The latest Star Wars trailer, the M&S Christmas campaign, a preview of the next in the Assassins Creed series. These are some of the most viewed videos online, inspiring endless column inches and fuelling passionate advocacy from fans.
What makes videos like this connect so effectively, and inspire so much engagement?
It might not feel like our brand videos have much in common with these huge cultural behemoths, but is it possible that we could tap into the same techniques they have used to fire the imagination?
The Biology of Storytelling
First, the science bit.
Professor Paul J Zac has carried out studies on the neurobiology of storytelling, which show how character driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points of a presentation. He advises brands to concentrate on a “compelling, human-scale story”.
Zac discovered that a good story causes the brain to produce oxytocin. The production of this neurochemical is a sign that we’re experiencing emotions connected to trust or kindness. It motivates us to co-operate with others by enhancing our sense of empathy.
In this talk for The RSA, Zac talks about his work with oxytocin, and just how much it governs our morality and behavior.
It’s All About the Journey
We can’t discuss storytelling without referencing the work of Joseph Campbell, the writer and scholar who identified common traits between stories from a wide range of disparate cultures.
His concept of The Hero’s Journey draws from the universal themes of transformation and adventure that feature in many ancient myths and legends from around the world.
The structure of The Hero’s Journey can be found in the majority of Hollywood movies, as well as countless novels, plays and songs. It can also be found in many of the most viewed Ted Talks.
In this beautifully animated short film for TED-Ed, we see an overview of the Hero concept, and what it means for us as humans.
Storytelling For Your Brand
Themes of transformation and adventure may be right at home in your local multiplex, but how can they fit in with stories you’re telling about your brand?
Storytelling consultant Kindra Hall has several suggestions on how to go about finding a good story…
- Pick out nouns associated with your brand. Stories tend to attach themselves to people, places, things and events we come across throughout our lives.
- Think about the “firsts” of your brand: the first working prototype of your product; the first time you moved into office space; the first time you became profitable.
- Did you ever meet with any objections? Did someone tell you it can’t be done? Did you have to work to change someone’s mind?
- Have you witnessed your client transforming with your help? How did you cause this transformation?
- When was your Why born? Have you found your Why? What were the circumstances around the discovery?
In Kindra’s talk at an event for Wistia, she elaborates on these points and goes into much more detail about great storytelling.
Crafting Your Story
The crafting step of the process is where you form the structure of your story.
In school, we all learned about structuring a story around “The Beginning, The Middle, and The End”. Personally, I always found this a bit vague and unhelpful.
Kindra Hall offers a new approach around which to base our story:
- The story begins with the world as we know it, The Normal. This is where we set the scene and describe the situation as we know it at the start of the story.
- Then comes The Explosion! It doesn’t have to be a literal explosion; this could be anything dramatic or disruptive, which upsets and displaces The Normal.
- Finally, things settle into The New Normal. This is like a progress report, describing what the changes have been since the explosion, and how this has made the situation better or worse as a result.
In this video for The Futur, Chris Do discusses this structure, along with other strategies for great storytelling.
Video is a visual medium, and it’s important to remember to use the visual tools in your storytelling toolbox.
A common piece of writing advice is to show, don’t tell – a piece of advice which probably originated with playwright Anton Chekhov. Instead of dryly stating what happens, try discussing details that lead the audience to their own discoveries.
Similarly, rather than relying heavily on literal visuals to tell the story, think about using abstract imagery instead. Abstraction leaves room for interpretation, inviting the audience to take a leap of understanding, where they are forming part of the story in their own mind.
This short film, marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, tells the story with a fluid parade of visual metaphors. As well as being visually impressive, the abstract imagery engages the brain to make the experience more intellectually satisfying.
Our brains are wired to respond to stories. It makes sense to harness this power – to satisfy the brain – and leave it wide open to suggestion as a result.
Remember, when you use a story to connect emotionally with your audience, you’re much more likely to gain acceptance and inspire motivation.
Next time you’re creating a video, writing copy, or a preparing a presentation for your brand… use the power of storytelling.