Once upon a Time: Is Storytelling Just Another Buzzword?

By Nicholas Courant


Every now and then, the communication community succumbs to some buzzword frenzy. Given the recent flow of blogposts and business books about storytelling, corporate storytelling and transmedia storytelling, you might think that there is indeed another buzzword on the block. But looking beyond the hype, storytelling just might have a more long-lasting impact on how organizations and brands communicate with those that matter most to them.

Another One Bites the Dust, or Not?

Sure enough, the act of storytelling is not exactly a radically new concept, as it literally dates back to our stone-age ancestors.  But is it another marketing fad that will go out of fashion just as quickly as the hype emerged?

I think that there are reasons to believe that the concept behind corporate storytelling will outlive the buzzword. Why? Well, because in some ways, it is a game-changer that appeals to a real need in disciplines like corporate communication and PR.

One of the biggest challenges for professionals working in these disciplines is to create true impact with messages and content that really is of more importance to them than to their audiences. Why after all, should your consumer really care about that new product launch or your business prospect care about your latest corporate announcement? The answer lies in a component too often overlooked in PR and corporate communication: emotion.

Creating Deep Impact

Even if your news is relevant for the stakeholders that matter most to you, the challenge remains; how do you win not just their minds, but also their hearts? Well…this is exactly what storytelling can do: stories make people care about what you are telling them.

People can usually understand your message, but if it leaves them cold, they will be unaffected, and chances are you will be unsuccessful in your communication efforts. Although getting your facts and figures right is of paramount importance, they’ll fall short of creating true impact; making people remember and even cherish your message with emotion.

In a recent blogpost, Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, lists scientific evidence backing up the claim that storytelling is an innate human capacity and the most powerful means of communicating a message. A recent American Scientific article even illustrates how our love for telling a story can be traced back to our evolutionary history. It is indeed clear that storytelling meets the need for more emotion in fact-based communication.

Just Add Emotion

Only a few years ago, social media was the subject of a similar “buzzword or not” discussion. Today, it would be hard to dispute that social media kicked off a revolution and has transformed the way we communicate. One-way, top-down communication has been replaced by conversations between equals and audience-participation has become the norm.

I believe that storytelling will add another dimension to the equation. To create impact, and win people’s hearts, communication should add emotion to facts. Using the techniques of corporate storytelling, product launches and dull corporate announcements can become part of a net that captures people’s attention and bypasses the infamous “what’s in it for me?” question.

Just think of all those presentations where you sat there thinking: “Why the hell should I care about this stuff? Why on earth am I looking at these graphs and bullet-point infested slides?” Abstract concepts and ideas might help our minds understand the complexities of the world in which we live, but most of us don’t get motivated by factual information alone. We do identify with characters in a story, with their challenges and with their journey. Once a story has grabbed our attention, we can’t stop ourselves from caring about how it ends. That’s why, contrary to a PowerPoint sheet with bullets and graphs, stories will be instantly remembered because of their emotional angles.

Stories As Change Agents

And finally: stories are the ultimate vehicle to change not only people’s convictions but also their behavior. The influential branding expert Martin Lindstrom has argued that we don’t buy simply with our conscious brain. Our decisions and actions are hugely influenced by how we feel and what we sense. Research by behavioral neurobiologists like António Damásio has confirmed that our brain not only relies on conscious reasoning, but also on emotion to make decision.

Storytelling adds that emotional component that will make people want to change, more than what any fact-based communication can do on its own. And that is exactly why I believe that the practice of storytelling will outlive the buzzword: it just works.


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