Why storytelling beats the real enemy of content marketing

08th June 2016

We’re video storytellers by trade so when it comes to content marketing, we see heroes and villains. The real enemy of content creators is… terrible content marketing. If it’s not high quality content how will your brand stand out? Just think every 60 seconds…

  • Email users send 204,000,000 messages
  • Google receives over 4,000,000 search queries
  • Blog writers post 1,400 new blog posts
  • 300 hours of video on YouTube and so on…

Compelling stories are one of the most effective ways to ensure your brand cuts through. From stories round the campfire to Hollywood movies, we love, remember and share narratives, and a brand story well told can help you stand, connect with your audience and develop brand trust.

In this blog we’ll look into the science of why stories on video are the heroes of your content marketing. (If you want more tips on video storytelling, do sign up to our free webinar on 22 June).

An experiment

Let’s start this post with an experiment. Watch the video below and let us know what you see:

Did you see squares and rectangles? If you did, you would be in the minority.

This video comes from the 1944 study by Fritz Himmel and Marianne Simmel – “An Experimental Study of Apparent Behavior” which was a significant piece of research in the field of interpersonal perception examining the attribution process when we judge others.

Most of the thirty-four participants developed a narrative from these shapes, and interpreted them as animated characters with personalities and emotions. Interestingly, there were common themes, for instance, nearly everyone viewed the big and small triangles as fighting, and the big triangle being locked in the “house”. The animate objects had agency – the “door” to the house was almost always controlled by the shapes, rather than vice versa. The objects were also given personalities: the heroic small triangle, the bully big triangle and cowardly circle. (Scientific American)

It seems we see stories everywhere as a way to make sense of the world. These characters, the hero, bully and coward are archetypes involved in plots, which become part of our collective shared memory and work across different locations and endure over time being updated and reinterpreted.

Hard-wired for stories

Indeed, storytelling may have helped the survival of our species. Imagine a hunter-gather telling a campfire story of the family in the cave next to him being poisoned by a berry bush. This warning with the emotional resonance and empathy with the characters would have been more effective than just pointing at the offending plant. (Lisa Cron, Wired for Story)

Breakthroughs in neuroscience are showing how humans are hardwired to construct our world through narratives. Think back to your school, uni or a dull presentation, where you just hear a lists of facts or bullet points. We do process that information but it’s not really engaging other parts of our brain; therefore it doesn’t really grab our attention and may not stick.

But transform this list of facts into a story and it becomes instantly more memorable. In fact research shows that stories can change how we act. When we read an emotional, evocative passage in a novel describing smells, it’s not just the language part of our brain (Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area) that takes note, it also affects those olfactory parts of the brain that respond to smell. So if we tell rich and emotional stories about our brands, it’s more likely they’ll be remembered and acted upon. As Lisa Cron in Wired for story says:

“Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story. The pleasure we derive from a tale well-told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.”

This is powerful stuff for brands. Move on thousands of years and brands can share their stories via YouTube or social video, and encourage people to engage, connect and act on what they see, whether that’s joining a mailing list, signing a petition, or making a purchase or donation.

Video storytelling and empathy

In the video below, Paul Zak tells of an experiment to see how stories – and in this case a story told through video – can connect us to others and produce an emphatic response. Participants were shown a film telling the heartbreaking story of a boy with terminal cancer and his father’s coping strategies and grief. A video of their story was shown to a group of test subjects and two primary emotions were elicited as found through blood tests –  distress  (increased cortisol) and empathy (increased oxytocin).

After watching the video, participants in one test were offered the opportunity to share money with other subjects, and the second test to donate to charity. The results showed a direct correlation between the amount of oxytocin and the amount of money either shared or donated.

The science of stories – how can brands use them to conquer their market?

We’ve geeked out to show how humans are hardwired to see stories and empathize with the characters in those tales. Video content can actually induce a physical, emotional reaction in us which for brands is an invaluable way to stop drowning in the content soup.

The brand story below for Under Armour is one where viewers can empathise with the character in this age-old tale of battling against prejudice/ the bully. It tells the story of a ballerina, Misty Copeland, who as a thirteen year old was told that she did not have the right body shape to be a ballet dancer. But against the odds, she made her dream come true, which supports and strengthens this sports brands “I will what I want” strap-line.

Would you like to tell even better brand stories?

Now, we hope we’ve convinced you about the power and effectiveness of storytelling. With only 3 out of 10 UK marketers feeling that their own content is effective, (Content Marketing Institute’s annual survey), we’d like to help businesses get more from their video content strategy and so we’ve organised a free video storytelling webinar on 22 June, 2pm – 3pm (BST). We’ll be sharing our secret to video storytelling success. Hope you can make it.

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