The online dialogue: Conversion optimisation with storytelling

The online dialogue: Conversion optimisation with storytelling

Storytelling can make you more attractive to others. Evolutionary, storytellers have many advantages. If you're a good storyteller, you have better chances of finding social partners. You receive more community support and have healthier offspring. At least that's what the results of a study with a hunter-gatherer population in the Philippines state. It would explain why stories are part of every culture at all times. Evolutionary, it ensured the survival of your bloodline as well as of the whole group. This article is about why you should incorporate storytelling into the customer journey. Your brand's chances of survival will increase. With improved storytelling in the online dialogue, conversion will follow.

Stories make us human

Jonathan Gottschall, author of the book 'The Storytelling Animal', argues that it's our storytelling mind that makes us human. "We are, as species, addicted to stories. As the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories." Through telling stories, we explain cause and effect, and we bring across values, lessons and emotions. Shared values and social norms ensure peaceful and fruitful cooperation among strangers.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the book 'Sapiens' says: "The truly unique trait of Sapiens is our ability to create and believe fiction." He argues that this is how humans ensure social order in ever-growing societies. Ultimately, stories enable human progress.

Storytelling and the brain

We reason in stories

Stories help us make sense of the world and what is happening around us. We see storylines in everyone and everything. This enables us to understand what is happening around us, and we can adjust our behaviour accordingly.

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From ancient times, people create stories to explain nature and the world. Our ancestors assigned human-like characteristics to animals to describe their looks, behaviours and interactions. We can't help to create stories even if it's not involving living creators. In a study participants assigned personality traits to geometrical shapes. For example, a big triangle appeared to 'bully' a 'sassy' smaller triangle.

Within a story, we're able to apply logic better. The "human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor" said Jonathan Haidt. In a study, participants had to solve the Watson Selection Task. The researchers compared how successful participants solved a logical puzzle. When the puzzle used real-world scenarios rather than numbers or letters, solving rates were much higher.

We memorise stories

Stories are 22% more memorable than facts alone. Stories provide context and emotional associations that make it easier to retrieve information.

Molecular biologist John Medina explains this phenomenon in his book 'Brain Rules': "When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the amygdala releases dopamine into the system. Because dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing, you could say it creates a Post It note that reads, 'Remember this.'"

We learn through stories

Every culture has its traditions and morals. They're brought to the members of the group from an early age, through stories. They provide the perfect environment to teach you how to behave properly and how to prevent accidents.

But it's not just the content of the story that contributes to the learning outcome. We have so-called mirror neurons in our brain that activate when we see (or hear or talk about) or do something. That means, that through watching somebody serve at tennis, your brain internalises the movements. As a result, we perform better when trying ourselves. Mirror neurons not only work for actions but also for emotions and senses. That is why most of us already cringe when reading about 'scraping fingernails on a blackboard'.

What makes a good story?

The hero's journey

Every story has a beginning, a middle part and an end. But what distinguishes great stories? The hero's journey, or monomyth, is a structure found in a variety of stories. This template gained popularity through the book 'The hero with the thousand faces' by Joseph Campbell. A story that follows this structure is good.

The heros journey can be applied to your online dialogue to increase conversion
The hero's journey. Graph by Thea Pylarczyk

In the beginning, there's a heroine or hero who's not living to her or his fullest potential. There's typically some challenge that is holding her back. To overcome it, she has to go on an adventure. Usually, she needs some time to commit to it. In the course of events, the heroine has to face several obstacles and enemies. After a couple of unsuccessful trials, she discovers a greater understanding and gains the missing strength (or support). She now has the power to win and gets the reward. At this stage, the heroine typically develops into some greater version of herself in which she returns to her normal life. What was holding her back is gone.

While hero, obstacles, help, reward and transformation vary, try to apply Campbell's structure to your favourite movies. The majority of them will follow this structure.

If you want more detailed information about the 17 steps of Campbell's hero's journey read this.

We become the hero

When immersed in a good story, we typically emphasise with the characters and feel compassion for them if they experience pain or loss. Neuroscientists found that when watching movies, our brains show the same emotional arousal as we do when feeling these emotions our self. What does that mean for your online dialogue? Conversion will increase if your clients feel like your product is the key to their success.

If the conversion of your website is low, likely, the story of your customer's journey isn't reaching them.

Improve your online dialogue, conversion and customer satisfaction

Make your customers' journey the heroes' journey

Just like screenplay writers you have to catch your customer's attention and hold them excited till the end. Your communication in the online dialogue, conversion and ultimately your business success are all intertwined.

What should your story look like?

  • You'll want your customers to identify with the hero.
  • You as a brand should act as the mentor that gives invaluable advice and support.
  • The service or product you're selling should be the key to overcome the final challenge that holds them from transforming themselves and their lives.

Your customers' journey

First scene: Your customer becomes aware of their current situation and realises that something is missing or isn't the way it should be. They paint a picture in their mind of what could be. At this point, they're still unsure whether and how they can get there.

Second scene: That is when your brand, the mentor, comes to the stage. You give them the necessary guidelines and methods to achieve the goals they desire.

Third scene: Your customer embarks on the mental adventure, and their brains might present them with all kind of reasons why it won't work out. You should invalidate these possible doubts so that they don't fail to overcome these tests and initial challenges.

Fourth scene: The climax. Your product or service reveals itself as the deus ex machina. Your customers realise how crucial it is and commit to it. They await the transformation.

Fifth scene: The resolution. Your customers feel excited about how their new lives will be from now on. Design the picture for them. Confirm that it was the right choice to go on the adventure and to choose your product. Also, ensure that they will become advocates for your brand. Make it clear that you will remain their mentor in the future, the help in need.

To put it in a nutshell

Just like every good story has an end, so does this article. Here's a quick recap:

  1. Stories connect us socially.
  2. We think in stories.
  3. Stories are easier remembered.
  4. We learn through stories.
  5. Stories let your clients be heroes and your brand the mentor.
  6. Stories are exciting and fun.

While we talked about the first five points in more detail, we should not forget the last one: Stories create curiosity. We are, of course, drawn to the unknown; we enjoy the excitement. Especially if the story is in a safe setting. With evolution and mirror neurons, we can live an adventure without taking life-threatening risks.


Clara Vetter

Clara Vetter

Combines the art of storytelling with the science of behavioural psychology & neuroscience

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