The Value of Storytelling

Joseph Stalin is rumored to have once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Chilling and cold-hearted, true; however, it reveals a truth about the ways in which consumers understand the world.

People aren’t good at understanding big numbers. That is why Stalin’s supposed quote rings true. One million deaths are too many for our brains to truly comprehend. But one death—that’s a story. That’s a person who had dreams, hopes, fears, family, friends…in short, a real human being, like us.Vietnam Memorial

Have you ever been to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC? More than 58,000 names are engraved into black basalt. Reading each name, one by one, it’s hard not to be quickly overwhelmed by the gravity of the monument.

Smart marketers should use this bit of psychology to their advantage. First, always keep in mind that people don’t understand big numbers. As a result, they don’t care. In your branding, a focus on big numbers is a mistake. Most people don’t know if four grams of fat or 190 grams of fat are good. But they do understand “low fat.”

Even more poignant, remember that “one death is a tragedy.” One story is powerful. Your company may have 500,000 users of its software, but telling the success story of just one user is much more potent. Your customers really don’t care if you have 250,000 or one million customers—but they’ll be very interested in the testimonial provided by one customer, a customer who faces the same struggles, fears, successes and failures that they deal with every day. This concept is what makes movies like “Saving Private Ryan” so powerful: in the midst of millions of deaths, here is the story of the effort to save just one life.

The next time your company wants to get the word out about a new product or service, consider the weight of just one story. Guaranteed, it will provide much more traction for your company than pages upon pages of statistics.

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