One key in storytelling is getting the chapters in the right order. Can you imagine your favourite book with all the chapters mixed up.? There are two parts to this. One rational and one emotional (left brain and right brain). Fulfilling these needs of our two thinking sites makes communications more understandable. To feel comfortable we need the flow of a story, the sequence, to “make sense” or play in a logical order. In previous posts I have discussed the need for a theme or story premise built from metaphors,analogs and observations.

I wonder if there is more we should look at to understand the right order and contents to make effective communications. I happened to look back at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and saw a connection between this story sequence and a ladder of human needs. Maslow broke human motivation down to five basic frameworks. Physiological, safety, Loving /belonging, esteem and self actualization. He also showed that the lower needs must be  met  before high needs are recognised and acted upon. Its our desire and drive to fulfil these needs that creates human motivation. If we want to motivate humans we have to communicate on these needs.

Maslow pic

In health care communications I think the logical sequence of communication chapters may not always follow Maslow’s content for emotional drivers that motivates us. I wonder if the hierachy of needs in some way should be reflected in our brand storytelling.  An example of these needs in action would be recognising that an associate recntly experiencing a relationship issue is unlikely focused, listening or looking for channels that communicate aspects of self esteeme. It seems obvious but its a nice example of  the impact of the order. Consequently is it a surprise that when communicating in health care if we don’t transport our customers with our brand stories from physiology, safety to loving/ belonging though to esteem and self actualization- the feeling of solving problems.

Now I’m not saying pharma communications need to fulfil physicians ultimate hierarchy of needs but the analogy is worth noting. If the base of the pyramid isn’t complete we can expect to move beyond rational concepts such as physiology and safety. If we can drive some aspects of our coms through this towards esteem and self actualization concepts we are more likely to get longer lasting change.  Think if your able to communicate and support these levels of needs through your brand to help customers feel comfortable in the last three layers.

How does storytelling help

Storytelling seems able to touch each of Maslow’s needs quickly, easily and completely even in a short paragraph. By evoking images in the mind of the readers through storytelling they are transported through each of these needs with finale ending in self actualization. There are a couple of example to illustrate this principle and show it in action. I don’t believe these films adverts were put together using storytelling or Maslow’s needs in a conscious way. That means that great communication probably does this already and by breaking down both the way that we tell stories and how we use them to motivate change you can build these consciously into your brands and reap the benefit of communication.

From advertising two examples sprang to mind. Bodyshop and Dove. In the Dove commercial the brand essence of  natural beauty responds at a physiological and safety level by making us clean and addresses higher needs by evoking intimacy. But taking a moral stance on the visualization of beauty Dove is able to enhance self esteem (real women in adverts) through to the morality of  beauty image of teenagers effecting self actualization. Higher orders of need are communicated to drive a deeper connection (brand motivation) with the customer.


Bodyshop does the same with natural, responsibly made and tested bathroom products. They could stop at well made products but by starting with the basic needs and communicating through the higher needs on confidence and moral issues of sustainable and environmentally responsible brands the customer again has a deep bond to the brand. It wont be for everyone but if your inner story aligns with the brand story you will most likely become a fan. In developed parts of the world peoples story goes beyond physical aspects and so should your brand.


From the movies where great stories are told I sub mitt Forest Gump. If you haven’t bought this film yet, treat your self at the weekend. The premise of the film is a small disabled boy with a dysfunctional family is bullied at school, develops hidden talents. He meets a girl and looses the girl. Unconsciously he  shaped America, realizing in later life who he is, what the world is and how he is fulfilled. Have a look at  the clip below its a great example of hierarchy of needs in action.

forest gump

Lastly I just read a book on the Smoothy company Innocent. Once again the combination of a good story that emulates aspects of Maslovian thinking has turned three peoples start up business into a major success in Europe. As you peel away the Maslow layers you can see how this brand works to be more than a fruit drink. Communication drives from basic needs of eating and drinking to the need to look after your health (5 fruits  a day) and our problems doing this in today’s busy world. moving past this they have built a strong sense of community around there brand (more than the fruit). There is a certainly a communication level that saying I’m looking after my self and the planet (through natural fair trade ingredients). Once again it makes a simple commodity drink into a great brand.