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For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn

Marketing To Baby Boomers: Stories Connect

By Jim Gilmartin –

Most of us love stories. That’s nothing new. However, marketers need to understand better the value of storytelling in communicating messages. As we age, stories play an even more important role in how our brains process information about your products and services.

Jonas Kaplan of the University of Southern California published a study in January 2016 revealing that real-time brain scans show that stories force us to think about our deepest values and activate a region of the brain once believed to be its autopilot. “Stories appear to be a fundamental way in which the brain organizes information in a practical and memorable manner,” says Kaplan. “Stories help us to organize information in a unique way.”

Stories Connect

According to Dale Love, chief digital officer at Adyoulike in London, “In ‘normal human’ beings, a story will always engender some sort of emotional response — be it love, laughter, fear, anger or even boredom. The story will create an emotional response. It’s why all the very best advertising tells a story.” And it connects with you.

Clearly, stories resonate with all ages and genders. However, we know today’s Baby Boomer customer universe is age-weighted toward midlife and later values. We also know resistance to emotionally neutral information (mainly processed in the left hemisphere of the brain) increases in midlife. Therefore, receptivity to emotionally enriched information – such as stories contain – increases in midlife.

Stories also define the experiences Baby Boomers receive. Older people, more than younger people, are attracted by experience opportunities more than products or services. Hence, product messages created in story format are potential gateways to having meaningful and good feelings or avoiding bad feelings. Stories create the emotional responses generated by a message; the stronger the emotional message, the greater attention the communication is likely to get.

The Ingredients of a Good Story

So what is a story? We can define a story as components that may be combined to create a creative expression of ideas. It’s common knowledge that a good story has a beginning, a middle, an end, and a voice all its own.  But only stories that express a subjective point of view can make an indelible imprint on our lives. Stories provide inroads to accessing our stored emotions, and where there is human emotion, there is always a story.

“When people read stories we invoke personal experiences. We’re relying not just on words on a page, but also our past experiences,” says Raymond Mar, associate psychology professor at York University, Toronto, and author of a study published in 2014 on fiction and its relation to real-world empathy, cognition, and behavior.

It Doesn’t Have To Be Long

We can tell an emotional story in several words. You don’t need to write a story. For example, six words often falsely accredited to Hemingway “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Complete, with a beginning, a middle, and an end! The story pulls the customers into the communication by allowing them to use their imagination to determine interest level and value for them.

Insert Pictures Into Their Minds

Stories insert pictures in people’s minds, and more directly, into their right brains. The right brain is where we process visual pictures, auditory pictures, aroma pictures, and so on. If you weave a set of objective data together in a story, listeners’ and readers’ right brains will determine the importance of the actual data faster than if they had to pore over a table of figures or wade through an unemotional narrative about the data.

Stories are better than non-stories at arousing emotions. Despite the prevailing view that emotions muddy a picture, recent brain research reveals that all information—objective or not—is first processed by the mechanisms of emotion. We give little attention to matters that do not arouse feelings. Also, memory formation depends on hormones that can only be triggered by emotions. Thus, if a matter does not arouse feelings, it will neither get attention nor be remembered.

Cognitive Scientists Know

Good storytellers intuitively know that the only route to the objective left brain is the subjective right brain. Cognitive scientists know this also. They say the only way we can understand anything is to convert it into metaphors and stories. When you do the conversion for Baby Boomers, you save them from having to do this. You save them time and energy and get more of their attention. If you don’t do the conversion, they may simply put your message aside saying, “I don’t have time for that just now.”

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