Arow Down
By Karla Wadgymar | 09 February, 2021

Storytelling is Not Telling Stories

The thing is that storytelling is not the art of telling stories - sorry to break that to you- but the art of creating experiences through stories.

You know what storytelling is. The art of telling stories, right? Boring. It doesn’t matter if it’s from a sales, creative, or design perspective, it seems like storytelling is the holy grail to get your idea to succeed. The thing is that storytelling is not the art of telling stories – sorry to break that to you- but the art of creating experiences through stories.

Let’s get right into facts rather than opinions on what effective storytelling is.

In 2009, a journalist named Rob Walker created a study called significant objects to see if storytelling was, indeed, the most powerful tool to get any customer’s attention and devotion for a product or service. To do this, he bought 200 objects from eBay -the average price of the objects was USD 1-, and then he called 200 authors to be part of his experiment by writing a story to one of the objects. After the authors said yes, he had one story for each of the objects, so he went on eBay again to prove if his storytelling experiment was true. 

Rob Walker bought the 200 objects for a total of USD 129, selling them for 8,000 USD after the story was added, and well, that’s insane. But how is it possible that we get so easily tricked by something so simple as a story? Because even if you didn’t buy one of those objects, the truth is that we are constantly tricked under the effect of great storytelling making us buy products or relate with brands more profoundly. And don’t try to deny it because it’s well known that everyone shed a tear, or got excited with the latest Nike ad that went straight to our lockdown feelings in the middle of a global pandemic. 

The magic of storytelling comes down to one core thing: emotional investment. The more emotionally invested you are in anything in your life, the less critical and the less objectively observant you become.

As a research developed by P.h.D Paul J. Sak. in 2015, on the neuroscience of narrative says, when faced with stories, our brain is flooded with neurotransmitters and hormones that make us feel empathy (oxytocin), get focused (dopamine), get motivated (adrenaline) and hundreds of other biochemical reactions whose effect on our system can cause us to make decisions like buying a horrible object for twice its price on eBay. This is, indeed, the “magic” of storytelling, just a biochemical reaction that makes us take action into the dynamics of the market. 

Modern storytelling has been evolving to create a whole universe of possibilities in which the customer becomes the protagonist, and the challenges that he or she faces, are the ones that can be solved by your product or service. In that way, you, as a brand, have a crucial role to play within the customer’s journey, not only on creating the story but also on making your brand become the hero of the struggles that your customer is facing. So in that way you create an experience, through stories, to make your audience engage with your brand on a deeper level than regular advertising.

Now let’s think about how a story can be told through branding. You can, of course, create content and strategies whose core relies on storytelling. But what about telling a story through graphic assets? No dialogue, no motion, only a set of visuals to engage with your audience. Well, you have been experiencing it more often than you think.

The whole story of how amazon works is told just by its logo. They deliver everything from A to Z in a fast, simple, and cost-effective way. So by only looking at the arrow that, literally, connects A to Z, you as a customer, partner, company, or digital shopaholic, are experiencing multiple narratives in just six letters and one graphic element.

Now let’s think of a way to experience a story that connects on a deeper level with its audience by talking about the latest rebranding of Burger King. You may love it or hate it, either way, you are feeling something, right? The amazing meaning behind the decision to change its image for the first time in twenty years has to do with the power of nostalgia and how it psychologically connects with us to provoke all of the amazing biochemical reactions we spoke about earlier and make consumers take action to buy products.

“Nostalgia is a phenomenon that can be used to evoke positive feelings. This makes it a marketing tool, and it’s particularly associated with millennials. As this generation ages into their late twenties and thirties, their dollar is becoming important in the consumer market”

– Michael Beausoleil on The Psychological Power of Nostalgia in Burger King’s Throwback Logo.

Think about 2020 and the way it affected millions of people around the world. How hearing bad news daily created anxiety and depression.

While people were uncomfortable with the present and hopeless about the future, Burger King came to say: Hey, let me remind you how the past was a better time for humanity, how yesterday was a moment in your life that made you feel good, and what about if you experience those moments while eating one of our hamburgers? Burger King’s rebranding is an excellent example of the power of storytelling transformed into an experience, it can provoke deeper ways of engagement just by hacking the magic behind the art of telling stories.

So don’t forget to tell stories that create an experience for your audience, because only in that way you’ll be hitting the “magical” side of storytelling as a core strategy for your brand. And if you want to see how stories are told through branding, check out our projects featured on Behance, where every single brand is carefully crafted to tell stories through graphic design.