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Connecting to Your Audience: The Art and Science of Storytelling

Why do certain images or ads get attention, while others fall flat? While there’s no simple answer, new insights are telling an old story: it starts and ends in the brain.

The magical science of storytelling

Advertising and marketing bombard shoppers on social media, TV, radio, email, magazines and billboards. Brands are using advanced digital marketing techniques and metrics to break through the noise. They recognize there’s an art to telling your brand’s story, but, they also see the need to prove the science behind your customer’s purchasing decisions.

Stop and think about the last purchase you made. What drove you to buy that product? Most of us would answer, “I needed it. Or at least wanted it.” But beyond this surface level, we rarely think of the “why” behind our purchases. In fact, most of our decisions happen subconsciously.

It’s surprising, but it’s because you use a different part of the brain to answer the question “why.” The very act of firing the conscious or rational part of the brain leads to vastly different outcomes.

ConversionXL uses a scientific study on strawberry jam, of all things, to explain further.

The first group of customers ranked jam solely based on taste. Then, the scientists asked a similar group to give a rational explanation for their rating.

The results flipped. By the simple act of thinking through their reasoning, consumers changed their minds and the best tasting jams became the worst tasting jams.

Why did this happen? Because the brain responds differently based on the thought process used.

Science drives sales

It’s important to draw attention to the appropriate parts of the ad, but you also need to know your audience.

For example, Frito-Lay used neuromarketing with Baked! Potato Chips. The brand researched the science behind female purchases.

They found their target audience feels guilty about a lot of things (saying women feel guilty about everything is a surprise to exactly zero women. It’s like a study that says homelessness is bad for your health). But it does provide a critical insight: don’t trigger that emotion or the chips won’t sell.

Frito-Lay made sure its bag design did not set off the part of the brain that likes to go on guilt trips.

The brand found bags with ingredients that seem better for you and healthy-looking packaging trigger thoughts like “Eat me. I’m good for you” versus “That’s another 10,000 steps.” Which, of course, translates to more sales.

By acknowledging and understanding the science, you can better connect to your audience. Add the magical science of storytelling, and you have a powerful way to impact sales.
According to the Harvard Business Review, 70% of customers are likely to buy a product when a video connects emotionally.

Keep it simple

Science is technical. That’s why it’s not everyone’s favorite subject. Break it down for people.

Your product message should be easy to understand. Simple sells.

For example, cell phone companies offer lots of plans. Some are easier to understand than others.

As ConversionXL points out, most people choose the unlimited plan even if it’s not the cheapest. This happens because the unlimited plan is the easiest to follow.

When a product offering is full of facts or fine print, there’s a risk you’ll lose the customer while they wade through their rational thought process.

Make it emotional

Just because something is simple, does not mean it should be devoid of emotion. Your brain is designed to pay attention to stories. Take your science and translate it into a good story.

Here’s your brain’s response to facts.

Now, look at your brain when it sees or hears a story.

When someone sees a story, several areas of the brain fire up like the 4th of July. With facts, it’s Columbus Day.

In this fast-paced world, simple is more important than ever before. You don’t want people to think about their decisions. You want to engage them with a story that triggers emotion and feelings.

Remember that jam example? When people had to think, the best tasting jam became the worst tasting.

Instead, tell them a story about a childhood picnic with grandma, and that peanut butter and jelly sandwich will bring suddenly offer feelings of sunshine and nostalgia, and taste so much better.

When a brand tells a story, with emotion and a storyline that connects, the customer responds. Hopefully with a sale.

The difference is remarkable. Touch the brain and the heart, and reach consumers like never before.

Tracy Collins Ortlieb is an award-winning journalist and copywriter. Ortlieb specializes in parenting and family, travel and hospitality, and legal topics for such outlets as Parents, SheKnows, and Avvo. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughters.