Updated: Dec 13, 2021
As my birthdays pile up, the list of things I really believe to be true without hesitation grows smaller. Perhaps that is wisdom. Perhaps it is cynicism. I’m not entirely sure, but what I am sure of is this:
Few things move a human being to action and change faster than a well-told story.
Thankfully, you don’t have to take my word for it. Antonio Dammeio, the David Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience, as well as Professor of Psychology, Philosophy, and Neurology, at the University of Southern California, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute is a lot smarter than me.
“The problem of how to make all this attained wisdom understandable, transmissible, persuasive, and enforceable—in a word, of how to make it stick—was faced and a solution found. Storytelling was the evolutionary solution—storytelling is something our brains do naturally and implicitly. It should be no surprise that it pervades the entire fabric of human societies and cultures.”
In other words, our brains are, quite literally, hardwired to find and connect to stories that relate to the problems and obstacles we face.
Folklore was born out of this belief. It was the culmination of everything I had learned and believed to be true about public relations; marketing; and even advertising, filtered through what I had learned about stories and writing during my time as an English and Writing major.
I see so many of my peers focused on trying to convince people with data and logical arguments about why their product or service is better than another, but I truly don’t believe that’s why we make the decisions we do.
I think we like to believe we make decisions based on facts and logic, that the logical solution will be the right one and therefore make us feel good. But my belief has always been that we make most decisions based on our feelings rooted in our past experiences (some would call it our gut), and we dare the facts and figures to change our mind. We put the burden of proof on logic and data, not on our feelings.
Jonah Lehrer, another really smart neuroscientist said it this way, “If it weren’t for our emotions, reason wouldn’t exist at all.”
Our emotions and feelings about things are the way our brain organizes and orders what is important to us, and without it, everything is given the same weight.
In other words, take emotions and feelings out of the picture, and you're deciding what to do when a bear enters your camp, protecting your tent would be equally weighted against protecting your family.
So, why am I talking so much about how our brains work? It’s simply this. Storytelling has become very en vogue for marketing and communications professionals to talk about recently. But if we aren’t really building campaigns and brands that borrow from the hardwiring for character archetypes, story arcs, and human themes that our brains naturally connect with, it’s just another fad and jargon. It’s certainly useless to you as a person or organization.
But if you dare to open your story and really own it. And more importantly, if you care to connect to the stories of your key audiences and publics, you will unlock a power previously only imagined.
That’s what we’re working to be better at each and every day. And that’s how we can make a difference for you. Because nobody should feel lost in their own story.