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Surprising Science

Want More Customers? Tell Them a Story

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.


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