Stories Change Beliefs and Behavior

Good stories matter, and if they’re good enough, they make an impression on all who listen. A significant part of a child’s upbringing centers on moms, dads, and grandparents telling tales of heroes, villains, and clowns. They’re fundamental to our understanding of ourselves, our families, and the world around us, and they stay close to our hearts as we move through life.

Humans are social beings and are wired for connection. Recent studies show brains respond to stories to foster empathy, understanding, and ultimately action. If marketing aims to do the same, writers are wise to incorporate good storytelling techniques in their narratives to captivate audiences and win them over. The result is a client who now has an emotional connection to your brand or product — all with the help of neurobiology and responses within the brain.

Humans Are Hardwired for Empathy

Human beings coexist for survival and happiness, and, it turns out, empathy plays a big role. Oxytocin, a neurochemical that is produced when we experience trust and kindness, motivates cooperation with others by enhancing our sense of empathy. When we tap into how others are feeling and understand their motives for action, we’re better able to respond to situations ourselves. So, empathy brings us closer together but also safeguards us from harm.

But oxytocin isn’t released only in ‘real life situations’. According to studies conducted by Paul J. Zak, the oxytocin system is triggered by character-driven stories. To come to this conclusion, his research team took blood samples of participants before and after watching a narrative film. They found that heightened oxytocin levels led to more participation and voluntary cooperation (in this case, donating to a charity group).

But behavioral changes won’t occur if a story doesn’t keep an audience’s attention — a key finding of the studies. Only when viewers are captivated will they produce the amount of oxytocin required to motivate action. What’s more, maintaining an audience’s attention depends on the amount of developing tension within a narrative — a necessary strategy for creating character-driven stories. The more tension that exists within a narrative, the more that’s at stake for a character. This is what captivates a reader or viewer.

With an understanding of a character’s troubles and their eventual resolve, audiences create an emotional connection with the person on screen or in a book. The character’s relationship to the rising action within a story connects readers to his or her plight, forcing them to empathize with difficult circumstances that must be overcome. Sure, it sounds dramatic, but relying on classic storytelling techniques is proven to be effective, even on a neurobiological level.

Translating Storytelling to Content Marketing

The key to crafting compelling copy, then, relies on your ability to compel individuals to empathize and change. There’s a saying in the marketing world that says facts tell but stories sell. With an understanding of brain behavior and storytelling, we’ve laid out some basic principles for creating marketing materials that matter most to customers. Here’s what we found.

There is a story behind everything you do, and it should be explored and communicated back to customers. This means understanding the significance of a product or service on an emotional level. Describing the design features of a horseshoe, for example, while interesting to a farrier or metallurgist, may be lost on horse owners who care most about the well-being and comfort of their four-legged friend. A family may have lived on their farm for generations and owning livestock may be essential to their happiness.

These sentimental details need to be examined to captivate an audience, and if you feel a product is essential for someone’s well-being or happiness when creating content, you’re onto something.

It’s equally as important to speak your client’s language and communicate branded stories in a way that resonate with a variety of demographics. Having a strong grasp of your audience’s voice and identity is crucial to your marketing journey. So, learn your client’s language. You’ll more easily pull at their heartstrings.

It’s also strategic to listen to stories already being told online by clients. This is a great way to begin learning about what matters most to those you represent, and you can easily tune in to conversations circulating on social media or other public forums. When you understand the issues that resonate with clients, you can more authentically craft stories that address the things they care about most.

The Brain-Story Connection

Stories that speak to an individual’s ability to overcome a unique set of obstacles affect viewers on a neurobiological level. Audience members form emotional connections with characters who transform themselves for the better. The brain responds to these stories by increasing capacities for empathy and connection through the release of oxytocin. These studies suggest that, on a biological level, humans are meant to empathize, learn, grown, and connect.

Tapping into this somewhat primitive yet profound concept has long-lasting effects, and it’s a useful strategy in creating content that speaks to clients on a deeper level. At the end of the day, your content needs to matter. Once you empathize with clients and understand why their products or services make a difference in the world (or in their world), you’ve got their attention. And that’s what matters most.

Megan Kramer

Digital Media Content Writer at Leverage Marketing
Megan is a content specialist at Leverage Marketing in Austin, TX. After graduating from UC Berkeley (Go Bears!), Megan moved to Texas to take a job at a fast-paced startup (what is now GoDaddy), providing social media and copywriting services for businesses across the country. With her knowledge of content creation, Megan is excited to continue working for family-owned businesses and established corporations to tell their stories in a unique and meaningful way.

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