The power of storytelling

30th January 2019

The power of storytelling

Storytelling is important. Human beings are conditioned to make sense of the world around them and derive meaning from it by relating experiences back to their reality. There’s a reason most religious stories have characters who resemble the people and societies they were created in. Before we had the tools to understand the mysteries of life, we had stories to connect us with the world and our place in it, explain how things work and how they came to be. Storytelling is primal, timeless and is an unbroken ancient tradition that connects every culture on Earth. We naturally seek stories out, why else would books and films be such enduring mediums? Because storytelling appeals to our emotions. And even the most logical of human decisions are rooted in emotion.

Stories are how we think, and while they take place in the imagination, they have their foundations in reality. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as lived experiences. Long story short, it doesn’t matter if we know a story isn’t true – we will have an emotional reaction to it anyway. In fact, the greatest reactions we have are to stories. Take Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Twilight (for starters), there are legions of fans who know all there is to know about these stories – they become a huge part of people’s lives. And that’s because we connect to them so greatly. We are conditioned to look for the story to make sense of an experience, derive meaning from it and relate it back to real life. We all know magic isn’t real, but being a teenager dealing with the issues that come with growing up is (even if our own issues weren’t as big as having to defeat Voldemort). Everyone has a story, and everyone is programmed to connect to someone else’s story to find the commonality with their own.

But how does this relate back to us as a business? Our job is to engage the hearts and minds of our audience, so it relates to us quite a lot. Because the best way to engage with people’s hearts and minds is to tell a good story. Some of the best advertising campaigns are those which tell a meaningful story. Take the way AAMI used the love story of Rhonda and Ketut to sell a “boring” product like insurance. Or the way Apple sells technological products from the angle of how it will help on a human level (for example, their 2018 Spike Jonze and FKA Twigs collaboration which showed how the power of music can reinvigorate a downtrodden office worker). Then there are the John Lewis ads that tell such a good story that people look forward to them every year. And when you think about it, every brand is a main character and every ad is a chapter of their story. The more well-developed a brand/character is the more people engage and connect with them. Information alone doesn’t sell – it’s how that information is presented, it’s the story that sells.