Oral traditions and storytelling date back long before modern times. So long ago, in fact, that humans are physically hardwired to respond to them. We laugh at a friend’s weekend escapades and sigh in relief when the horror story wraps up, but stories affect our brains in much deeper ways too.
Studies have shown that a compelling tale makes its audience more open, trusting and empathetic by releasing the neurochemical oxytocin . In contrast, labelling a statement as “fact” makes us naturally question the statement more.
Stories also spread faster and farther than facts and statistics. Decades of social psychology research  has shown that people talk to form and strengthen social bonds. Stories support those conversations that allow us to connect much more than facts do. We share what we remember with others, and we simply remember stories more than facts.
In his underground marketing classic, “All Marketers Tell Stories,” author Seth Godin makes the case that it’s stories and not ideas, features or benefits of a particular product that spread from person to person. It’s how someone feels in a particular brand of car that compels their friend to shell out the cash for the same brand. Incidentally, studies show that people talk about approximately 10 brands a day, which means there is a lot of there is a lot of opportunities to be mentioned. But first, you need a great story.
3 Steps to make a great story
To start, a story has to be true and authentic to be great. Customers can sniff out something that doesn’t add up faster than we’d care to admit so your story has to be consistent with the rest of your stories, branding, marketing, and organization.
Secondly, there has to be an emotional hook. Great stories appeal to our feelings and emotions, not our logic, which is why happy endings are so important. Happy endings in a story release dopamine in the body and the audience physically feel good. The audience then associates feeling good with how they feel about your company.
Thirdly, great stories are short. The less that is spelled out to an audience, the more powerful the story is, the more your audience can connect to it and the less chance that you will lose your audience in a longwinded plot.
Turn to your customer reviews to find your organization’s stories
Often we associate telling a story with a grand tale of heroic proportions but these aren’t exactly the tales we share with friends over dinner. It’s the short and sweet anecdotes that get repeated the most often. For example, it’s the story about the server at a local restaurant who helped an autistic child eat while his mother was able to enjoy her meal.
Tap into this opportunity to be a part of the conversation and be memorable by looking at your customer reviews in a new light. Testimonials from verified clients are a gold mine for stories for a number of reasons. Generally, reviews are short and feature a before and after, which can offer the emotional hook needed to grab your audience’s attention.
Also, (since you’ve done your job) there is the happy ending to release all sorts of neurochemicals to help your audience feel more open and trusting. This explains in part why 88 percent  of people trust customer reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
Even search engines recognize how powerful and relevant authentic reviews are when making a buying decision, which is why they account for as much as 10 percent  of how Google’s algorithm decides what to show when.
Put a process in place and make a point to follow up with your customers to collect their reviews after the job has been done. Then, next time you’re looking to make the sale, try telling another customer’s short story instead of listing a few facts.
- How Stories Change the Brain
- Grouped: How small groups of friends are the key to influence on the social web by Paul Adams, 2012
- The Impact of Online Reviews on Customer’s Buying Decisions
- MOZ’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey