Why Stories Help to Change Minds
30 September 2013
The art of storytelling is integral to marketing now. It is espoused by branding and communication leaders the world over, who point to humanity’s thousands of years of relying on stories to capture and convey information.
But why is storytelling so powerful? What is particular to this
form of communication that makes it so compelling and
Kerry Patterson's book 'Influencer' provides insight into people
and their propensity to change behaviour. According to Patterson,
the key requirements to influence personal behaviour are:
- Personal Motivation - A relevant, personal
need or an opportunity that represents a significant benefit.
- Personal Ability - The belief that the
behaviour is achievable within the individual's personal
- Social Credibility - Trust in the motives of
the person or entity trying to exact change.
- Structural Ability - The environmental factors
that enable or support the behaviours.
Storytelling appears to be particularly well suited to the task
of changing behaviour. Stories connect with our emotions and
help people look at the world in new ways. When told well,
they stimulate vicarious experience - so much more than mere
information exchange. Evolutionary research has found, in fact,
that stories are integral to our emotional and empathetic
development. As the next best thing to real experience, they have
the ability to provide significant personal motivation if the
listener relates to what is being told.
But not every story changes minds. We've all been cornered by a
coworker or relative who couldn't tell a story to save his life. So
what is it that makes certain stories so powerful, while mere
verbal persuasion can cause resistance or be quickly dismissed and
Whenever you try to convince others through verbal persuasion, the
language you use can reproduce in the mind of the listener
differently to how you had intended it. You say your words but
others hear their words, stimulating their images,histories and
overall meaning. In addition, many of us try to bring customers
around to our way of thinking in short, punchy statements that
strip much of the detail from what we are trying to convey. The
details, however, are where the richly emotive and influential
magic lie - the rest is cold, lifeless information.
A well-told story provides clear and vivid detail. It changes
people's view because it presents plausible, touching and memorable
flows of cause and effect; action and consequence.
People become less willing to believe what you say the moment they
realise your goal is to convince them. This phenomenon is
particularly pronounced in the case of marketing, where the message
is often seen as benefitting the business alone.
Told well, stories can help listeners drop their doubts as to the
credibility of the speaker or the solution being proposed. Research
conducted by Dr Ray Price and Dr Joanne Martin found that when
three groups of students were given exactly the same information -
the first through verbal facts and figures, the second through
charts and tables and the third through the story of an old
winemaker - those who had heard the story not only recalled more
detail than the other groups, but they also found the information
to be more credible. Why? Because stories transport people in such
a way that they drop their logical analysis and criticism, and get
absorbed into the story itself.
The final reason why stories are more influential than persuasion
is their ability to link to human emotion. Convincing others to
understand your point of view is often not enough to propel them
into action. People need to care about what you're saying for them
to do something out of their routine. If emotions don't kick in -
people simply don't act.
Brands need to learn to master the art of storytelling, and
perhaps even to embrace the storyteller archetype as part of their
The storyteller brings pleasure to all by bringing events to
life. Part sage, part entertainer - he lives to educate and
delight. He sees meaning in the smallest things, and finds
commonality between different facets of life and people. He can
help audiences identify with the central character, and creates
detailed worlds that connect with customers' emotions because they
feel both real and relatable, and different enough to capture their