Brand Strategy: The Science Behind Phenomenal Brand Stories

The best marketers tell stories. And while stories can be used in a strategy, there is no plug-and-publish tool that captures your audience’s attention more than a story told from the heart. The best brands know this. They may have teams for content creation, management and strategy but at the center of every great business is its story filled with passion and purpose.

Our passion at BrandPsyche starts with the story. We believe that every great brand has a story to tell and a soul to share with the world. We believe great stories do more than sell things: they bring together people, inspire action and build legacies that make a difference.

This week I’m breaking down the components of a great story and the ways you can start telling yours to build brand engagement, loyalty and equity.

science-behind-story

If You Want to Stand-Out, Start with Story

Stories get us out of bed in the morning. They propel us to take action when we normally wouldn’t. They dictate what we do in our day, the people we speak to and our thoughts on any particular subject.

Stories exist because humans exist. Without stories, we wouldn’t find meaning.

From a psychological standpoint, stories work in wondrous ways. Let’s start with language. When we sit in front of a PowerPoint presentation, the language processing areas of our brain (Broca’s and Wernicke’s to be exact) light up. If it’s a particularly boring presentation, nothing else happens.

But if we are told a story, our brains light up like the Fourth of July. Areas of our brains such as motion or sensory activate alongside the language processing areas. So if you talk about lavender or leather, your sensory cortex becomes aroused. You describe a particularly dynamic event and the motion cortex starts working.

And it gets better. When we tell a story, one that significantly shapes our life or has had meaning for us in the past, by simply telling the story to another our brains can synchronize (source). Known as neural coupling, identical brain areas in both the speaker and listener light up when told a story, meaning the listener can experience similar effects of the story simply by listening.

Which is all very fascinating but there’s more.

The Science Behind Story

Humans are wired for stories. In the most basic form, a story is built from cause and effect. The human brain is built the same way.

We think in narratives all day (source). These narratives help us navigate the world, determine what is dangerous and help us relate to experiences and people around us. The reason we use narratives to relate to the world is so we can group similar experiences together (happening in the insula region) to better understand our part in the collective whole.

But it’s not just how our brain works that makes stories so compelling. The chemical response to story is another factor in why brands need stories.

Oxytocin is a powerful neurohormone known for its intimacy-inducing, empathy-building, lovey-dovey effects. While oxytocin is best known for its correlation with physical touch, did you know it also plays a role in creating bonds in storytelling?

Recent research has uncovered a link between empathy-inducing oxytocin and narratives (source). When telling character-driven stories that start with conflict, viewers’ emotions and empathy were activated more strongly than if told a simple cause and effect narrative. The monitoring of oxytocin showed a spike in the neurohormone as the story was told.

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Transcendent Purpose vs Transactional Purpose

Now that we know how story works, we must look to its hero.

Transcendent purpose is another way to describe what I call your brand’s psyche or Soul. It’s the reason your business is in existence. It’s what makes lives better, whether through a product or service. It’s your brand’s reason for being and the start of a great story.

Transactional purpose is being in business to make money, not meaning. It’s the reason so many businesses fail. Founders look to dollar signs and cut corners, not worried about quality or long-lasting impact.

It’s no surprise that transcendent purpose couples with story, while transactional purpose is void of any story that matters.

Getting Started with Story

1 | Discover Your Transcendent Purpose

Why are you in business? In what ways do you want to change the world? What legacy do you want to leave? These questions force us to think beyond our microcosmic world and into the collective. If you are struggling, or want to dig deeper, the BrandMantra® Method is a free resource to get the wheels turning.

2 | Unleash the Tension

Conflict is at the heart of any great story. There doesn’t need to be a significant amount of drama (though the greater the tension the better at times), but there does not to be opposition. The key here is to have a firmly rooted and vehement view on a particular subject, and to voice it without reservation. For example, Apple does a great job of making sure they are anything BUT the classic suit and tie guy.

3 | Tell a Tale Worth Sharing

Where rubber hits the road is actually telling your story to the masses. This is where things can get tricky. For some, telling their story means becoming vulnerable. For others, they don’t know how to tell their story in a way that engages their audience. My advice: don’t worry so much about what’s happening out there, focus more on what’s happening from your heart. Telling a tale worth sharing can’t be found in a particular formula, it can only be found in speaking from a place where passion resides.

For more help in building a stand-out story, check out BrandStory Strategy. In the meantime, if you’ve got a particular question about storytelling or thoughts on this particular topic, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!