The Art and Science Behind Emotional Storytelling in Content Marketing

by | Oct 9, 2021 | Blog, Content Marketing | 0 comments

Storytelling defined

Who doesn’t love a good story? Jonathan Gottschall, an author aptly puts it: “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

So, how do we apply storytelling in content marketing? Storytelling is a powerful and indispensable tool in content marketing that is used to captivate an audience. Brands use this tool as they want to distinguish themselves in a highly crowded social and digital-verse.

What makes a good story? A good story has a good plot that has a protagonist who could be a hero or a villain. A story that sticks in your audience’s minds has a clear beginning, middle and end. It is able to conjure up feelings from the audience and connect with their emotions. This leads to capturing the buyers’ attention and active online conversions.

Storytelling is not just about information sharing. That would have been a blog post, a page relaying information or facts to your audience. Your story has a brand narrative to help customers understand abstract ideas, engage their feelings and garner their trust.

New to content marketing? Read our rundown on what it is and why it’s important here.

The Science in Storytelling

A renowned psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, cited that humans are wired for emotional decision making before verifying and ascertaining their decisions with facts and logic. According to Kahneman, appealing to emotions works well in capturing the attention and interest of the audience at the top of the funnel.

Renowned scientist Antonio Damasio’s experimentation proved that when the emotional section of the brain is damaged, it is impossible for a human to make any decisions. Emotions create preferences aided by previous experiences to affirm and guide the decision-making process.

What else does science have to say about emotional storytelling? Emotions trigger chemicals like cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin and are released in the brain when we are told a story. Why does this matter? If we are trying to make a pointed stick, cortisol assists us with formulating memories. Dopamine, which helps regulate our emotional responses, keeps us engaged.

When it comes to creating deeper connections with others, oxytocin, a hormone associated with empathy, is an important element in the building, deepening or maintaining good relationships.

The range of emotions

Professor Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, stated in his research that positive messaging and emotions have a higher chance of virality. Plutchik’s model of emotions stated the 8 realms of emotions of which 4 (Vigilance, Ectacsy, Admiration, Amazement of the 8) are the positive emotional space. plutchik's-model-of emotion Source: Robert Plutchik

Of Puns and Laughter

If we consider the positive realm of emotions, humour is possibly one of the hardest art form and domain to crack. Maybe, it is difficult for marketers to associate one’s brand with being humorous. Marketers tend to want to play “safe” and hang around content domains of Educate and Convince and to a lesser extent Inspire and Entertain (domains which lend themselves to humour).

Mark Twain, the famous American author said: “The human race has one really effective weapon, that is laughter.” When we write content, we are obsessed with getting the right content, context, syntax, grammar, typographical errors but we overlook the emotional response we hope to elicit from our audience.

In the identification of the 12 brand archetypes, it is commonplace to identify with the Jester personality when one thinks of humour however it could be a challenge for Asian organisations to be identified with the Jester personality? Try naming 3 Asian Jester brand archetype? To dispel the notion once and for all, the Jester (12 brand archetypes developed by Carol Pearson) is not a joker or a clown but he/she is funny and relaxed, lives life in the moment and embraces the Y.O.L.O. attitude “You only live once”. Most Singaporeans can identify with this following piece.

Q: Char Shao Pau and mantou went to watch a sad movie. Char Shao Pau cried, but mantou didn’t cry. Why?

A: Cos mantou got no filling.

Q: Char Shao Pau and Da Pau went to watch a sad movie. Char Shao Pau cried but Da Pau cried and cried and cried. Why?

A: Cos Da Pau got more filling.

Q: Char Shao Pau and Kou Rou Pau went to watch a sad movie. Char Shao Pau cried but Kou Rou Pau cried and cried and could not stop crying. Why?

A: Cos Kou Rou Pau cannot contain his fillings.

Q: Char Shao Pau and Lin Yong Pau went to watch a sad movie. Char Shao Pau cried and cried but Lin Yong Pau laughed and laughed. Why?

A: Cos they got different fillings.

Q: Char Shao Pau and Kaya Pau went to watch a sad movie. Kaya Pau cried but Char Shao Pao didn’t cry at all. Why?

A: Because Char Shao Pau watched the movie 5 times already….

Did you feel compelled to share this pun-ny story? Kudos to the writer who tickled our funny bones with the above. See how humour works? From the above story on Paus, we are able to relate to the content and for a long time, we will remember this cute Pau story and connect to how we are feeling.

Humour – Me? Really?

Brands have experimented with humour even though their brand archetype does not necessarily conform to the Jester Archetype.

A great example is Volkswagen’s “The Force Volkswagen” commercial even though its brand archetype is Everyman. This ad has garnered more than 61 million views. It is the most-watched and shared Super Bowl ad of all time. The execution of the ad was clever and fun. It brought a chuckle or two as we can identify with the protagonist and antagonist roles portrayed in the video. But more importantly, it is an ad video that touched and struck an emotional cord in all of us; the universal feelings of surprise and joy.

On the YouTube leader board videos for 2019, 6 out of the top 10 videos ad that people chose to watch are humour-based content. In the field of User Experience (UX), designers are crafting products and services that connect and convey emotions in their design and seek to impact users at three levels as Don Norman coins it:

  1. Visceral level – Does the story look and feel good?
  2. Behaviour level – Is it usable for me?
  3. Reflective level – Will I use or share it?

Don Norman also succinctly puts it that “It is not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy, excitement and pleasure, fun, and yes, beauty to people’s lives.”

Humour allows us to lower barriers between brands and consumers. Humorous stories allow brands to connect with their target audience, make them feel at ease without going stereophonic hollering at them to “Buy Me” all the time. They provide a platform for brands to focus and shift from completing transactions to building relationships.

Kim Speier of HubSpot best sums up that “Humour is a way to sell your brand without outwardly selling something, and consumers certainly don’t want to feel like you’re taking money right out of their pockets. By appealing to a consumer’s emotions, you will be able to engage them and make them remember you.”

How to applying humour in storytelling

How can we then apply humour in our storytelling content creation process? Here are some guidelines we can follow:

  • Understand the needs of your audience – put your audience as the centre focus of your story
  • Be authentic to your audience – align the story to your brand identity and personality
  • Inspire and entertain your audience with your story- not sell to them
  • Make it memorable – stick to a simple and shareable message
  • Keep your humour simple; strategic & use it sparingly. Test it with a select audience.
  • Stay away from race, politics, religious content and certain industries such as the hospice or funeral industry where organisations provide services related to death

Last words

You don’t need to be a born-comedian to apply humour in your next post. Be authentic and real. To quote Tom Asacker author & innovator, “Facts don’t persuade; feelings do. And stories are the best way to get at those feelings”. So how are you filling today?

If you’re looking to brush up your storytelling abilities, as well as all the other skillsets that go into effective content marketing strategy, you might want to consider attending our Content Marketing Strategy Course. Please feel free to also browse the wide array of digital marketing courses we offer in-person in Singapore or online.

Tom Goh

Written By: Tom Goh

Tom is a native Digital and Content Strategist with 20 years of experience across Tech, Banking, and Digital Advertising and Media verticals. He is also the lead trainer for Equinet Academy’s Content Marketing Strategy and Advanced Content Marketing Strategy course. In his spare time, Tom is actively in the start-up scenes providing pro bono advice to budding entrepreneurs.