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Marketing, Storytelling and how some ideas were Made to Stick




Every day, we are surrounded by a wide variety of products, but the fraction that we actually own and regularly use can be considered rather small. There is a considerable amount of goods that we consider familiar, and even though we do not have any interest in purchasing them, we may actually know their story.

I often wondered what is the reason behind that: I wanted to know how companies designed their message in such a way that it managed to get my attention and why our brains were wired to respond so well to storytelling.

When companies decide to develop content strategies, they often put a lot of work into designing a complete and complex list of what they can offer you, starting with crunching numbers, technical features and ending with every possible set of statistics they can get their hands on, which make up the rational buyer’s profile. However, behind every decision that we make, there is more than our rational self.

It used to be difficult to place storytelling in a business context because companies usually focus on action and results, but they sometimes forget one important aspect when it comes to building a persuasive story and that is context. In the book Lead with a Story, Paul Smith explains that this is an aspect which leaders used to neglect, but „without context, your story may confuse or bore your audience”.

What I get from this is that maybe not everything is about me or my company, for that matter. People are constantly surrounded with so many messages that they become numb to what brands are trying to communicate, so what is it that manages to catch your attention?

Simply looking at the way storytelling evolved, we can see that

„we humans have been communicating through stories for upwards of 20,000 years, back when our flat screens were cave walls”.

Meanwhile, our motives changed, but the fact that a story can evoke a strong neurological response did not.

Dr. Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist, explains this briefly:

“our brains produce cortisol, the stress hormone, during the tense moments in a story, which allows us to focus, while the cute factor of say – animals in a plot, releases oxytocin, the feel-good chemical that promotes connection and empathy. Other neurological research tells us that a happy ending to a story triggers the limbic system, our brain’s reward center, to release dopamine which makes us feel more hopeful and optimistic.”



Telling the Story that was „Made to Stick”

Now, I think we might agree that there is already a significant number of companies that got the hang of it by now, but I recently came across a business model that immediately got my attention and because it was one of the ideas that stuck with me, I couldn’t help but wonder: Why was I so receptive?

I am talking about Warby Parker, a company that at the first glance was just trying to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.

It sounds pretty simple, however, as I went through a few pages of their website, I started to understand the idea of making your story stick. Chip and Dan Heath, bestselling authors and speakers, explained in their book – Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, why some business endeavors fall and others rise:

  1. Simplicity – This means that your idea must have a core, one that you can focus on. Instead of coming up with a complex motivation of why we should choose Warby Parker, this company simply explained that „Glasses are too expensive, we started Warby Parker to create an alternative. There’s nothing complicated about it. Good eyewear, good outcome.”
  1. Emotions – A good story can always trigger emotion, whether it is positive or negative, „we are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.” So what Warby Parker did was to involve you and enable the understanding that „with your help, we’ve distributed over a million pairs of glasses to people in need” and yes,” the whole story begins with you”.
  1. Unexpectedness – „Do you really sell a monocle? Yes. Yes we do”. Every time your story takes an unexpected turn, people become alert, focused, receptive. However, it doesn’t last, unless you have something meaningful to say. I don’t know about you, but when Warby Parker says that a pair of glasses can increase productivity by 35% and monthly income by 20%, I feel like I would like to find out even more and I shortly did.
    „703 million people currently live without access to eyewear. Our work is cut out for us, our sleeves are rolled up, and we’re excited to move forward together.”

  1. Concreteness – „Because our brains are wired to remember concrete data”, as Dr. Paul Zak puts it, this may be the reason why some businesses fail to communicate the right message. „Meet a few of the people we work with”, this way you get more than numbers, you can relate and understand the real impact that the company has.
  1. Credibility – Overcoming your audience with statistics might not be your best approach, but engaging in dialogue may be. Warby Parker is transparent, ready to answer every question, and back it up in a fun way. „For the full rundown on how we’re performing, read our most recent report card. For bagpipes, step this way.

These are only a few examples that could give you the sense of what a good story looks like and although it may seem like I am describing an old fashioned approach, I am not going to argue against it, because that’s the beauty of it and maybe the reason why it became such a powerful instrument.

What we hope to see more in the future are not only businesses with great stories, but the values, beliefs, and motivations that they manage to create and which could transform the way we imagine the purpose of creating a business in the first place.

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