The Secrets of Storytellers: Why Stories are Better Than Stats

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Aesop would've been great at marketing.

Remember The Boy Who Cried Wolf? The young shepherd who repeatedly tricks villagers into believing that wolves have come into the field after the sheep. Then, when wolves actually show up, no one believes him and the shepherd gets eaten.

Aesop told this tale some 2,600 years ago (620 BC!) and kids today still know the dangers of lying as "crying wolf."

Why don't parents just tell kids "people are 13% less likely to believe you after each time they catch you in a lie"?Because stories work better.

The questions then becomes why are stories better than stats and what are we supposed to do about it?

Consider Baby Jessica. In 1997, this 18-month old Texas girl fell into a well. Her rescue was covered around the clock for 2 days as the entire nation watched with a sense of shared concern. Strangers from across the US were so compelled by her story they sent in donations totaling $800,000.

Now consider the women of Africa. Some estimates (although there is debate about the subject) say 66 million girls in Africa are more likely to be sexually abused than they are to go to high school.

Yet they get far less per day than a girl who was rescued from a well.

Why? Because Baby Jessica was a story. She was a girl everyone felt like they knew. They knew her mom and her house. They were connected to this girl through the story unfolding on TV.

How do you use stories to connect to your audience?

The Baby Jessica story spurred people to give money without even asking because of something called the identifiable victim theory. People are more likely to act when they see one victim than when they see a mass of people who need help. It's easy to feel like you can help one person.

Tip: If you story includes someone going through a tough time – use one person rather than a crowd to help people connect to them and feel like they can help.

But most stories you'll use in marketing will have a main character that isn't a victim. You need to be very conscious of how you depict this character as they will make or break your story.

Attributes of a great main character:

  1. Desire – You can’t expect your audience to care more about something than your main character does.
  2. Complexity – Anchors the character’s desire in a strong way. The “why” behind the character’s desire.
  3. Uniqueness – We are hardwired to pay attention to novelty.

Here are two ads that represent the opposite ends of the storytelling spectrum.

Let's start with the good:

...aaand now the bad:

A few steps to follow to make your story resonate:
  • Find a unique angle
  • Choose one character
  • Highlight their desire
  • Explore conflicts that stand in their way
  • Take your audience on a journey
  • Be intentional – root every choice in your storytelling to a purpose

If you want the formula for writing buyer journeys that resonate, we've covered all the bases. But if you want the holy grail of storytelling magic, you should really check out our ebook on becoming a story marketing legend:

Download Your Free Content Creation GuideRead up and bring a little of that Aesop magic to your brand.