Guest blog by Marta Krumina.
Most marketers will have heard the phrase ‘’stories sell’’, but do we understand why that’s the case? This question always reminds me of a particularly strong memory I have from my childhood that not only shows the importance of storytelling but is also a very valuable business lesson.
When I was young, I would spend a lot of time during the summer holidays with my grandparents. They would take care of me and completely spoil me with tons of sweets, beach trips and flexible bedtimes, but they would also talk to me and teach me about life. One particular business lesson involved selling produce and flower bouquets at the local market. My granny – who is very savvy – decided that rather than simply giving me money to go to the funfair, she would show me how to make it for myself. After collecting flowers from the garden and arranging our own bouquets, we headed over to the market.
At this tiny, teensy village market – not an exact place for making a lot of money, but the perfect amount for a ticket and a few games at the funfair – one after another, a number of strangers walked toward us and then stopped. As it turned out, my granny already knew a lot of them, and without hesitation, she chatted away with all of them. This somehow made them buy at least one flower bouquet each. It seemed a bit odd to me that the more granny was talking to them, the keener they were to buy the flowers. Granny chatted, and the money started lining up. I could tell, even from such a young age, that there was something going on here: we were on to something. My good, old granny was explaining the reasons behind us selling the flowers and what we were trying to achieve with the money, supplying them with my story of needing money for my ticket.
I could see what was happening, but I still didn’t quite understand it. Somehow, granny’s talking worked wonders on these people, and in the end, we sold all of our bouquets. The strange thing is that I can barely remember what I bought for the money at the funfair, but I can remember granny’s savviness and a lesson for a lifetime – stories sell. Especially if they are relatable, visible and involve a great cause to do something good.
One may be wondering why this is important in marketing. Think about it. If a story can make someone see themselves in it, give meaning and make it personal, what could be a better way for a brand to connect with their customer? This emotional connection can create a relationship between a brand and a customer and ultimately lead them to an action of buying a product or a service. It is a win-win situation, just like in the market. Customers got to buy beautiful floral bouquets, and at the same time support a child’s time at the fair, all because granny spun a story.
The importance of stories in our daily lives and particularly in marketing is backed up by research. An experiment in 1944 in Massachusetts was carried out on 34 college students where they were shown a short video with a couple of triangles and a circle shifting around on the screen. Although there wasn’t any reason for the figures to move around, most students created a story in their heads and then reported the film being about something meaningful, such as abuse or bullying. This just shows that even when there aren’t any links, patterns, or a purpose to something, humans tend to invent stories to better understand and relate to a particular situation or other people. It turns out that we are programmed to see patterns of information such as people’s faces, music notes, letters and so on. Once we recognise them, we are inclined to give these patterns meaning. Interestingly, when we read, see or hear stories, we also recognise them as patterns to establish meaning in our own lives: we find them personal and we imagine ourselves in them.
We already know that stories and content are an increasingly important part of marketing but often they are regarded as a fairly recent realisation in the industry. In fact, this isn’t true at all. Brands entertaining their potential customers in this way dates back to the 1930s. Procter & Gamble was the first company which sponsored and produced the very first radio serial dramas in order to advertise their products to housewives. Back then, the company was known for their detergents which is why their series inherited the name ‘’soap operas’’. Procter & Gamble continued to support and produce various radio serials and this also transitioned into television in the 1950s.
In addition, stories give us something to talk about with other people which is an important aspect of creating connection, since humans are social beings and, in marketing, being talked about is powerful. This is called word of mouth marketing and it is the ultimate goal for any marketeer to have other people do the work for you by talking about your brand and increasing its exposure. Word of mouth marketing is also free, which is a significant plus.
I have seen the importance of storytelling in person from as early as my childhood and you probably have too. As psychology and research tell us, we are wired to make sense of this world and ourselves through stories. Since it is a universal language of human beings, you as a brand want to capitalise on that by humanising what you do through storytelling and building strong, long-term relationships with your customers. Speak their language, not yours.
By Marta Krumina
Digital Marketing Executive
- Heider & Simmel (1944). An Experimental Study of Apparent Behavior. The American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 57, No. 2, pp. 243-259 (http://cs.uky.edu/~sgware/reading/papers/heider1944experimental.pdf).
- Encyclopedia.com (https://www.encyclopedia.com/literature-and-arts/performing-arts/film-and-television/soap-operas).