The persuasive power of stories
Research shows that stories are more persuasive than statistics alone.
The video that Stanford University social psychologist Jennifer Aaker made for the 2013 Future of Storytelling conference is well worth a look. In it she explains why stories are so persuasive: they're more memorable, they make more of an impact, and they create a personal connection.
Stories are more memorable
In some ways, it's obvious that stories are more memorable. After all, how did you learn learn the colours of the rainbow as a child? I was told a story: Richard of York gave battle in vain. The mnemonic reminded me of of the initial letter of each colour.
But the grown-up world likes to think of itself as entirely logical – that statistics are better than stories. In doing so, we've forgotten something that every child knows: it's easier to remember a story.
Aaker tells the story of students asked to give a one-minute persuasive pitch to their classmates. Although only one in ten students told a story (most used a few statistics), 63% remembered the story ten minutes later. Only 5% remembered any of the statistics quoted.
Stories make more of an impact
Being memorable is one thing, but what about persuading people to act? Well, stories are more effective than statistics here too.
Aaker reports on a University of Pennsylvania study into how best to raise money for the Save the Children. The study found that telling the story of a little girl alongside statistics about problems facing children in Africa doubled donations compared with just giving people the facts. Why? Because emotions, not logic, drive our decisions. We use logic to rationalise the decision afterwards.
This is why charities put so much effort into storytelling. It's why the emails we wrote for ActionAid sponsors feature stories of children and the communities they live in rather than just numbers. People want to help other people.
Stories create a more personal connection
But why is this the case? Research, says Aaker, shows that while quoting statistics at someone activates the part of their brain that enables them to understand, telling them a story activates their whole brain. They feel as well as comprehend. They create meaning from the personal connection that's made with the story and the storyteller.
So for lasting effect you need both statistics and a story – tell an amazing tale and back it up with facts. That's what we always try to do for our clients.