Jonathan Gottschal puts it well in the “Storytelling Animal” that history is a story we tell ourselves but its only from one viewpoint and the future is a story we tell ourselves that we want to come true. Phillip K Dick , the master of Sci Fi storytelling, said that reality is what you have left when stop believing in everything. Daniel Kahneman in his best seller “Thinking Fast and Slow” writes it best for me. He says that our brains have evolved to seek out stories to make what we see and experience understood. Story then is our central learning and reference system.
“As a pharmaceutical marketer you need to employ both a compelling story and great evidence in the form of clinical studies to introduce a new brand.”
Kahneman continues by explaining that we can think of our brains having two controlling systems, an intuitive system and a rational system. The intuitive system is fast, quick to make judgement and desperate to make a complete story to tell the slower, heavier processing rational system. It seems we have a general tendency to favour the intuitive system and only when this fails to make sense of what we see we use the rational system. In order to keep us processing quickly we use little stories, well-known to us that are similar to the experience at hand. Even when we do not have a complete picture this system will create a story so convincing that we feel that it is real so that our rational system is convinced it doesn’t need to engage. This is why we feel so many situations are familiar. This is why we need stories.
For humans this gives us a big evolutionary advantage. We can make connections between similar events and “know” what to do when confronted by similar situation. It’s this process that tells us to be defensive when we see certain expressions on people’s faces. This system is so good that we can pick out dangerous people in a crowd and avoid them. Our minds complete the information in front of us telling us a story that reminds us that such people are to be avoided as we see the future flash through our mind with the man approaching and trying to steal the bag you are carrying.
Brands can benefit from this system too. Brands that connect inner stories with memories can tap into their associated emotions. These emotions will sway our decisions whether to desire brands or not. However when there is no story to a brand we create one ourselves and engage the rational system more to help us make choices. There is also a downside to our desire to have the intuitive system make quick decisions. It can mean that we fail to analyze all the available information settling for the seductive and easier life offered by the story to by the intuitive system.
Does this mean that by employing storytelling we are hoodwinked our audiences and encouraging them to make quick opinions of brands without deeper and more rational considerations? I don’t think that this is the true. Yes advertising can create sales when appropriate stories are used. Whether you intend to tell as story as part of your communication or not, consumers are wired to tell a story anyway. Storytelling only becomes persuasive when it is authentic and resonates. When brands tell stories that don’t seem genuine and the brand experience is counter to the story being told the we sense it and require more processing and conscious involvement to create action.
Writing in favor of authentic stories to aid communications, I think the power of story is captured by Kahnemen’s concept of Processing fluency. The ease that we process information and make decisions. By applying the intuitive brain’s inbuilt library of stories we are able to increase processing fluency using less mental energy and allowing the brain to move on to other decisions. When there is no clear story there is a need for the slower rational system to help in the decision process and this reduces processing fluency and is less desired as it limits decision-making. Have you ever been in a shop and argued with yourself whether or not to buy something. The more you wrestle in your mind back and forward the less likely you are to purchase because your rational side is slowing the process down and your cognitive fluency falls. This can be a good thing preventing you from making a mistake but it also represents a lack of faith in the story told by the intuitive system.
In Pharmaceutical sales & marketing we are trying match both the intuitive and rational systems of our minds, We want the intuitive system to find ease and comfort in processing the story the brand tells but we also want to have concordance with the slower rational side of decision-making. The best pharmaceutical brands activate the intuitive system to create cognitive fluency and supports the deciding rational system with compelling clinical evidence providing the logic for clinical decisions. As a pharmaceutical marketer you need to employ both a compelling story and great evidence in the form of clinical studies to introduce a new brand.