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The power of storytelling

I was not having my best day, I was missing my family back in Chile and feeling a bit low.

The man came in to the store, looking for a new mobile phone, he was in his late fifties or early sixties. He was thin, his voice was low, almost whispering, and his eyes were red, like if he had smoked weed or something. He looked a little bit lost, a little bit sick to me, but I served him as best as I could.

He had an old phone but he didn't know how to use it, and he did not know what he wanted either, so I asked him a few questions and I showed him a couple of options. He just wanted to "download an app" to go surfing and be able to take good photos. He did not know his Apple ID or password and he asked me to do everything for him, he just did not want to learn and I was feeling a bit frustrated.

After a few minutes working to set up everything for him, I started to loose my cool because, he honestly was "hopeless". So then I decided to calm down breath in and asked him a couple more questions.

So, where are you going?... I am going surfing with my daughter to Byron Bay, he replied.

Oh, that is very cool, she would be very happy!

Well yes, I've been in hospital for the last month...

Oh... that is not good at all, I reply, I am sorry to hear that., Did they help you out?... I asked a bit confused...

No, I have cancer, they gave me 3 months to live and my last wish is to go surfing with my daughter that I haven't seen for a while...

I just went silent as I didn't know what to say... after a few seconds I decided to speak from my own experience, and I said something like, I am sure she would be very happy to see you and spend some time with you, because sometimes, even if we want we just can't be there for the ones we love... and that was my thing that day.

We connected at a deeper level and I did everything he asked me with a smile in my face because I knew I was helping him to fulfil his last wish and, without knowing, he helped me to feel better about my own problems that day.

One of the things that I have learned (or perfected) with Apple is the power of story telling. Stories are authentic human experiences and they have the power to connect, engage and empathise with others at the same level. When we share our own real life stories or the stories of others, our audience feel that they get to know us as authentic people with real lives and struggles.

Steve Jobs was one of the pioneers in the use of simple images and one line concepts to support his verbal storytelling. TED Talks have carried that practice forward and their world-class speakers are expected to speak in simple narratives, using stories and powerful imagery to convey their message.

While most consumers are indifferent towards brands most of the time, stories can help brands engage people and overcome their indifference. Great leaders and companies like Apple recognise that human connections need to go before concepts and strategies: we need to connect first with our prospects, our audiences , then get down to business. There’s a well known marketing axiom that “people buy from people they know, like and trust. Stories have the power to skip the technology and bring us to the core of experience.

According to the Dr. Pamela Rutledge in her article "The psychological power of storytelling" there are several psychological reasons why stories are so powerful.

  • Stories have always been a primal form of communication. They are timeless links to ancient traditions, legends, archetypes, myths, and symbols. They connect us to a larger self and universal truths.

  • Stories are about collaboration and connection. They transcend generations, they engage us through emotions, and they connect us to others. Through stories we share passions, sadness, hardships and joys. We share meaning and purpose. Stories are the common ground that allows people to communicate, overcoming our defenses and our differences. Stories allow us to understand ourselves better and to find our commonality with others.

  • Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.

  • Stories provide order. Humans seek certainty and narrative structure is familiar, predictable, and comforting. Within the context of the story arc we can withstand intense emotions because we know that resolution follows the conflict. We can experience with a safety net.

  • Stories are how we are wired. Stores take place in the imagination. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences. Stories create genuine emotions, presence (the sense of being somewhere), and behavioural responses.

  • Stories are the pathway to engaging our right brain and triggering our imagination. By engaging our imagination, we become participants in the narrative. We can step out of our own shoes, see differently, and increase our empathy for others. Through imagination, we tap into creativity that is the foundation of innovation, self-discovery and change.

In a nutshell, brand story telling statistics show that stories help to build an emotional connection. Once this connection exists, you can build a community of trusting customers around your brand, and what follows is years of successful selling and profitability.

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