I pride myself on my identity as a writer and creator, but that didn’t prevent a little gust of panic the first time I got:
“Can you tell me a new story, one you made up?
Until that night, bedtime for our 5-year-old, our oldest, usually included one of his favorite books. Full of good lessons, they were entertaining enough to keep his attention—an easy and effective method of infusing a few life morals into his malleable brain.
But, make up a story? Staring at his eager eyes, I searched for a starting point. Scary dragon? Talking duck? Then what?
Truth be told, this was the essence of fatherhood I had always hoped for, the chance to regale my children with tales both tall and truthful, bizarre and familial, stories that would take on a life of their own and be passed down to future generations, whispered in their retellings with awe and wonder. (New fathers have grand plans.)
As I stumbled into that first original story – something about a lost puppy I think? – I surprised myself, gathering a little narrative steam and even wrapping it up with a fable of my own. The request became a nightly tradition.
I quickly discovered the power of stories as launching points for chats about right and wrong, adaptable and evolving with each passing year of his growth.
My kids still routinely tune me out in record time if I’m simply telling them something; but weave it into a compelling story and I just might have a fighting chance that 10 percent soaks in. I’m confident every parent has discovered this in their own way, but this was revolutionary for me at the time.
Food, water, shelter, stories
Far from the latest marketing buzzword, storytelling is, in fact, an innate human craving, from the Epic of Gilgamesh (considered the oldest story) to Aesop’s Fables and every talking duck in between. From oral transmission to clay tablets to a humble tweet, storytelling has always been the human race’s best way of communicating and preserving our most important knowledge.
Of course, we now know its power in hard numbers: People are able to retain up to 70 percent of information conveyed through stories compared with just 10 percent when it’s communicated through data and numbers. Author Michael Davis elaborates on why this is:
“Stories engage both sides of the brain. Appealing to the right side involves the emotions of the listener. Strong emotional ties create better ‘anchors’ for the points you are trying to make.”
This is also one compelling reason for the resurgence of storytelling in marketing and advertising. We increasingly use our emotional reactions and gut feelings to quickly judge a brand or company, and those feelings have a lasting influence on our brand loyalty. Smart marketers are catching on. Just look at LinkedIn, where the number of marketing pros who listed “storytelling” in their skills section was basically 0 in 2011; last year that number was at 570,000.
Plot a stronger conclusion
Storytelling is a delicate balance of art and science, but when done well it can deliver major benefits in the marketing realm.
Connect on a deeper level – The easiest examples are found in advertising, but the lesson still applies. That classic Folgers ad that reunites Peter with his family at Christmas? Sure, it feels quaint now, but I haven’t forgotten it after all these years. By tapping into universal human emotions, stories can lengthen the shelf life of your message.
Spice up dry content – Storytelling isn’t just for consumer-facing brands; it’s a valuable method of communicating complex (or, dare I say, unsexy) services or product offerings in the B2B realm. It’s a way to elevate your message above the dry white noise of your competitors by presenting it in an accessible and entertaining package. (I once used a story about the Jetsons to market IoT cybersecurity, so that should prove storytelling can help just about anything!)
Open new doors to your brand – The typical marketing message might as well be branded with a giant red “M.” We’ve all gotten very good at tuning out anyone we perceive to be selling to us. Storytelling allows your brand to bypass the gatekeeper and offers you a chance you may not have otherwise had.
Best of all, storytelling can be incorporated into every platform where you’re communicating. From a blog or case study to a Facebook post or Instagram story (see, it’s right there in the name), craft your message with storytelling in mind and you’ll open new ways of connecting with your customers.
If nothing else, maybe try a talking hipster cat—he seems to work well in my house.