What a Good Brand Story Does to Your Brain

A story or narrative makes any brand more memorable and impactful. Humans are hard-wired for storytelling: it’s something we’ve done for tens of thousands of years, so we’re far more likely to remember a story than facts or figures.  Here is the science behind it, and how to leverage it to power your brand story.

Neuroscience imaging shows that facts and figures activate just two areas of the brain: those responsible for language comprehension and processing. But stories activate up to seven areas of the brain including those having to do with touch, movement, scent, sound, color and shape in addition to language comprehension and processing.

When all those areas are activated, a number of fascinating things happen. Oxytocin, a hormone, is released which sustains attention and facilitates empathy and shared emotional connection. The emotional reaction to a story causes a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates neural pathways, making a story easier to remember and recall with greater accuracy.  A process called “neural coupling” takes place whereby the listener begins to personalize the story, integrating his or her own ideas and experiences into the narrative.  And finally, a process called “mirroring” occurs in which the listener begins to exhibit the same brain activity as the storyteller, creating an even deeper, shared connection.              

So with this in mind, here are the three most important components your brand story needs in order to be maximally effective:

Purpose: Presenting the higher purpose behind your company (beyond making money) will create an emotional connection and activate the deeper limbic portion of the brain where buying decisions are actually made. Your story needs to focus more on why the company exists and how it improves lives and less on the features of your product or service.

Values: In the book “Grow,” Jim Stengel shared research showing that people more readily recall a brand when its ideals are strongly associated with human values. Your brand story needs to convey a set of values and behaviors that reflect the people and culture not just the product or service. (Seeing a trend here? It’s not about bits and bytes but about people and purpose.)

Character: Ultimately, stories are composed of characters who themselves exhibit “character,” and your brand story is no different.  Your brand story should reflect a personality or “archetype” like those popularized by famous psychologist Carl Jung nearly 100 years ago.  As storytelling creatures, we intuitively recognize and connect with characters like the Ruler, Hero, Magician, Everyperson, or Jester. Figure out your brand archetype – as reflected by your culture – and build that into your story.


Is it time to update your brand messaging to take advantage of the power of story? Download our self-diagnostic tool to find out and then give us a shout.