The lazy mind
Not only does our brain store information as difficult to search processed data, but it turns out that it’s bone idle as well!
Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman describes the behaviour of the brain using the model of System 1 and System 2 thinking. These systems don’t physically exist in the brain, but they are a useful model to help us understand how parts of it work.
System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.
Unfortunately, our brains would much rather use System 1 thinking wherever possible, turning to unconscious and deeply-held beliefs, biases and intuitions in place of rational calculation and logic.
Not for nothing does Kahneman call the human brain The Lazy Controller. And the upshot is that even when we think we are making cold, calculated decisions based on the facts and the facts alone, we are almost certainly being directed by our emotions and our beliefs – and the stories which helped create them.
How the story works
So by understanding first how the human brain assembles and stores information, and then how it uses that information to make everyday decisions, we start to understand why stories are so powerful:
- The story is essentially the process by which the brain takes facts and turns them into memories for later recall.
- The brain then finds it much easier to seek decision-making guidance from the stories themselves, rather than the raw facts which underpin them.
By presenting our sales and marketing messages in the form of stories, we are therefore helping our audience process and absorb our information in a form and a framework they find most comfortable. This will in turn help them recall it more easily and accurately at the point of decision making.
How to tell stories which sell
Of course, communicators have been using the power of stories to their advantage for millennia.
Religions have always built their moral teachings into stories. Social commentators from Swift to Orwell, Austen to Angelou have done the same. Charity appeals for complex problems are increasingly focused down on to just a single human face, a single person’s story. And just think how many successful politicians and political parties have succeeded with single-theme, easily-grasped narratives (from ‘No taxation without representation’ to ‘America First’, to take the United States alone).
Inevitably, sales and marketing professionals have followed suit, exploiting the power of the story since the first trader sang out the freshness of her produce or illustrated them in chalk on the wall behind her.
So, if stories are so important, how do we make sure that ours are the stories that sell?
Drawing together all that we have explored so far, we can identify that our stories should above all be concise, consistent, and causal.
Remember that one of the purposes of a story is to condense a large amount of information into a compressed, easy-to-remember format. So keep the story clear, short and to the point.
That doesn’t mean that the vehicle for the story has to be short, of course. Long narrative ad campaigns are a case in point – from the Bisto family to the Gold Blend coffee couple to the annual John Lewis adverts and today’s multitude of viral online campaigns, these are certainly not short advertisements.
But beneath each of them lies a short, simple story which can be told – and remembered – in just a few words, helping the brand in each instance to communicate the essence of its messaging.
And this isn’t just a B2C message either. In B2B marketing, the website and brochure might be long, and the technical sheets may be packed full of cold hard facts. But the underlying story, often in the form of the core value proposition, has to be clear and concise.
Inevitably, common B2B marketing techniques like the case study also have a critical role to play in presenting this story.