Whether you’re more at home with Fight Club than Breakfast Club, chances are they’ve more in common than you think. Most movies we enjoy actually fall into one of seven plots.
So, if there are only seven movie plots and there isn’t anything new under the sun, how do some stories move us so deeply, when it’s just a variation of something we’ve seen or heard before? And what does that mean for our brand storytelling?
While we’ve known that our brains learn faster, remember more, and prefer learning when the message is wrapped in a story, it’s something that brands are still trying to perfect.
85 percent of the 2,000 adults surveyed couldn’t give an example of a memorable story told by a brand.
Some brands have been successfully incorporating storytelling as part of their marketing mix for years, producing a narrative that lights up our cortex like a pinball machine. The likes of Apple, Spotify, Nike, and Dollar Shave Club rule supreme, while other brands try to compete by pushing product ‘innovations’ instead of opting for creating long-lasting connections with their audience.
Since the beginning of time
Even when we sat around fires, communities in caves, grunting at each other as to how best to avoid the saber-tooth tiger, we used storytelling to convey our message. Fast forward to 2020 and we’re still using the medium of storytelling, although we’re no longer sharing the secrets to the survival of our species, but perhaps the survival of our brand.
Research over the last decade has dramatically increased, as scientists have been trying to understand how the human brain works and what gets our electro signals all fired up. It revealed that oxytocin, a neurochemical found within the brain, could be the reason stories resonate with us.
Oxytocin is often referred to as the ‘love’ or ‘cuddle’ hormone, released by our brains when we share an intimate moment with someone or as we build meaningful bonds. It might not surprise marketers familiar with neuroscience that it sits alongside dopamine and serotonin in the ‘happy hormone’ family. Perhaps another critical ingredient for our content chemical compound cocktail?
“To the brain, good stories are good stories, whether first-person or third-person, on topics happy or sad, as long as they get us to care about their characters.”
Dr Paul Zak
So the key to good storytelling could actually be in making sure we are focussing more on oxytocin than oxymorons. And by writing narratives that encourage the users to build bonds, empathise, and play a part in your story, your audience’s neuro pathways could be creating links across multiple parts of the brain. By stimulating the brain, you’ll be providing a better experience, therefore a better interaction, and a better chance of winning the sale.
And if you’re still not convinced that more empathy equals a higher chance of a sale, Berkeley conducted an experiment to put it to the test. Subjects were shown 16 adverts from various charities about drinking & driving, calculating the donations in an attempt to measure the impact.
Those given synthetic oxytocin donated to 57% more of the featured charities.
NB: They also said they were ‘less likely to engage in the dangerous behaviours in the ads’.
But how do we get the brain to release more of this magic hormone, is there a way to encourage empathy?
How easy is it for your audience to build relationships and empathise with your brand characters? Is it frictionless? Is it unavoidable? It should be.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re B2B or B2C, it’s all about the oxytocin and getting people to care. Our brains relate to those we see, hear, or conjure up in our imagination.
When I’m at home reading a book about a spy with characteristics just like me, my brain fires in ways that make me empathise with them. So when 007 is scaling a rooftop, I feel nervous about falling, or when he’s just beaten Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, I feel as exhilarated as if it was me in the room.
The similarity between our brain activity when we’re reading about someone else’s experience and when we’re experiencing it for ourselves is incredibly similar. But only if the narrative is relatable.
The same old story. New perspective.
Why are most movies based on those archetypes? Because the movie industry quickly realised that our brains enjoy a particular sequence of events. We love the tension, the build-up, and the hero.
But how do Cameron, Tarantino, and Scorsese manage to continuously break box-office records and pull in audiences new and old? By offering a different lens and a new perspective on an old story. They follow the same narrative that has worked countless times but provide a new tension, a new hero, a greater fall after a greater rise.
Make it easy for your audience to be drawn in and absorbed; you want them in the palm of your hand.
In everything marketing, we’re fighting for attention. Whether it’s the copy on your social, your product descriptions, or your case studies, storytelling helps the audience immerse themselves into what you’re trying to say.
Our brains are hard-wired to listen to stories; it’s nature’s way of helping us protect ourselves.
Whether it’s the person walking towards you with no mask leaving you to walk amongst the bushes, or the neighbour who cuts the boundary trees (your trees) lower than you would’ve liked, life is full of conflict. By inserting conflict into your storytelling, you’re allowing the audience to make it feel like real-life, and helping them to bond with the hero.
Rising and overcoming the tension fills our brain with happy hormones. It’s the reason you want to go for a run when you’ve just watched Rocky or feel like you can do anything after Will Smith gets the internship in The Pursuit of Happyness.
Let your audience play the lead character
Whether you want your audience to be happy, motivated, ready for war, or ready for love, by wrapping your message around a story with a character they can see themselves in you’ll first capture their brains and then their hearts.