Why Storytelling Works: Itís A Simple Matter of Psychology

Why Storytelling Works: Itís A Simple Matter of Psychology Image

What makes storytelling really work and how can you make sure youíre not just paying lip-service to it?

You have to understand story telling before making it work for your brand.

Story this, story that, blah blah blah. We've all heard that storytelling works for brands. Our world is full of books, blogs, keynotes, webinars and opinion pieces (like this!) extolling the virtue of the story. 

But what makes storytelling really work and how can you make sure you're not just paying lip-service to it? 

I'll begin at the beginning.

Storytelling is as old as humankind. Telling stories is what makes us human. We use stories to pass on traditions, to teach and to entertain. Increasingly, marketers are utilising  the power of storytelling to engage  their audiences and, as the proliferation of storytelling in business continues to gain momentum, we started to question what makes it so effective? And the answer? Well it's all down to psychology. 

Memories Become Narratives 

The human brain is wired to recall memories in the form of a narrative. It doesn't matter that these memories are dispersed over time, overlap or are fragmented. When we think about it, we recount our experiences in the form of a story with ourself as the main protagonist. Now, new research from the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California1 (UC) demonstrates how it is this same memory recollection process that makes storytelling such a powerful tool.

It's widely known in the scientific community that the hippocampus is the part of the brain that plays a key role in learning and memory. Using MRI imaging of participants' brains, the research team at UC identified that this same part of the brain pieces together different parts of a story, even when it is presented in a disparate yet connected way. We can think of it like a TV series with different side characters and plots that all converge together in the end. As long as there is an element of connectivity throughout, the hippocampus is able to combine various story elements into one comprehensive account that becomes easily recallable. Without the element of connectivity, the disparate element that the participants were told and experienced were largely forgotten.

Narratives Are Easy On The Brain

You see, it turns out that ‘providing a cohesive narrative', or in other words telling a story, makes it easier for our brain to remember stuff. Hence why it's such a powerful learning tool. As marketers, by telling a story, you make it easier for your audience to remember and recall your brand and its message. It doesn't matter that that narrative may be dispersed over time across different mediums, as long as what you say is connected the brain will treat this in the same way it treats our memories. It puts the pieces together and orders them to form a story and commits them to memory, which is then easy to understand and recall. 

Making it work

Simply put, communicating in a series of connected messages that piece together to make a story makes it easier for people to remember the detail of multiple touch points, whether that's in real life or in a fictional world. On the other hand, taking a spray and pray approach with separate discrete messaging means you'll just end up being forgotten.

Storytelling for Brands

So we know storytelling works, how can your brand harness this?  Well it comes down to having a golden thread that runs through all your campaign activity. 

You can showcase different heroes in the story, or have different sub-threads or sub-plots, but your overall campaign activity over time should connect to tell a coherent story. By doing so, your audience will be able to piece together the various brand  touch points into a single story or narrative that they can then easily remember and associate with your brand. 

So I guess the only question left now is, what story do you want to tell? 

Call or email Joe for a chat about how we help brands lead the category. It's a great story.

[email protected] 

0114 272 7370


1. Cohn-Sheehy, B. I., Delarazan, A. I., Reagh, Z. M., Crivelli-Decker, J. E., Kim, K., Barnett, A. J., ... & Ranganath, C. (2021). The hippocampus constructs narrative memories across distant events. Current Biology.

Last Updated: 03/12/2021
Author: Joe Chetcuti

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