Palms are sweaty, and hearts send a rapid, pulsing signal as a group of people sit in a crowded movie theater. They’re awaiting the outcome of how James Bond will get himself out of yet another stressful situation.
How do we know the physiological reactions of those in the theater? Because a few years ago, scientists strapped helmets and heart rate monitors on the subjects while playing the movie to study human reactions to compelling narratives. Leading the charge was neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak.
Zak and his team discovered that the brain releases a neurochemical called oxytocin, also known as the “love” drug, or a signal that tells us we’re safe. In further studies, Zak found that oxytocin can be “hacked,” with our brains producing oxytocin synthesis after seeing character-driven stories. In fact, Zak discovered that “character-driven stories with emotional content” result in improved understanding of key points and enable better recall of those points “weeks later.”
It helps to explain why facts are up to 22 times more memorable when presented in a storytelling format. Our emotional connection makes us feel like we actually lived through the event, thus strengthening the social memory in our brain.
Now, storytelling isn’t just for scriptwriters and authors. Brands can also use this powerful strategy to captivate customers through great brand storytelling.
What is Brand Storytelling?
Brand storytelling is the art of using a compelling narrative to bridge the gap between your brand and your customers with the goal of captivating your audience for a perceived purpose.
However, the term gets thrown around like candy on Halloween, with a shocking 570,000 LinkedIn professionals claiming to be a “brand storyteller” in 2017.
Sadly, most marketers are approaching the situation wrong and not actually telling a story. To ensure success for your brand, we’ve broken down the basics of what a great story entails and provided some tips to help you get started!
The Basics of a Great Story
Every great story (even in business) follows a clear narrative with a beginning, middle and end. However, the best stories share a dramatic arc, where the character faces adversity and eventually triumphs—often referred to as “The Hero’s Journey.”
To take a closer look, we’ll use German playwright and novelist Gustav Freytag’s pyramid:
Let’s break down the structure:
- Exposition: This sets the scene, introduces the character, and generally shows how much the character has to lose.
- Rising Action: This is where tension or uncertainty increases, leading to a complication and the climax.
- Climax: Also known as the crisis, this is the stage where tension is at its highest where the character must make a transformative choice.
- Falling Action: This is where the conflict begins to unravel and tension eases.
- Denouement: This is the resolution where the character returns transformed.
In addition to the above findings, Zak’s research showed that our brains are highly attracted to this story style.
Now that you know the best way to structure brand stories, we put together six tips for powerful story creation to truly captivate your customers.
Six Tips for Creating Powerful Stories
1. Create an Outline
A crucial yet often-missed first step when approaching any writing project is to create a detailed outline. While this may take more time on the front end, it will dramatically help to improve the overall flow and clarity of the piece. By allowing you to organize your thoughts and main points, it also ensures you don’t overlook key details or fall victim to writer’s block.
Before getting started, ask yourself a few questions to guide the outline:
- What is it that you are trying to convey?
- Who is your audience, and what do they care about?
- How does your brand uniquely fit into the equation?
- What will be the main takeaway?
- How do you hope the reader responds to the story?
2. Be Specific
PowerPost was fortunate enough to host a masterclass with the renowned Park Howell, founder of the Business of Story, in which he discussed how our brains are wired to think: in single-person narratives, not listicles. Context should be provided to transport the reader into the action and allow them to identify with the character or situation, ultimately humanizing the piece. Give specific details about the person, setting and challenge rather than generalizing.
3. Jump Into the Action
Who remembers the opening scene of The Dark Knight? The movie immediately begins by zooming in on a high-rise building, glass getting blown to bits from one of the windows and straight into a robbery. It plunges us right into the action—and for a good reason.
Since the advent of social media and technology, human attention spans are at their lowest point. You don’t want to lose the reader before you get to the good stuff! This doesn’t mean to skip the backstory or details, simply to open with an attention-grabbing narrative first.
4. Avoid Jargon
It’s important to speak with natural language and avoid jargon for multiple reasons. First, the point is to relate to the consumer, not confuse them. While you or people in your industry may know a specific term, likely, the everyday reader you’re trying to captivate will not. If a short, simple word will work in place of a more complex one, don’t overcomplicate things.
Second, the use of voice search is dramatically increasing, affecting search engine optimization (SEO). A 2019 Voice Report by Microsoft and Bing found that 72 percent of people use voice search through a digital assistant like Siri or Alexa. In order to optimize your brand’s content for the new wave of SEO best practices, natural, semantic language is best.
5. Use Action Words
Action words describe what is happening, whereas non-action words describe a state of being. For example, to “break down and cry” verses to “feel sad.” The former adds a deeper emotional element that your audience can connect with on a personal level. You want to immerse readers in the story and show what’s happening, as opposed to just telling them.
6. Create Suspense
In order to sustain a reader’s attention, there must be tension and suspense. Every great story keeps our eyes glued to the screen waiting in anticipation of what will happen next, without giving away the climax. You never want to be too predictable—pose questions to hook the reader so they have to continue on to satisfy their need to know the outcome.
There’s a lot of information to digest here, but as they say: practice makes perfect! Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be transforming your sales collateral, blogs, infographics and more into compelling stories that begin to produce your desired brand goals.
Want to see examples of great brand storytelling in action? Check out: Six Examples of Compelling Brand Stories.