Remember how much you loved a good story when you were a kid? Whether read to you by your parents, or crawled up in bed late at night unable to put that book down.
“I’m wondering what to read next.” Matilda said. “I’ve finished all the children’s books.”
― Roald Dahl, Matilda
As we grow older, life gets complicated and we get distracted by many things. But we never lose our passion for stories – a good story is irresistible.
And stories are a powerful tool for brands and organizations, especially when you’re working to change behaviour. Stories appeal to our emotions, the most powerful influence on our behaviour. Emotion can put a destination at the top of the list, motivate us to want to choose one brand over another without even knowing why, or help nudge us toward healthier behaviour. As the Heath brothers put it, the fight between our emotional and rational self is best demonstrated through the analogy of the elephant and the rider – with the elephant as our emotional self, and the smaller rider as our more logical side. It’s a wonderfully simple image, and it sums up in an instant the power of our emotions. A rampaging elephant is virtually unstoppable.
But why exactly do stories have this affect, and why can they be so powerful for brands?
One of the more central aspects of a good narrative is its ability to convey a sense of authenticity. If brands actually have a story and take the time to tell one, then it means they have a purpose. It’s communicating the “why” of what they do, and the journey that got them where they are today (or even where they are headed). When we can see the motive behind why people do what they do, we embrace it and are more likely to believe it. It might be a story telling us about something they want to change, an event in their life that inspired them, or just a natural passion that has always driven them. Having a clear motive that explains the “why” of what you do is an important element in any good story, since it helps other people believe what you are saying. Incidentally, this is also why motives matter so much in cases of criminal law.
Of course, some of these stories might be made up, but it’s easier to spot those less authentic attempts today, given our easy access to information and social connections.
And when those efforts are genuine, a good story can be irresistible, forming a powerful base from which to clarify or strengthen a brand. Like some of these examples I wanted to share. They are from a variety of small and large brands across variety of sectors – with each demonstrating the power of a good story to connect with us at that emotional level (and get the elephant in us all moving).
1. Bamboo Sushi is a seafood restaurant in Portland, Oregon with a strong belief in sustainable fishing. Their website includes this message defining their beliefs.
Ask any person to define “sustainability” and each one will give you a different definition of what sustainability means. Because sustainability is such a broad concept, our approach to sustainability is inclusive and multi-dimensional.
While this is an important message for sure, it doesn’t really tap into the story behind why they do what they do. However, it’s this remarkable hand-made story below that really pulls me in. Motivated by a desire to change things, Bamboo Sushi has a set of beliefs that drive how they do business. So now, because I understand the “why” of their business, I empathize with them. I want to believe them.
2. This wonderful example for the Amsterdam Museum brings the 16th century city to life with a great story.
3. Here’s a lovely story about a rooftop beekeeper in New York that’s personal, intimate and inspiring.
4. Open Journalism is a living, breathing thing, and as such, it cries out for a good story. In this brilliant spot for The Guardian, it’s conveyed as fluid and unpredictable, with a purpose focused on challenging stereotypes. What really happened to the Three Little Pigs? Why did they do what they did?
5. The power of stories is also why TED has become such a phenomenon. It’s about great ideas wrapped up in personal, real life narratives. In this case, it’s been used to great effect by Ridley Scott for his upcoming movie Prometheus, with the character played by Guy Pearce delivering a talk in the future (TED2023).
6. This story introduces us to Kraken rum by telling the mythical story of The Kraken. A rich and fantastical story well told – the stuff of legends. I’m not even a rum drinker, but I can’t help but love the brand.
7. If anyone should have a big universal story to tell, it’s NASA – a magical story of adventure, discovery and inspiration. The first spot below is the fan-made version, followed by the official one (We are the Explorers). The official one is voiced by non other than Optimus Prime, a nice touch.
8. We know we feel great empathy for our pets, so telling a story about a dog who worries about protecting his/ her bone provides a great emotional platform to talk about insurance.
9. In this story, GE demonstrates the role they’ve played in Healthcare by telling a great story through the eyes of their employees. They experience the true impact of their work when they meet a group of cancer survivors. Along the way, we discover the “why” or purpose of GE, and we feel something.
Anyway, just a few thoughts. I’m off now to finish reading the 3rd book in the Hunger Games Trilogy