Want More Customers? Tell Them a Story
David Berreby is the author of "Us and Them: The Science of Identity." He has written about human behavior and other science topics for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Smithsonian, The New Republic, Nature, Discover, Vogue and many other publications. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Paris, a Science Writing Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a resident at Yaddo, and in 2006 was awarded the Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship for the first edition of "Us and Them." David can be found on Twitter at @davidberreby and reached by email at david [at] davidberreby [dot] com.
Before there were abstract concepts, and probably before there were numbers, there were stories. She did this; it made him do that; then I heard her say this. According to narrative psychologists the story is our fundamental tool for describing ourselves and the people around us.
But story-telling could be more fundamental, I think. It could be the base of all knowledge, including the latest findings on ion channels or subatomic forces. I'm often struck by the way most scientific talks that I've heard, no matter how abstract their subjects, were narrated:They presented data and ideas as stories—and not just "How odd test results made me wonder what might happen if" but, often enough, "those ion channels really want to stay open." Would anyone understand evolution we saw only patterns of probability emerging over eons? Instead, we speak of fish turning into amphibians, types of dinosaurs becoming types of birds. Stories are, as Claude Levi-Strauss would say, "easy to think with."
A fact about human nature that turns out to have a practical application for marketers: If your website asks people to register, it turns out, you'll get a much better response if you make the procedure into a simple narrative.
You can see the difference here, where Luke Wroblewski compares a standard registration form (first name, last name, email address) with a form that asks for the same information like this: "Hello, my name is [blank] [blank] and I'd like to learn more about your product. I live at [blank] in the [blank] area and I would like to hear back from you soon . . ."
Results: According to Wroblewski's source, the story form gets 25-40 percent more registrations than just-the-facts.