Let Me Tell You About That One Time

My wife has an interesting relationship with the English language. They are well-aquainted, but not exactly friends. Case in point, a few years ago we were talking about death—a cheery topic of conversation no doubt—and she mentioned that she didn't want to be buried, but cremated. It was less expensive. Her body wouldn't decay in the ground or be eaten by worms (which would certainly be gross). The idea of having her ashes spread at some serene, meaningful location sounded romantic. Surviving members of the family could schedule a memorial service when they were ready—or the weather was particularly agreeable—and in the meantime she'd just sit on the mantle in a nice urinal.

Oops. She quickly corrected herself to urn, but the damage was done. For the next several minutes I riffed on the possibility of mounting a urinal over the fireplace and making little urinal cakes out of her now-purposful ashes. A story was born.

Stories are hard-wired into our DNA. When we hear a story it engages our entire brain. Our brain creates images and emotional responses as we naturally want to relate the story to our own life. By observing real-time brain scans, scientists have found that a story activates that part of our brain most associated with the events taking place in the story itself. For example, if the story is about the taste of apple pie or the smell of grandma's cedar chest, it will trigger our sensory cortex and if it’s about jogging in the park it will engage our motor cortex. A story about about a person’s joy or pain will activate our insular cortex—the area of the brain associated with pain perception and the processing of social emotions. Because so many parts of the brain are engaged at any one time, a good story elicits a powerful response that connects us to one another and forms the foundation of a relationship.

Likewise, every brand has a story. Tell it in a compelling way and customers will become emotionally engaged as though they are a part of it. It's the way we are made.

Now, let me tell you about that one time...