Selling Through Stories: Why You Need This Skill

In digital marketing and in fact in marketing generally, there are loads of opportunities to use stories to increase your brand recall  or to sell your product or service. Short form copy tends towards the traditional “lead with a benefit” style of writing. And don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that. We do it all the time.

But what about when you’ve engaged your prospect enough that you’ve got their attention for more than a cursory skim across some bullet points? How do you close the deal? We’d suggest you try a story. Here’s why:

Storytelling is inherently memorable

Storytelling is as old as time. Well, technically older. Humans have used stories as a means of preserving knowledge since before we could write. Many societies with strong aural traditions still use this method today, to pass down stories basically unchanged through hundreds of generations.

Stories are inherently more memorable than raw facts or data. If I cite a statistic to you, chances are you have only a 5% chance of remembering what I’ve said afterwards. A professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business tried this with her students. She got each of them to do a 1 minute pitch presentation. Only one in ten used a story, the rest stuck to facts and figures. When she got the rest of the students to write down what they remembered from each pitch 63% remembered the story whereas only 5% could quote a stat.

Stories are great vehicles for emotion 

When trying to engage with customers, many brands reach for the facts and figures. They want to “prove” they’re better than their competitors. Those analytical marketing brains assume that people will use cold, hard logic to decide to purchase. But this isn’t true.

In research featured in Psychology Today, functional MRI neuro-imagery illustrates that people use emotions, personal feelings and experiences to evaluate a brand as opposed to brand attributes, features and facts.

This was backed up by advertising research which showed that an emotional response to an ad has a significantly greater effect on the person’s intent to buy a product than the ad’s actual content, by 3-to-1 for TV and 2-to-1 for print. Advertising Research Foundation research also concluded that “likeability” is the indicator most likely to predict whether an ad will increase sales.

And it’s not just short term decisions that are influenced by positive emotions. Studies demonstrate that they have a greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other fact based judgments. So, how do stories fit in? Stories are an amazing vehicle for emotions, both expressing them and evoking them.

So how do stories actually help brands to engage people?

The fact is that you are literally using more of your brain when you are listening to a story. And because you are having a richer brain event, you enjoy the experience more, you understand the information more deeply, and retain it longer.

In addition to this, the medium doesn’t matter, but the people featured do. Psychologists at McMaster university produced some new research, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience in September 2018, which suggests that no matter how a narrative is expressed — through words, gestures or drawings — our brains relate best to the characters, focusing on the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist of each story. So brand stories should make room for the people within them, not just be dry narratives about a company’s journey.

Ready to start your storytelling journey? We can help you identify the best stories to surface outside your business and make an impact on your sales. Drop us a line.