The Psychological Secrets of Storytelling


Earlier this week, I came across a great article on a blog titled “The Psychology of Storytelling” by Gregory Ciotti, a marketer and behavioral psychology writer.

Ciotti starts with a simple proposition:  Stories sell information. He cites a study which found that subjects who were more “transported,” i.e. swept up by a story’s imagery and emotions, were also less likely to find false information in these stories. Lawyers, too, understand the power of storytelling. When convincing juries for instance, lawyers who use storytelling and much more likely to persuade a jury than lawyers who just stick to the facts.

Stories work in marketing – they build emotional bonds with consumers in ways that simple value propositions don’t.

Here are few of the highlights.

We’re hardwired to love suspense

The Zeigarnik Effect is a well documented phenomenon in psychology. It describes the tendency to remember things better that are unfinished or uncompleted. We just hate to leave things up in the air.

Research in that area seems to point to humans being much more inclined to finish something that has already been started (researchers interrupted people doing “brain buster” tasks before they could complete them… nearly 90% of people went on to finish the task anyway, despite being told they could stop).

Delivery Means Everything

How many times have you retold a great joke, only for it to fall flat upon retelling? The best written stories work the same way.

Similar to how a good joke turns into a great joke with perfect delivery, Mazzoco and Green’s research pointed to delivery in the courtroom being of the utmost importance.

This translates to writing in a similar fashion: pacing and deliver of the story matter as much as the content.

Audience Matters

Would you start telling the story of Freddy Krueger to a 5-year-old? Getting your audience right in marketing is everything, and knowing how to tell that audience also matters. Storytelling, in part, relies on a certain shared cultural backgrounds. We like stories because we relate to them. The best stories are often rooted in in the local imagination and vernacular.

Storytelling is a powerful tool in any marketer’s arsenal, but it’s especially powerful for local marketers.

Read Ciotti’s full article here.