It felt like a punch to the stomach! I felt completely hollow inside…
It was 2000. A warm summer’s morning and I was sitting on the bus going to university.
I was almost at Waterloo station to catch my train. It left in about 15 minutes. Plenty of time.
I love the warmth, and the sun filtering in through the window was relaxing every muscle in my body.
I always read on my way in. It took me away from the monotony of the journey.
I was totally engrossed in A Storm Of Swords. The third book in George R. R Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series.
I was happily reading. I couldn’t put the books down since I had picked up A Game Of Thrones a few months earlier.
But then it happened…
The Red Wedding.
I won’t spoil anything for anyone (although you’ve probably seen it in the TV series), but it knocked me for six!
I sat there dazed and confused. I put the book down on my lap and vacantly stared out of the window.
It felt like my soul had just been ripped out. I couldn’t think straight.
I went straight past my bus stop without noticing and ended up missing my train.
How did a few words manage to do that to me? Something that wasn’t even real?
The psychological power of storytelling! I was hooked.
And I’m gonna show you exactly how it works. How something completely made up can make you feel worse than your very cute, real-life hamster dying a few years earlier.
We’re all told that in business we should be telling stories.
That it’s necessary to build a loyal tribe of raving fans.
But no-one tells us what to do. Why it works. And most importantly, how to do it.
This means that people end up not doing it. Not focusing on it. Dismissing it as something that’s unnecessary for their business or they just don’t have the skill to get right.
We end up thinking of stories as something vague, intangible and not having a direct impact on our conversions and sales.
But they do.
Stories are how we think, how we understand everything around us, how we persuade people, how we make decisions, how we pass on our beliefs and values and how we convey our identities.
Sales are made on empathy, trust and loyalty.
And your story is the foundation of them all.
It’s much easier to persuade people with stories than with cold, hard data as they’re easier to understand and relate to.
Our brains are hardwired to sort and file information in the context of stories. Every object, experience and relationship will be organised in sequence together with our senses and emotions at the time.
So here are 5 expert tricks to use when writing your brand story to make it much more impactful.
Our brains and bodies physically react to great storytelling.
If you use detailed, powerful imagery to describe everything, you’re reader will be transported.
Think about great travel writing – you know it’s good when you feel like you’re standing there on that tropical beach. You can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin and smell the salt in the sea air.
Or great food writing, where you can taste every mouthful of that fresh, rich Thai green curry. The smell dancing under your nose.
Be descriptive. Use those adjectives! Think about all 5 senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. How can you really elaborate on these?
It’s not just the sensory cortex that can be stimulated, but also the motor cortex.
If you’re reading an expert climber’s story of how they fought tooth and nail to reach the top of Mount Everest, your body will feel the weariness, the struggle.
The brain makes us experience stories as though they are real. As though they are actually happening to us.
As long as you put your story in a real context and setting, a time and place your audience can relate to. Then you can take them with you on your journey.
There are two hormones that play a hugely important role in storytelling.
Oxytocin and cortisol.
Oxytocin is more widely known as the ‘love’ drug. It makes us feel good. It makes us bond, connect and empathise with others. New mother’s get huge surges of it just after giving birth to build that initial bond with their baby.
Cortisol is the stress hormone. When we get scared, frustrated, angry etc., this hormone puts us on high alert and makes us pay attention.
You need both in equal measure to create a good story.
You need your audience to empathise and care with what you’re saying. But you also need to keep them gripped. To keep their curiosity peaked.
If you use vivid imagery and a relatable journey, then your audience will automatically empathise. But in order to get that cortisol going, you need to create conflict.
You need drama, obstacles, frustrations, despair etc. You need something in the way of reaching the ultimate goal of the story.
We will always want to know what happens next!
And with suspense, that want turns into a need – an addiction.
As we go through stories, as we empathise with the characters and journey within it, we build up emotions within us that need to be released.
We need a resolution.
That’s why every great story is based on a clear structure. A beginning. A middle. And an end.
The best stories introduce suspense early to capture interest. They start strong. Usually in their title, headline and first 100 words or so.
Need clear story structure of beginning, middle and end. Suspense must appear early enough to capture interest.
Then use pacing throughout each stage to build the atmosphere. To drive the action forward.
But remember, if you spend too long building the suspense, your audience will get bored and move on. Move at too fast a pace however and people won’t have time to be immersed in what you’re telling them. They’ll feel overwhelmed and detach themselves from the story.
Always build to a great climax, but leave a little bit back. Always keep them wanting more.
When you’re fully immersed in a story. When your oxytocin and cortisol are firing off at all the right points. When the suspense just keeps driving you to get to the end, you become the main character.
You become the hero.
And this is a great method for persuasion.
An effect known as neural coupling emerges, where our emotions, thoughts, ideas and opinions start to mirror those of the main character in the story.
It’s a method for empathy, but you can use it to steer people to a desired thought, action or behaviour.
Whatever you want your audience to ultimately do, your main character should go through that exact transformation. Their goals, journey and needs must match those of your audience.
The only caveat is that the transformation needs to be believable. It needs to be attainable.
It needs to be something that inspires them to take action.
Storytelling is the art of persuasion not only on an emotional level, but a biological level.
By telling a great story, you can actually change the way your audience thinks, feels and behaves when it comes to your brand, products and services.
If you can alter their perceptions, then you’ve built a very powerful connection indeed.
If your audience see themselves in the brand story you’re telling, they’ll be much more likely to believe in your vision, trust your authority and buy into your experience.
I’d love to know about your brand stories. What are they and how do you tell them? What do you use to hook them from the get go?
Let me know in the comments section below.