Studio Updates

The trends and learnings driving narrative and storytelling as a powerful force for brands and organizations.

Stop Guessing: The Science Behind Changing Audience Behaviour


As a data-driven storytelling company, we are focused on creating measurable behaviour change for our clients. This requires a culture that embraces experimentation, measurement and research.

If behaviour change was as simple as just informing people of the facts, I think we can agree we would be living in a very different world.

And yet we have been able to do just that - use storytelling to create measurable behaviour change that outperforms traditional approaches to advertising and online promotion.

Paul J. Zak is the founding Director of the Centre for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University and is one of the leading researchers in the area of storytelling. Zak (2014) found that “character-driven stories […] consistently create oxytocin synthesis.

Higher levels of oxytocin released by the brain has been shown to directly correlate to a subject's willingness to support or change their behaviour. Whether we want our audience to donate, sign-up, or consider new services, behaviour change is what we are looking to achieve and oxytocin is our weapon for exceptional results in customer retention and acquisition.

Stories can be one of the most powerful behaviour change tools in your arsenal but not every story achieves oxytocin release. We’ve seen this firsthand. When clients push us to make their stories look and feel like advertisements, the key measures plummet. Every time.

There are many reasons for this, one being reduced oxytocin release. Another is that we need to achieve emotional relevance before we attempt to incite a new behaviour.

If we push the marketing message too early, we risk the effectiveness of the piece. Green and Brock (2000) found that “highly transported viewers found fewer false notes in a story than less-transported readers.” Where transportation is defined as “absorption into a story."

And finally, we have to get our audience to pay attention. We have to both gain and sustain their attention. Everyone existing in today’s world is being trained to avoid and ignore advertising at a rate unparalleled in human existence.

Attention in storytelling comes from tension (Zak, 2013). And I can’t tell you how many institutions get this wrong. If your goal is to make an advertisement about your organization, you’ve already failed. The key is to try and tell the stories that will break through the clutter, capture attention and connect with the belief and value system of the viewer.

Our clients have seen the results. And we’ve got the data to show what happens when we capture our audience’s attention and then build an emotional resonance with viewers so as to engage their empathy, allow them to see themselves in the story and connect them with characters that will encourage oxytocin release.

 Zak, P. (2014) “Why your brain loves good storytelling.” Harvard Business Review, 28th October 2014.

 Zak, P. (2013) ”How stories change the brain.” Berkeley University.

 Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2000). The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5), 701-721.

Sean Howard