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Once Upon a Time ...


Storytelling became a major focus for marketers several years ago. (In fact, some of its champions were so zealous it felt like a sort of religion.) There are wonderful examples of brands built around compelling genesis stories, of larger than life founders or spokespeople, and of brands that people don't just like, but love. Passionately. Because they feel like they're part of the brand's story.

Think of Ben & Jerry's for example. For years, the brand has been as much about its two unconventional founders at least as much as its ice cream: their philanthropic activity, their hopes and dreams, and their modest beginnings. There is even a less-repeated but possibly true story that the entire empire was founded in order to launder money from dealing pot. We don't think this has ever been validated. Then again, it wouldn't really surprise or discourage their target audience.

Many brands that don't have a Ben or a Jerry create one through their advertising and marketing. Characters like Flo for Progress Software don't just stand with a product and smile. After several years on air, we know Flo fairly well. And, the client/agency team does a great job keeping her "stories" engaging.

Not every creative team has the pleasure of working with ice cream moguls or a standup comic, but it still makes sense to weave stories into your campaigns.

So why is storytelling important? It's all in the mind.

As humans, we react differently to content that's presented as a story. (Just compare the experience of watching Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and the same year's The Departed. )This may seem like a no-brainer (see what we did there?), but it has everything to do with the brain. And, science backs it up.

When you hear a story, your brain works in a different way. Enhanced activity includes:

Mirroring - Your brain shares (or mirrors) the experience with other listeners and with the storyteller. This adds the powerful element of community to your program.

Neural Coupling - A part of your brain turns the story that you're listening to into your own experience and ideas. As marketers, we know that the most powerful word we can ever use is "You." A good story becomes all about the "you" that is your target audience.

Releasing Dopamine - When a story is emotional, the release of dopamine makes it easier to recall. Think back on ads that have stayed with you over time. Chances are, they have an emotional core to them.

Activating Multiple Parts of Your Brain - Three additional areas, your motor cortex, sensory cortex and frontal cortex, are all engaged. Reading copy affects much less of the grey matter.

This all adds up. According to Forbes, messages delivered as stories are up to 22% more memorable than simply learning facts.

This is good news for creatives. After all, lots of copywriters have unfinished novels in their desks. And just as visuals make traditional marketing messages more powerful, adding them to your marketing stories can increase recall even more. And if you can add video, you can increase engagement with your written story by 300%.

Stories. that work best are "informative and educational," "entertaining," and "inspiring" in that order. So, be sure that you don't include a story simply for the sake of telling a story. Marketing principles still apply. Your story must be relevant and get your prospect or customer to the next stage of their marketing conversation with you.

It's just that by judiciously adding the right element of storytelling, you'll both have more fun getting there.

(And, with any luck, you'll all live happily ever after.)

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