Did you know that the universe is made of tiny stories? From cave painting to movies, stories never seem to stop fascinating mankind. Although the methods have drastically changed over the years, the desire to share and hear stories still greatly impacts everyday life. Great storytelling is what compels us to take action, to vote, to donate and most importantly, to buy.

1: Wired for story

In one way or another, much of people’s lives are spent telling stories. From a very young age we love listening to stories and, as we grow older, they become more and more powerful. Who doesn’t remember the story of the forbidden fruit, little red riding hood and many other notorious classics. The idea that these (thousands year old) stories are still being passed on from generation to generation is pretty remarkable. How is it we can hardly recall what we did two days ago but we cant forget a thousand year old story?

Well, as it turns out stories quite literally spark our senses, they engage our brain to imagine, elaborate and recall. According to Stanford University, stories are remembered up to 22 times more than a fact alone. That’s why throughout history stories have been used to persuade, to give direction and most importantly to survive.

We don’t distinguish between reading, hearing or experiencing a story and feel whatever emotions the characters are experiencing; anxiety, sadness, happiness, or relief. That’s why they are so powerful, they elicit physical reactions in us. It’s in our nature to see narratives even where there are none. We are a species addicted to stories, it is one of or strongest, oldest impulses. It is how we remember, connect and express values. Even when we’re asleep our mind can’t stop creating stories. They are a form of existential problem-solving. With an average human attention span lower than a goldfish, we need them for survival. Jungle book taught us to embrace our surroundings and enjoy life, little red riding hood taught us (among other things) to not trust a wolf in sheep’s clothing and coca cola thought us sharing is happiness. The thing all of stories have in common? They focus on universal human characteristics and how we take action to make a difference.

2: Spread the word

If I tell you the estimate of the number of slaves today range from around 21 million to 46 million, you’d probably stand still and be astonished for about 5 seconds, and then move on to the next thing.

However, let me tell you the story of Benita, a young 13 year old orphan. Whose tall for her age with freckles, big brown eyes and curly hair. Benita is one of the 46 million slaves that live in our world today. She lost her parents at a young age, and ended up having to work 12 hours a day for $2.43 / hour. She can’t afford staying home when she’s sick, hell, she cant even afford to try one of the shoes she sews everyday.

How much more likely are you to remember Benita’s story? If I then tell you you can help Benita by buying one of our sneakers, there is a big chance you would be compelled to do so. Not because you urgently need a flashy new pair of shoes, but because you can see a smile appear on Benita’s face while making the purchase. You won’t persuade people to take action by throwing around some cold facts and figures, they simply don’t stick! Use a story however, and people find common ground, they become emotionally involved. Research shows that messages with moral and emotional words are more likely to spread online. As it turns out, with each moral or emotional word the probability of it being reposted increased by an impressive 20%.

3: Make it personal

This is probably where the idea of solutions before product was born. Content has become such an overwhelming commodity that it only takes a blink of an eye to answer the question ‘why should I care?’. Now, almost all ads focus on providing solutions, community building and brand awareness, so what sets you apart from the rest? A good authentic story does. A great narrative literally connects us, when I tell you a compelling story our brainwaves will match up. We buy what we’re emotionally drawn to and then logically justify it later. The use of language, settings and characteristics that we can resonate with, that bring reassurance and helps us visualise our future. You start with what we know, blend in some vivid details, common experience, and your unique twist. The twist, that’s where context comes into play. Context shows you’ve been paying attention, it is context that will make sure your common spirit and values will be remembered and it is context that makes you authentic. Most of our decisions aren’t made rationally, it’s our emotions that have the power to change opinions overnight. We stopped purchasing goods and started buying emotions. So without a compelling story, your product, idea or brand is dead on arrival.

4: Expand your toolkit

We now have more ways of sharing our ideas and experiences than ever before. Technology has opened a door to a whole new level of storytelling. A great example is packaging. For a long time packaging was more regarded a necessity than a storytelling tool. But then some smart brains realized that every detail of the packaging tells a story, so why not make sure it’s the one they want told. Suddenly supermarket shelves became a piece of art, with innovative materials, unique cut outs and lots of color. Technology took it a step further and the brand story become more dynamic. Personalized packaging, hashtags, QR codes, augmented reality they were all created to take storytelling to the next level. In a way, brands turned all of us into storywritters, allowing us to personalize and change small details. But how do you tactfully use all this knowledge of someone’s habits without letting them know you’re studying their lives?

5: We, agents of ads

Marketeers can’t seem to stop screaming it out, serial storytelling, multi-faceted storytelling, engagement storytelling… All the commotion around storytelling got me curious. When did brands actually start leveraging stories and why?

Way back before the internet-era, we were in the golden era of advertising. Cheesy in-your-face advertising was carried out through infomercials on radio, televisions, and billboards. Brands were busy building characters that match the products, nonetheless, the product was always at the forefront. People embraced ads, they had something optimistic, and at times, revolutionary. Brands were an authority we looked up to and ads only had one purpose: to sell, sell, sell.

Nevertheless, the birth of the internet turned the world of advertising upside down. Not only has it changed the way ads are broadcast, but it mainly changed the way consumers act towards them. The lines between who “needs” who is more blurred than ever as brands need to get consumers on board to help sell their products. Brands first have to prove themselves before consumers will even consider taking a look at them. Detergent is no longer just detergent, it is a tool to help solve climate change. A watch isn’t just a watch anymore, but a device that might save your life and the list goes on. Somewhere on the road consumers switched gears from being passive bystanders to being the most crucial part of advertising.

6: Identity is trust

We’ve been telling the same stories for millennia but now the story got a new narrator. Brands aren’t just struggling to have their story stand out, but they increasingly have to focus on how people share their story.

This explains the constant rise of influencer marketing. Digital word-of-mouth needs to feel authentic to be effective among consumers and unlike brands, people are who we trust. Although they might have turned themselves into brands, influencers are people first and that still enforces trust. It makes us wonder, why is it so much easier to believe the same story told by a person instead of a brand?

Is it because social media, magazines and billboards are notorious for endorsing whoever bids the most, while influencers still handpick the brands they choose to praise? Is it because we see brands as an extension of what the influencer stands for? Or is it the personal stories and authentic content they share that makes the product more relatable?

But it isn’t just influencers persuading us to take or not take action, crowdsourced and user-generated content have been in full exploration for the last few years. Brands shifted from creating content to entertain you to creating content that engages you to make some more. We shifted from innocent bystander to creative masterminds and entered an era of collaborative storytelling.

It’s the age of identity, and identity is all about the story you’re buying. No pressure at all, right? You’re a Mac or a Windows, a Heineken or a Duvel. The product is no longer the centerpiece, but the ‘why’ behind the product has taken over. A ‘why’ molded in a story with familiar traits of common values and promises and every interaction with the brand breathes that story.

7: Build a community, not a brand

As human beings we constantly want to feel connected with others. Interestingly, consumerism seems to be extremely effective in achieving this goal. We are more connected but feel lonelier than ever, as a result we identify ourselves with brands. You are what you buy and you buy who you are. Great narratives engage, they invite the listener to participate, to act and to tell the story onwards.

Crowdsourcing platforms have never been as successful. Why? The companies on it are great storytellers! As kickstarter says: “ideas that ignited the imaginations of a community, creators providing greater access to their creative process, and voices that are often underrepresented are among the most commercial success stories”. In a way we show who we are and what we stand for by assembling the stories of brands. We talk back! By buying products, creating content and showing up, we become part of what the brand stands for. In a way we buy our entrance ticket to an entire community.

We communicate complex messages through what we buy, but also through what we don’t buy. We invest in sustainable product so brands will be forced to invest in sustainable solution. We call for a retail boycott when we question a brands ethics. It leaves us to wonder, are brands telling their stories through us, or are we telling ours through them…


This blog is part of “The Magnificent Seven”, a series that explores the impact and influence of design with a weekly dose of must know. If you have any questions related to design, send a message to and we’ll write about it.