abrao, an artist, was feeling pressured from her followers for more content when she discovered Patreon, a membership platform that lets creators set up their own subscription sites. Abrao also uses Instagram’s ‘close friends’ feature for a low-cost subscription but offers more exclusive access, including a $222/month membership where Abrao will answer questions and send emails to subscribers monthly. What’s interesting to note about Calloway and Abrao is that they’re not fashion influencers or celebrities, but “regular” people who’ve found internet fame by publicly sharing about their private thoughts and lives. They’ve also gone beyond storytelling as a one-way street and have developed audience engagement by fostering a community of followers. Some experts would say that this is the power of a personal brand. In the case of Calloway and Abrao, telling stories isn’t simply a way to grow their business—it is the business.
Why Stories Work
You can hit your audience with numbers and graphs all day long, but there’s more to persuasion than logic. Long before the advent of brain scans, Aristotle broke down these persuasion pathways into what he called appeals: logic (logos), creditability (ethos) and emotion (pathos). Stories help your audience connect emotionally with your values. Customer success stories pack a double whammy because you’re able to inspire your audience (pathos) and also demonstrate that your product or services work (ethos). Telling stories about your business even lets you embed otherwise uninteresting facts and statistics into stories that demonstrate your subject matter expertise within your industry (logos and ethos).
Chris Andersen, the founder of TedTalks, writes about a study that uses neuroscience to prod deeper into what Aristotle introduced two thousand years ago. In his book TedTalks: The Official Guide to Public Speaking, Andersen explains a 2015 study led by Dr. Uri Hasson to examine how the brain responds to stories. In the first phase of the study, participants watched a film while researchers observed their brain’s response patterns under an MRI machine. The researchers then had each participant retell the film in their own words, some providing elaborate details from the 50-minute film. In the second phase of the study, the researchers played the recorded retellings to a new group of participants as the scientists watched their scanned brains for response patterns. Fascinatingly, the brains of the participants who’d never watched the film showed some of the same patterns based on hearing the story secondhand. These findings suggest that language itself, completely devoid of visuals, may be enough to resonate with an audience.
While Andersen uses this study to inspire would-be speakers to understand the importance of telling stories, specifically the effects of language on human experience, these findings are just as valuable for storytellers working in other mediums. Whether you’re writing newsletters, blog articles, or case studies remember that whoever’s on the other side of the page is wired to respond to stories. Furthermore, we have significant advantages as content creators because of another reason raised in the study. We like to share what we learn. And the ‘share’ feature in social media or the ‘forward’ option in email means that if your story resonates, it can go beyond your known audience and land in places that your marketing has yet to reach. If a story told once to an original audience has staying power, imagine how it feels to receive a curated article from a friend who’s scripted a personal message about why they believe the information merits your attention.
Who’s Telling Your Story?
Recently, Apple initiated a new iPhone campaign whose tagline is ‘Privacy. That’s iPhone.’ The commercial follows random people throughout a large city who blurt out extremely private details from their lives, including credit card credentials, password/login information, and internet browsing history. The commercial opens with its first farce: a man on a bus confiding in strangers, “I browsed eight sights for divorce attorneys today.”
These commercials play a role in establishing Apple's brand as caring about their customers, but it also plants the question about what other smartphone manufacturers are doing to protect consumer privacy. Is it possible that they’re taking the same precautions as iPhone but Apple is the only one talking about it? You bet. But at this point, a competitor campaign around the same topic would look like an act of copycat desperation. Apple’s ability to tell great stories about innovation, identity, and values is a major reason they’re a mega-brand. And in this case, it wasn’t just terrific storytelling. It was also smart damage control.
Businesses that regularly share stories about their customer’s problems, their customer’s lives, business lessons, and value-based stories beat their competition because they first inhabit a voice. They move from an anonymous company with testimonials to a unique business who’s actively crafting a narrative about who and what they are. Through sharing stories via blogs, emails, newsletters, and social media (among other channels), they remain on the tip of their customer’s tongue for a new referral or one click away from their article being shared on social media. Businesses also have a warm audience when they want to address an issue/problem. And by delivering consistent and value-based content they create a loyal following who are ready to listen when they launch a new product or service.
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