One day, a scorpion decided to cross a great river. Too wide and swift for him to span, he asked a frog for a ride across.
“Won’t you try to kill me if I do?” asked the frog.
“No,” the scorpion replied. “If I try to kill you, then I’ll die too, for I can’t swim!”
As this seemed to make sense to the frog, he agreed to help the scorpion. So the scorpion crawled onto the frog’s back and the pair slid into the muddy water.
Halfway across, the scorpion stung the frog’s back. Numbness began to creep into his limbs.
“You fool!” croaked the frog, “Now we’ll both die! Why did you do that?”
The scorpion shrugged as they sank into the waters of the river. “I couldn’t help myself. It is my nature.”
This parable demonstrates the value of storytelling for a successful PR and marketing campaign. Recently, research has shown that this approach is superior to all other means of messaging. But far too few employ this strategy.
For decades, PR professionals emulated journalists and simply wielded facts to persuade a target market with sheer logic. On the other end of the spectrum, advertising executives bombarded the public with overt messages that became “white noise.”
Those approaches are so misguided. And now research proves it.
Psychologist Raymond Mar’s work on the impact of storytelling has shown the remarkable influence that good storytelling has on shaping public behavior. He notes that, “Researchers have repeatedly found that reader attitudes shift to become more congruent with the ideas expressed in a fictional narrative.”
Why is storytelling so powerful? Because regardless of the facts, people ultimately make emotional decisions that organize information to fit into their preconceived notions. That holds true in business, too. In fact, a piece by Target Marketing in 2011 claims that, “With emotion stimulating the mind 3,000 times faster than rational thought, recently published findings in neuroscience indicate it’s emotion, not reason, that primarily drives customers’ decisions.”
People tend to listen to facts and then accept or reject them based on their perspective. But when they read a story, their mental shields drop. This makes them more open to objectively consider an idea or message.
Instead of delivering cold, hard facts in a non-emotional manner, smart organizations frame their communications in a storytelling, narrative style. Always tell the truth, but do it in an entertaining, emotional way.
This approach has worked since the dawn of time. The Greeks used myths to teach morality. Jesus Christ often spoke in parables to spread the gospel. Shakespeare themed his plays around humanity’s weaknesses while the flames of American civil unrest were fanned by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Too often businesses today focus on content with platforms, believing that merely pushing messages through Facebook and their websites will accomplish their goals. They need instead to focus on what they are saying, not how.
The real secret is mastering the art of storytelling. There is no substitute for connecting on an emotional level – because it’s in our nature.