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The science of storytelling in marketing

Triana Jarman
When we are very young storytelling is the way we learn about so many things. Almost all childrens books have a beginning, which sets a scene or highlights an issue or problem; a middle, which often presents a solution; and an end, which tends to offer a result or conclusion. Similar principles apply when looking to educate or inform fully grown B2B professionals!
 
Advertising research reveals emotional response to an ad has far greater influence on a consumer’s reported intent to buy a product than does the ad’s content. Tapping into the ‘feelings’ of a sales prospect may seem a more natural approach for the consumer world, but aligning your message to the desires of your B2B target audience through storytelling couldn’t be more effective.
 
While there are plenty of posts looking at the value of storytelling in marketing, we thought we’d look at the science behind some of the claims. Leaning on an article from 2013 in Psychology Today, which highlights the influential role of emotion in consumer behaviour, we look at a number of findings which make a compelling case for storytelling.
 
Functional MRI neuro-imagery shows that, when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features and facts).
Your copy has to resonate with the reader and do so quickly; the use of storytelling can allow you to tap straight into the emotions of the individual* you are communicating with (*remember to write as if you are talking to an individual for your copy to engage most effectively). Ensuring your content is relevant and ‘to the point’ will help help them relate to what you are saying, as will referencing what your product or service can do for them as a part of your story, rather than leading with a list of the features.
 
Research conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation concluded that the emotion of “likeability” is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales.
When someone likes you personally they generally enjoy spending time with you and it’s the same for brands. The secret to great copywriting is ensuring that every sentence makes your reader want to stay with you and read the next sentence – from the opening line to the final conclusion, whether that’s a few lines on a social media post or a more in-depth piece of content. If you tell a story well, “likeability” is more likely to follow naturally and the reader will remain engaged. 
 
Studies show positive emotions toward a brand have far greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other judgments, which are based on a brand’s attributes.
Of course you want your readers to have trust in your brand, but you need to build this by fostering positive emotions through storytelling with a relevant, empathetic and honest narrative which ultimately presents a way to achieve their objectives.
When thinking about your brand’s message in your next campaign, as tempting as it is to go straight into selling the benefits of your service try to avoid it at all costs. It may be suitable for a small minority that are already aware of your service and perhaps in the right place of their buying cycle, but for the most part you’ll do well to highlight that you understand their pain points and explain what can be done to make things better. At that point you can discuss how your product or service can directly help and suggest what the result is likely to be. 
 
If you can tell a story using an example or case study then so much the better. This will provide a perfect (and relatively subtle) platform to bring in an illustration of those benefits.
 
Some of the most effective brand campaigns have been those which tap into an authentic human experience without directly marketing the product or service in question – you don’t have to be too old to remember the classic TV ad ‘stories’ for OXO, BT, and Nescafe, which make for good examples of this approach.
 
So get to know your audience and work out what is likely to resonate with them. Try to integrate some ‘real-life’ examples that will provide an emotional touch by helping them to relate to your proposition and to easily identify the benefits you’re presenting. Finally, why not invite them to be a part of the story – whether that’s sharing via their social channels or in the form of a call to action to get in touch and relay their experiences and discuss how you can help. The science of storytelling in marketing appears to be valid – tell your story well and a whole new story will begin, with them as your customer.
 
A few references: