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March 16, 2016

Science of Storytelling

You ever hear how Uncle Frank met Auntie Loo?

No? Uncle Frank was at a bar, just home from the Army, when in walks this gorgeous brunette. He gets a handful of change from the bartender and cranks up the jukebox with classic rock and roll. Pretty soon, everyone is dancing, including the brunette. Uncle Frank cuts in and steals the brunette away from this big muscle-head of a guy, Mikey DiMello.

Uncle Frank is this skinny nothing of a kid, looks like he would blow over in a good storm. But Uncle Frank could dance. Oh…could that guy move around the floor. So Uncle Frank steals away the brunette…Her name? Louisa Marie, but Uncle Frank told her that “she didn’t look like a Louisa Marie” so he started calling her Loo…He dances with her all night. Next thing you know….

Wait? You mean you want to hear how the rest of the story goes?

If you are really looking to connect with the hearts and minds of your customers, you need to write a compelling story – a story that people can’t wait to hear. According to an article by Paul. J. Zak published in the Harvard Business Review, you really can connect on a deep level by presenting what he calls a “human-scale story.”

His research demonstrates how humans connect on a biological level when our brains process a neurochemical called oxytocin – the cuddle hormone.

Your brain lights up – and forms connections and trust

Oxytocin should not be confused with Oxycontin/Oxycodone, the pain-relieving opiate-derivative which can be very addictive.

Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the hypothalamus. It is often called the “cuddle hormone” or the “bonding hormone” because it can actually cause us to feel a connection, empathy, or trust. Oxytocin signals us that it’s okay to feel this way because others think it’s okay to feel this way. It makes us feel empathy for our group.

Numerous studies show that when test subjects are administered a does of oxytocin, they are more likely to react strongly and favorably to people they perceive as like them.

The Holy Grail of Social proof

Good storytelling lights up our brains and helps us feel connections. Real scientific proof backs up storytelling as the ultimate social engagement.

How do we make this connection?

Neurobiological studies have shown a repeatable way to hook deeply into the brain – and create a connection.

First, we have to get – and sustain – attention.

This is by far the biggest hurdle in our 100-mph-hair-on-fire society. You need people to stop, be in the moment, and agree that what your hero is worth a moment or two of their time.

We have to grab onto the audience and get them to agree that Walter White or Clark Kent – or Uncle Frank is worth spending some precious time with.

Second, you have to create tension in the narrative.

You introduced your character or your problem. Now you have to get Clark Kent out of the phone booth and ready to save the world. Or find out if Uncle Frank gets the girl or ends up beat up in the alley.

Like all good stories, there has to be a direction, a story arc, a narrative that keeps your listener/reader turning the page or tuning in.

Third, you have to be ready to direct the connection.

We have bought into the Superman myth and want to save the world. As a storyteller (or marketer), it’s now up to you to direct that energy. You set up the after-party at the fan page or associated media show. AMC has done a brilliant job of this with their The Walking Dead fan show Talking Dead. Obsessed fans can rehash the show with the actors and special guests and debate the meaning of story elements. Other shows such as The Good Wife, have an active fan base on Facebook and let fans comment on plot lines and character development.

The best engagement has us not only wanting to make sure that Superman gets out of the phone booth in time to save the world, we want to BE Superman or the winning race driver or feel the sense of power as Walter White builds his empire.

 So…do you want to know what happens with Uncle Frank and Aunt Loo…?

Aunt Loo was engaged to Mikey the muscle guy, but at the end of the night, she left the bar with Uncle Frank and they headed to an all-night cafe way out on Highway 12 for midnight burgers and coffee.

“She ate her burger like a lumberjack,” says Uncle Frank, “I didn’t know how she stayed so tiny – like a hummingbird.”

“Mikey didn’t mind how I ate, ” says Aunt Loo, “and he had a really sweet yellow Corvette convertible and not that hunk a junk Chevy you were driving back then”

“I coulda used a convertible,” says Uncle Frank. “Aunt Loo’s hair smelled like cigarettes and beer.” He squeezed Aunt Loo’s hand, “but that smelled better than any perfume in the world.”

So,  Loo broke it off that week  with Mikey and she an Uncle Frank have been married for 52 years this February.

You’ve heard this story (or something like it) in your own family. Every time it gets told, the details get richer.

I bet I got your brain to light up.

Photo Credit: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/innovation/the-allure-of-brain-scans-123685587/

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