One of my go-to phrases is, “a story’s always being told, but who’s telling it?”
Sometimes the answer to this question is obvious. But often it’s less clear. The human brain is always creating some sort of story when it takes in information. It’s running the data through a set of rapid decision points, drawing conclusions and making assumptions. All done at lightning-fast speed. So, yes, a story is always being told, but not always by the person who thinks they’re telling it.
It all comes down to detail. Does your story have enough specificity to make it compelling and clear?
The silent movie
To demonstrate this in workshops, I’ll show Heider and Simmel’s famous silent animation.
Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel’s 1944 “An Experimental Study of Apparent Behavior” was a pioneering social psychology study. It examined how people perceive and attribute intentionality and social interactions to non-human, geometric shapes. Participants in the experiment were shown the animation and asked to describe what they saw.
The majority of participants attributed human-like intentions, emotions, and social roles to the shapes. Movements were seen as purposeful and believed to represent social interactions, such as chasing, fighting, or protecting. The findings suggested that humans have a natural tendency to ascribe social meaning to observed events, even when the stimuli are simple geometric figures.
The experiment has been cited as a good example of the brain as a storyteller. Many of us see the shapes as characters in conflicts that are then resolved. But that’s where the story clarity ends.
When I show the film in a workshop, I can pretty much guarantee I’ll get about three or four different versions of the story. Some people see a set of star-crossed lovers, some see a bully, some see children pestering a homeowner. No consistency. And that’s because the story lacks specifics. It lacks detail. The storytelling is left to the brain of the viewer.
Lost in translation
In our work with brands and businesses this is a theme that emerges time and time again. We see businesses move toward generic stories that lack the detail needed to bring them to life and provide clarity. While there’s no denying the value of broad, overarching narratives in capturing an audience’s attention, it’s specificity that ultimately breathes life into a story.
Incorporating detailed storytelling elements not only enhances the authenticity and credibility of a story, it also fosters deeper connections with a target audience. And more importantly it makes your story’s intent clearer.
Supporting an authentic narrative
Specificity and detail are the building blocks of an authentic narrative. They paint a vivid picture of the brand’s journey, values, and mission, allowing the audience to see the real people and events behind the company. When you share intricate details of your brand’s origin, challenges, and accomplishments, you invite the audience to step into your world and experience it first-hand. This authenticity fosters trust and establishes credibility. Key ingredients for building strong customer relationships.
We know it’s essential for brands to set themselves apart from their competitors. So, what value does being generic add? None. The more specific and detailed your story, the more memorable and differentiated your brand becomes. This uniqueness is vital to capture the attention of potential customers and ensure they remember your brand when making purchasing decisions.
Establishing an emotional connection
Emotions help shape consumer behaviour, and stories have a unique ability to evoke them. By being specific in your brand stories, you can forge a deeper emotional connection with your audience. Share stories of real people, their struggles, and their triumphs. This humanizes your brand and makes it relatable. An emotional connection can inspire loyalty, foster brand advocacy, and ultimately, drive long-term success.
Compelling stories keep an audience engaged and interested. Specificity and detail create a rich, immersive experience for your audience. You’re inviting your audience to become active participants in the overall brand narrative. And active engagement fosters a stronger bond between the audience and the brand, leading to increased customer loyalty and satisfaction.
A specific story is more likely to be remembered by the audience. By providing concrete examples, vivid imagery, and relatable anecdotes, you make it easier for people to retain the information and recall it later. This enhanced memorability is crucial in influencing customer behaviour and ensuring that your brand remains top-of-mind.
As communicators we need to find ways to make our stories work harder. By weaving detailed elements into your stories, you create an authentic, engaging, and memorable experience for your audience. This doesn’t mean writing a ten-page novel to sell a simple idea, product, or service. Brevity is all in this always-on, ever-changing world. But find those detail hooks. Don’t opt for the simple geometric shapes. Opt for the richer, crafted version and embrace the power of specificity to make truly captivating and unforgettable connections.