I RECALL those early folktales from Africa’s rich oral traditions with great affection, particularly the many adventures of Kalulu the cunning rabbit, the life of Chimbwi the hyena, and the counsel a mother gave to Kamudito, the baby made of clay.
I also remember, for the most part, the lessons they were meant to teach me about life and how to act with other people. It is for this reason that I can say for sure that stories not only shape how we see our traditions, identities, and cultures, but they can also have a big effect on how we behave.
Scientific research shows that stories bypass the rational mind and go straight to the emotions, according to experts in the field of storytelling like Annette Simmons. This makes them an effective medium for communication.
Therefore, it suffices to say that storytelling is just as important for individuals as it is for businesses and governments. The manner in which a brand tells its story can have a big impact on how its audience views it. Brands can connect with their stakeholders more deeply through storytelling, which also fosters loyalty and trust. In particular, it may work well to use a story to turn a crisis into an opportunity for your brand.
Crisis is the new normal. And this is bad news for our brains
Because bad news sells, it dominates the news cycle with stories about crises ranging from inflation, pandemics, geopolitical conflicts to political upheavals, just to name a few. The human brain is wired to react to negative information, particularly in the form of media news about crises and disasters.
Indeed, when we are exposed to negative news, our brains release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can trigger the body’s “fight or flight” response. This can lead to physical and emotional symptoms such as anxiety, an increased heart rate, and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
Our brains are naturally wired to prioritize survival-related information, which could explain why we may be more likely to pay attention to negative news. Our brains interpret negative information as a threat to our safety and well-being. This can make us more vigilant and focused on negative news, even if it has no direct bearing on our own lives.
The phenomenon of “emotional contagion” can also contribute to our negative reactions to media news about crises. When we observe others experiencing intense emotions such as fear or anxiety, our brains can cause us to experience a similar range of feelings.
Brands can turn negativity into a force for good using the three Vs
Brands can utilize narrative to transform a bad circumstance into a good brand opportunity. By telling an interesting story, brands can grab the attention of their audience, make them feel something, and leave a lasting impression.
Many examples from the fields of politics, society, and business show how a negative event may be used as a springboard for a positive brand narrative. After the 9/11 attacks, New York City became a symbol of strength and hope in the United States. The city’s response to the attacks produced a story of fortitude, cohesion, and patriotism that struck a chord with people all across the world. The 1995 Rugby World Cup did the same for South Africa, uniting a country that had been divided by apartheid. The Springboks’ victory became a symbol of peace and optimism for a new South Africa.
When handled using the 3Vs story structure, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity for brand storytelling. Victim, villain, and vindicator are the three components of the structure. During a crisis, the brand can play the role of the hero, saving the victim and stopping the bad guy.
Johnson & Johnson, for example, faced a disaster when their Extra-Strength Tylenol, a popular pain reliever, was laced with cyanide and seven people died as a result. The company used the 3Vs story structure to tell an interesting story about what it was doing to keep its customers safe and prevent the same thing from happening again. The company portrayed itself as the “vindicator,” saving the “victims” from the “villain” (cyanide) who poisoned them.
In a nutshell, storytelling can be a powerful tool for brands, particularly during times of crisis. By telling a compelling story, brands can emotionally connect with their audience, build trust and loyalty, and turn a bad event into a good brand opportunity. Since the establishment of the Newmark Group in 2010, we have been helping brands build strong relationships with their stakeholder groups using the power of this approach, which continues to generate impressive results, particularly during a time of crisis. Without a doubt, brands that embrace storytelling emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before in such times.
About Author: The author is a Communications Strategist and the CEO of Newmark Group