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Storytelling for Business: How to Enchant & Persuade your Audience

Storytelling for Business: How to Enchant & Persuade your Audience

Storytelling for Business: How to Enchant & Persuade your Audience

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou

Storytelling for business is very exciting as marketers are forced to find more effective and innovative ways to connect and engage with customers.   As Maya Angelou's quotation suggests, it's not so much what businesses say or the way they say it, it's all about how they make their customers feel.  

Tom Gerace, Founder and CEO of Skyword, predicted that,

“Brand marketers, recognising the rapid decline in interruptive advertising, will shift an increasing share of the $600 billion they spend annually on ads toward original storytelling.”

[From the Ashes of Advertising a Creative Renaissance is Born]

I’ve never been a fan of paid ads.  It works, provided you have enough money to keep the wheels turning, but there’s no particular skill in it and it certainly doesn’t involve any creative or original thinking. 


What is ‘Storytelling for Business’?

Storytelling isn't about reading fairy tales to business people.   It’s about brands weaving  subtle business messages into stories and using them as part of marketing strategies to connect with customers  at a deep emotional and psychological level.  Once hooked, it's hope the customer will be persuaded to buy the brand's product or service and remain loyal, brand advocates.  

Storytelling is essentially,

“…brands sharing their messages in ways that engage audiences and drive them to take a desired action".

[The Content Marketing Institute]

What makes storytelling so effective? 

Storytelling is as old as the hills.

In his article, “The Secret of Storytelling: Why we Love a Good Yarn”, Jeremy Hsu says,

“Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history” . 

Mr Hsu suggests it’s down to the fact that we’re social beings and stories which are authentic and believable are used to help us connect and empathise with characters.   Empathy is essential to any cohesive society.  Stories are also a way of explaining and making sense of the outside world in a safe and less confusing environment.  Because stories have the ability to move us emotionally, they have a "unique power to persuade and motivate".  

With this in mind, if brands can use the power of storytelling to engage with customers on an emotional level, they'll likely be able to persuade them to buy their product / service.   


Emotions Affect Buying Decisions

“A group that tells an authentic story that resonates with the people will win the day over opponents who want to persuade us with logic and reason.”

John Sadowsky [Stories that Make Us Feel: an example …]

By way of example Sadowsky explains  how a charity released two fund-raising videos to raise public donations.The first video was factually correct but wasn’t a huge success in terms of raising money.The second video, however, succeeded in persuading its audience to part with its money because it appealed to their emotions.  


Stories are Captivating

Stories have a great way of capturing and holding an audience's attention, which is quite tricky these days considering humans have an attention span which is 1% less than a goldfish.  Your story is going to have to be pretty good!    

Jonathan Gottshchall makes this point in, “The Science of Storytelling

“…when absorbed in a good story — when we watch a show like "Breaking Bad" or read a novel like "The Hunger Games" — we experience approximately zero daydreams per hour.”

I don't know about you but I binged on "Breaking Bad" for hours - I was totally hooked. 

In order create stories that captivate your audience it might help to understand what stimulates the brain.  

When reading plain text, the Broca’s and Wernicke’s area of the brain are activated.However, in 2006, a Spanish study revealed that when words such as “lavender” or “coffee” were read, the brain’s olfactory cortex was stimulated.  Similarly, In 2012 researchers from Emory University noticed that when words associated with texture were read, the sensory cortex of the brain was stimulated. 

It seems that the brain becomes highly stimulated with words that appeal to the senses.    Also, it can't distinguish between fact and fiction and is stimulated in equal measure.  

Businesses and marketers who bear these facts in mind and create stories that resonate with customers and pique their senses are going to be more successful than those who might be factually correct with their marketing material but are nonetheless quite forgettable. 


Visual Storytelling

Not all brands use verbal or written communication to tell their stories; sometimes visual content is more powerful.

In one of my previous blogs, “How to Create Captivating Visual Content for Business”, I explained how man has created visual stories for over 40,000 years, as seen in the caves at Cueva de las Manos in Argentina or Egyptian hieroglyphics.  

Visual content has the edge over the written word in that humans are hard-wired to digest information in this way.  

"90% of information that is transmitted to the brain is visual" - Buffer.

Because we have such a short attention span and our increasingly busy lifestyles, text doesn't keep us captive for too long.   We need to be able to consume information quickly, easily and sometimes when we're on the go.  

This explains why content is increasingly consumed on mobile devices and why visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have grow exponentially over the past few years. Marketers need to make a quick and strong connection with their audience within seconds with eye-catching and compelling visual content.

Two brands which harness the power of visual content  are - 


We all recognise Nike as one of the world’s leading sports brands.The brand message is of sporting excellence, of rich, powerful and beautiful athletes who also happen to be their brand ambassadors - Usain Bolt, Rafa Nadal, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, etc. 

Nike use their success stories to encourage its customers to buy into an elite, sporting community - "Buy a pair of these trainers and you'll feel like you belong to an elite group of sports superstars".

“Studies show that positive emotions toward a brand have far greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other judgments…”  - Psychology Today .

Nike have even tried to encompass a wider age-group demographic with their recent advert starring Roger Federer (a grand old master of tennis!)



The ‘positive’ brand image is followed right through to their logo, the Nike swoosh, which looks like a 'tick' mark.    

“Logo shapes used to portray the most visible brands in our culture have not been chosen by chance - there are some powerful psychological forces at work.Creative Bloq

2.  Chanel

After I left University I wanted to spend as much time as possible in London so I decided to work at one of the top stores for a while.  During my work breaks I would hot-foot it down to the beauty department to see if I could persuade my friends to give me some free samples.   It was then I discovered that Chanel make-up is made in exactly the same factory as an ordinary, high street brand which is about three times cheaper.  

So why do women still lust after Chanel products when there's a perfectly good alternative? 

It’s all in the marketing and the stories it tells.Chanel is the essence of beauty and sophistication: think Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, who famously stated that the only thing she wore in bed was Chanel No. 5 perfume.

Take a look at Chanel's marketing video, "Marilyn and No. 5"


And of course, there’s nothing more iconic than a red Chanel lipstick, encased in it's luxurious black packaging with Coco Chanel's two white initials imprinted on the top.  It simply oozes sex appeal and sophistication.  Many women (including me) would like to imagine that, if they apply a slick red lipstick and a spritz of No. 5, they're instantly transformed into glamorous, sophisticated and sexy women.  


It's just a Marketing Ploy

“Functional MRI neuro-imagery shows that, when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features and facts).”

[Psychology Today]

Given that we understand how marketers encourage us to part with our money, why don't people stand back and think logically next time they spend a hideous amount of money on a pair of trainers, or the new season's "must have" make-up palette?  

Why don’t we use logic and rational thought when making buying decisions?  Surely businesses would think very carefully before purchasing a particular product or service? 

Apparently not, according to Michael D. Harris, who wrote a fascinating article for the Harvard Business Review, “When to Sell with Facts and Figures, and when to Appeal to Emotions”.

Harris argues that we’re far better making judgements based on empirical data rather than logic, because our logical mind can only process a small amount of information at a time. In fact the logical, left-side of our brain will even go so far as to make up reasons why the right-side of the brain has made a decision!

“Information leads to analysis but emotion leads to action.” 

 [Andy Maslen, “Persuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Engage, Influence and Sell”]



When you're next writing your blog or a piece of marketing material, consider the key takeaways:-

  1. Appeal to a customer's emotions and feelings

  2. When you're brainstorming your next blog headline, use vocabulary that will stimulate the senses and engage a customer on an emotional level.

  3. Keep a Thesaurus handy to find alternatives for mundane words, or jot down words you find appealing when you're reading.

  4. Use visual content that's instantly eye-catching to hook a reader and hold their attention.

  5. Make sure your stories are positive and persuade customers that their lives will be enhanced or improved in some way if they buy your product

  6. Emotions make the purchasing decisions, not logic.

For a really great example of storytelling for business, take a look at this beautiful piece of writing from Henneke Duistermaat, "The Old School Way for Making Money from your Blog".

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