By Andrew Angus on March 28, 2013

Picture this: You’re visiting a company’s website for the first time. As you’re viewing the site, you click around from page to page looking to learn more about the company’s product when you end up landing on the About page.

And then it grabs you.

The company begins to tell a story. Not any story, mind you, but the story about how they started. It’s not the typical about page fluff; it’s a narrative about how the founders met, when they came up with the idea for the company, and what they’ve done since starting.

The story pulls you in. You still haven’t found the information you were looking for, but you can’t stop reading. You’ve got to find out how the story ends. If you leave in the middle, you’ll miss out on the conclusion. That’s just not happening.

This, in short, explains the power of storytelling. There’s something magical about telling a story that pulls readers in and won’t let them go until they find out how it ends. Everyone wants to know how a story ends.

But what most people don’t realize is that there are many ways to tell stories in business contexts. You can tell a story on the About page, your whole site can tell a story, or you can tell a story through a blog post. Either way, the more you know about storytelling, the better you’ll be able to apply it’s magical powers. So let’s dive in to learn more about the wonderful art of telling stories in the online world.

The art and science of storytelling

“Storytelling is among the oldest forms of communication. Storytelling is the commonality of all human beings, in all places, in all times.”

                                     -River Collins, The Power of Story: Teaching Through Storytelling

This in part is the essence of why storytelling is so powerful. We’ve been using it for hundreds of years, passing traditions and information from generation to generation. As River Collins mentions, storytelling has been used “in all places, in all times.” There’s something hardwired into the human DNA that has made it a primary mode of communication for thousands of years.

This has led to an artform that gets shared across cultures. Entire industries have blossomed due to people’s interest in stories. If it wasn’t for our infatuation with storytelling, Hollywood and fiction novels wouldn’t have such a prominent place in our society.

So what’s the deal with storytelling? Why is it so powerful?

One part of this has to do with the fact that we want to know how a story resolves. Even if a movie is bad, we’ll watch it all the way through to find out how it ends, so long as the story is compelling enough to keep our attention.

Another part has to do with two parts of our brain—Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area. Both are connected to language processing, and regular information like bullet points stimulates these parts of our brand that have to do with language. So what about stories?

Here’s how Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, describes it in an article he wrote for LifeHacker:

When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too…If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active.

As you see from this description, storytelling stimulates more parts of the brain than regular communication, and it connects what we’re hearing with our personal experiences.

Jonathan Gottschall, who teaches English at Washington and Jefferson College, mentions this about storytelling in an article for Co.Create:

Why are we putty in a storyteller’s hands? The psychologists Melanie Green and Tim Brock argue that entering fictional worlds “radically alters the way information is processed.” Green and Brock’s studies shows that the more absorbed readers are in a story, the more the story changes them. Highly absorbed readers also detected significantly fewer “false notes” in stories–inaccuracies, missteps–than less transported readers. Importantly, it is not just that highly absorbed readers detected the false notes and didn’t care about them (as when we watch a pleasurably idiotic action film). They were unable to detect the false notes in the first place.

So not only do stories pull people in and arrest them until they find out how the story resolves, but they also disarm people. Readers pay less attention to the details and are hypnotized in a way by the story which means they’re much less likely to be as defensive in their reading.

Gottschall goes on to describe this as a Trojan Horse. In much the same way that the Greek warriors used a wooden horse to infiltrate the city of Troy, storytellers can use the hypnotizing power of stories to lower the defenses of their readers and more effectively impart their message, whether it be a marketing, sales, or educational message.

Wow, that’s powerful. So what can you do with this newfound power and how is it related to explainer videos?

Harnessing the power of storytelling with explainer videos

Yes, we’re all about explainer videos here at Switch Video, so we’re going to show you how to use explainer videos to apply the power of storytelling in the online world.

Basically, this principle can be applied directly to explainer videos to make them more effective. You can either list facts about your business in a bullet-point-list style, or you can tell a story that uses metaphors and scenes your prospect is familiar with. Based on what you’ve read so far, which version do you think viewers will be the most interested in?

That’s right, the storytelling version will easily be the most compelling, but that’s not the only reason to use it. Storytelling will also be the most effective because it stimulates more parts of the brain and creates more opportunities to connect your message with previous memories your prospects already have.

Bullet-point list types of scripts and videos don’t draw viewers in nor do they disarm them, but stories do. They compel viewers to keep watching and to learn more. If you want to make your explainer video more effective, remember to harness the power of storytelling.

When it comes to the online world, you have many opportunities to tell stories. You can tell your product’s story on the homepage, your company’s story on the about page, or a customer’s story in a blog post. You can also start a post with a story like the one used at the beginning of this post as a way to draw readers in. And last but not least, you can use explainer videos to tell a very specific story that engages visitors and connects with an experience they’ve already had. If you haven’t tried it, we highly recommend experimenting with the art of storytelling to take advantage of the science that’s hardwired into our brains.

 

Sources & Additional Reading:

  1. The Science of Storytelling (Forbes)

  2. The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story Is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains (LifeHacker)

  3. Why Storytelling Is the Ultimate Weapon (Co.CREATE)

 

 

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