August 30, 2016

The Importance of Storytelling

The 2016 Olympics are now history and for a short time this summer we were witness to amazing athletic feats demonstrating perseverance, competitiveness, national pride, raw talent, strength, agility, beauty and grace. Always a marketer, I will remember these Olympics for the athletic achievements of the individuals and teams that competed, and their stories, both on and off the field.

That brings me to the power of storytelling in marketing communications—stories appeal to people and are often more easily remembered than facts.

A good story can communicate an idea or a concept in an emotional way that “sticks,” because stories offer an opportunity to feel something. Listening to, watching, or reading a story connects people with people, places and events. Letters to Friends: Wisdom Through Storytelling, written by principal authors Janet WindWalker Jones, A. Michael Hutchins, Anita P. Jackson and Carlos P. Zalaquett, highlights the work of 34 storytellers and contends that storytelling is “the foundation for understanding all communication.” Readers use storytelling as a way to teach, explain an idea, interact across cultures and reach out to others.

My favorite stories from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games were presented by Procter & Gamble (P&G). Each of their “Thank You, Mom” vignettes (e.g., Raising an Olympian: Simone Biles) invites viewers into the bond between an Olympian and his or her mother. P&G effectively uses video and emotional storytelling to reach an important consumer for their products: women.

Psychological studies have revealed how stories affect the human mind. Results show that people’s attitudes, hopes, fears and values are more strongly influenced by stories than by a series of logical arguments. In 2007, the American Association of Advertising Agencies published the results of a multiyear study that detailed the effectiveness of two types of advertisements: ads that told a story and ads that appealed to rational reasoning. The study concluded that, “For the most part, ads that tell stories and engage and involve consumers create stronger emotional relevance than product-centric ads.”

Because of the emotional connection that stories create, storytelling not only engages people, but can also make a difference to a business’s bottom line. No matter what type of customer you are trying to reach—clients, guests, patients, students, employees, alumni, partners, suppliers, legislators or others—testimonials and anecdotal stories in print, video or audio in your collateral, advertisements, website and social media can increase revenue by creating an emotional connection.

What is your story, and how are you sharing it?