Mindful Marketing: The Science of Powerful Storytelling

Long ago, people shared stories through word-of-mouth, cave drawings, fables, myths, and narratives. Today, we share those stories digitally and many of us still enjoy the traditional ways of passing a story along to others. Regardless of the mode of sharing, storytelling is a universal part of our existence. And we need stories to connect with each other and to share our emotions, thoughts, and beliefs.

When it comes to digital marketing, marketers need to create stories that resonate with their audience and elicit an emotional response. If you're a realtor trying to get better at digital marketing, you need stories that captivate potential homebuyers and eventually motivate them to make that much-anticipated purchase. To produce the best stories homebuyers can relate to, you must understand their motivations, what makes them "tick", their pain points, and their preferred outcomes. But most importantly, you should get a complete understanding of how the human brain works when it processes a compelling story.



Stories can engage your audience by affecting them at a deep intellectual, emotional, and sensory level. 


To understand the true power of storytelling and how it can engage an audience, let's look at how listening to a PowerPoint presentation with boring bullet points affects the brain. It activates certain parts of our brain: the Broca's area and Wernicke's area. These parts of the brain are responsible for language processing, where we decode words into meaning. But that's it. Nothing else happens.


According to researchers in Spain, when we're reading or listening to a story, things change dramatically. Stories not only activate the language processing parts of our brain, but they also activate other areas in our brain that we use when experiencing the events of a story. For example, if someone describes the look, smell, or taste of a certain food, our sensory cortex lights up. Or if someone tells a story about a baseball player heading for a homerun, our motor cortex - which coordinates the body's movements - becomes active. The more powerful the sensory experience, the greater the impact your story will have on your audience. 



Stories that successfully create tension make listeners share the emotions of the characters in them. This is what creates empathy, which gets people to listen. Imagine watching James Bond save the world or watching the Spartans fight in 300. You may not be experiencing the danger these characters were experiencing, but you'd likely feel fear or stress while watching the events unfold. You do this because you're identifying with the characters in the story. These emotions can be so powerful that you may be more likely to copy the feelings and behaviors of the characters even after the story is over. For example, you might feel dominance after watching James Bond or you might be motivated to work out after watching 300.

When you're engaged in a story, you're immersing yourself into the events as if you're actually there experiencing them. By appealing to intellect, emotion, and the senses, stories can keep you engaged so much that you retain the message for years to come.


Research surveys show that 63% of audiences could repeat story elements, while only 5% could remember statistics. Also, when stories include imagery, they increase the chances of an audience remembering them by 400%. Whether it's a book, movie, or personal story, virtually everyone remembers a great, compelling story. This is because stories connect with the unconscious mind that's tied to emotion, is visually oriented, is driven by the senses, and is influenced by beginnings and endings. Stories have such a powerful effect on our learning because we are wired that way. A story - broken down into its simplest form - is a connection of cause and effect, which is exactly how we think.

When we hear a story, we often think of a similar experience that we had with the characters in the story. This process activates the part of our brain called the insula, which helps us relate to that same experience, whether it's pain, joy, or disgust. The more your audience can relate to your story, the more likely they are to retain the message your story conveys.



Character-driven stories cause the brain to create oxytocin - the "love drug" and the neurochemical known to trigger cooperation in others - according to research. Oxytocin also stimulates trust, generosity, charitable behavior, and compassion. The same study showed that to motivate a desire in people to take an action - whether that's to contact you or make a purchase - you must create a story that grabs attention by developing tension during the narrative. In doing so, you can influence your audience to feel empathy as they begin to share the emotions of the characters in the story. 

Stories also influence an audience by appealing to the rational mind. This represents the prefrontal cortex, which looks into facts, data, numbers, and statistics. But the emotional mind - which images and stories resonate with - has a much stronger influence on decision-making.

Through storytelling, your audience can engage with your story, retain your message, and experience the strong influence of your storytelling. Let's look at an example of how beautiful storytelling can transform the way your target audience interacts with your brand.

Imagine writing a case study about a family that was looking for their dream home. By talking about the family's difficulties with finding the perfect home, you pull at your audience's heartstrings and elicit an emotional reaction. Your audience begins thinking of similar experiences they've had.

Then, you talk about how you helped the family find the perfect home - the perfect resolution to your story. You've drawn in your audience and now they can't forget your story. Now they trust you. Now they respect you. Now they want to do business with you. They want your help buying a home.


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