Robert Shiller, a Nobel laureate in economics and Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale, has for years urged his colleagues to consider how popular narratives influence booms, bubbles, recessions, and other economic events. In a discipline predicated on hard empirical data, his suggestion that economists need to broaden their inquiries in order to better understand how narratives affect economic activity has really shaken up this hidebound field. Shiller calls his interdisciplinary approach “narrative economics,” and if you’re interested in the arguments he makes, you can read all about them in his bestselling books, including Irrational Exuberance (2000), Animal Spirits (2009), and, most recently, Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events (2019).
In a nutshell, Shiller’s work lays down challenges within economics that radiate out to softer academic disciplines like psychology, philosophy, history, literature, sociology, anthropology and political thought; he wants to know how dominant economic narratives develop, and what determines how they evolve over time.
“A universal truth about humans is that everywhere, in every human society, we use language and tell stories,” explains Shiller. “The stories people tell – about economic confidence or panic, housing booms, the American dream, etc. – affect economic outcomes.” In other words, what really matters when it comes to shaping human economic behavior – and what can explain what statistics miss – is a good story.
The Power of a Strong Brand Story
Just like in the field of economics, the power of storytelling is also a hot topic in the world of branding and marketing. As everyone knows who’s read a good book or seen a great film, a mesmerizing story has the power to take us to new places, make us laugh, and make us cry. But the real power of storytelling goes even deeper. Stories have been with us since the beginning of time and are a primal, archetypal force. Even a small child knows a good story when they hear one, and loses interest quickly when a story doesn’t deliver. Adult consumers are no different, but stories are not just for entertainment. Their true power lies in their ability to help us understand ourselves, to motivate us, and to change us.
Even a small child knows a good story when they hear one, and loses interest quickly when a story doesn’t deliver. Adult consumers are no different.
Think about it. In this chaotic age of information overload, consumers are flooded with choices and information. Which means to stand out from the crowd and build a successful brand, you need to connect with people on an emotional level. And that’s what stories do best.
Telling an authentic and unique brand story can spark an emotional response in your audience, engaging them in a way that inspires loyalty and, when a product fails or a service underwhelms, forgiveness. The key is to tell your story with passion, purpose, and above all, honesty.
By igniting a strong emotional response, your story gives people something to believe in, and a chance to buy in from the heart. Take Tom’s for example, the “One for One Company” that helps people in need with every product purchased. That story opened up a whole new market for socially conscious consumerism. Or consider Nike, and their iconic tagline. What emotion does “Just do it” spark in you? Determination? Motivation? Fear? Excitement? Does it make you want to push yourself harder? That’s what a story can do.
At our Charlotte branding agency, we specialize in helping clients create and communicate brand narratives with the power to transform customer experiences, revitalize products and services, and spark new business opportunities. We start by asking simple questions, like who are you as a company? How did you come about? Why are you doing what you do? What inspires you? And most importantly, why should people care? As these answers crystalize, so will your brand story.
Of course, beyond the demonstrable marketing value, a coherent, compelling brand story can also contribute to a company’s overall strategic planning by driving a company’s vision and mission and emphasizing its organizational values. Storytelling is a great tool for businesses seeking to connect with both their customers AND their employees.