How Storytelling Generates Revenue

When asked about where marketing is headed, Jonathan Ehlrich, former Director of Marketing at Facebook, said "At its foundation, marketing is about storytelling. The best marketers are the best storytellers."

In the last post, we learned about how stories move people, how they help others remember your brand, how they plant ideas and thoughts that take root in our brains, sometimes for hours and sometimes for years. Stories can do a lot more than that. Stories move us emotionally and they can also move us to take action. All that from a story? Oh yes. But don't take my word for it. 

Take, for instance, this globe. How much would you pay for it? $5? $10? Maybe even $20? What if I told you that this glove sold for almost $200 (two hundred, that's not a typo)? Thanks to an experiment called Significant Objects, a researcher purchased $128.74 worth of "chachkies" and sold them for $3612.51 online. A 2700% MARKUP! How?

He assigned writers to each object. The writers wrote a story about each item, it's origins, and what it meant to them. 

Here's the story for the globe, which was purchased for $1.49 and sold for $197.50:


There is another story and it's not about a particular object, product or service. It's a story about Ben and his father. Ben is two years old. Ben is dying. In an animated short, Ben's father tells us that Ben has a brain tumor and that in a matter of months, his life will end. Ben is happy because he has no idea what's happening inside his body. His father, however, struggles, but must continue to stay strong for Ben and his family. After watching this short, more than half the viewers donated money to a cancer-related charity.  The other group of viewers watched a video entitled "Miracle Boy" showing Ben and his father strolling along in the zoo. At the end of this film, the audience donated little or no money. What made people contribute heavily after the first film but not the second one? Researchers measured the neural activity of the viewers to find out.



The people who watched the first video released two neurochemicals - oxytocin and ACTH. ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), the pre-cursor to cortisol, mediates visual attention. It's released seconds after any kind of stimulus and prepares us to act. Our ability to maintain and hone attention comes primarily from ACTH. Oxytocin, sometimes called the moral molecule, is the neuropeptide responsible for making us feel emotionally connected. Oxytocin helps us experience empathy and, as the researchers found, is the primary reason participants donated. People are more trustworthy, more generous, more compassionate and as a result, more charitable. 

If you still have any doubts, you are not the only one. Paul Zak, a Professor (and pioneer) in neuroeconomics and lead researcher for the above study, wanted to find out how much of a role oxytocin really played so in his next experiment, he sprayed some of the subjects intra-nasally with oxytocin. These participants donated 57% more to causes than their counterparts and their donations were 50% higher. Zak's work coincides with something we all know intrinsically -  we are all emotional beings looking for a connection. The key to translate this into business is not only about the products we sell, but the stories we tell.


Seth Godin puts it best: