The Art of Storytelling Means Big Business


What is it about a good story that gets our attention?

In his article about the science of storytelling, Leo Widrich points out that,

“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.

When we tell stories to others that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on them too. The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it can synchronize. Anything you’ve experienced, you can get others to experience the same. Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That’s why metaphors work so well with us. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, or disgust.”

In business, people respond quicker and retain more when information is communicated through storytelling. This means that people are more willing to accept new ideas, buy-in to new projects, or buy your product or service when your value proposition is conveyed through a story. In many business circles, these stories take the form of case studies or demos of existing client work.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a story that might help:

In a literary, anthropological experiment on eBay entitled, Significant Objects, Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, demonstrated that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively.

The project involved the purchase of items on eBay that contained traditional product descriptions. Once purchased, these items were re-sold on Ebay. Instead of item descriptions, short stories were written for each item. These stories were provided by over 200 professional writers. The result of the experiment was that objects originally bought for $1.25 a piece on eBay, were resold on eBay for $36.12 apiece (on average) for a grand total of $8,000. These proceeds were then distributed to the contributors, and to nonprofit creative writing organizations.

The message here is that there is real power in good storytelling. It speeds decision-making, builds consensus, and motivates buyers while creating a lasting bond through shared experiences.

And that’s no tall tale …