Share Stories and Ditch the Data to Influence and Communicate

Posted by on Jul 22, 2014

Jake McKenzie is CEO of Intermark Group, the largest multidiscipline advertising firm in Alabama. He is an expert in applied psychology in advertising and has used this knowledge to spearhead an advertising agency that shapes brand success by applying persuasive psychology to group imagination. Jake recently spoke at a Sain Associates Leadership Class to share with us how influence and communication can affect decision making.

We hate data. We remember concepts. We store narratives. We tell stories. These principles apply whether you’re talking about daily decision making or those who make decisions when purchasing engineering services or any other products.

The human brain uses two levels of thinking: System 1 and System 2. System 1 involves rapid decision making based on habits and mental short cuts. System 2 involves conscious reasoning. People generally follow the “law of least effort,” which means that we make 89% of our daily decisions and actions without rational thought. Basically, we try to take the easiest route to an answer. We don’t listen well for this very reason. When someone else begins talking, our brains automatically try to shortcut to an answer.

Brand and culture are ways to take advantage of the brain’s desire to take a short-cut. These things tell other people what to think when they don’t want to think for themselves. For example, which car brand do you equate with safety? People almost uniformly think Volvo in association with safety, even though it’s been years since Volvo had the top-safety rated mid-sized sedan.

Traditional communication is hard. The first key to getting someone to listen to you is to get them to talk. Talking opens them up to communication, and then the key to changing behavior is to get them in motion. Ask yourself, are they “leaning in” to the story I’m telling?

It’s these stories that can help us access long term memory and bypass System 1 thinking. People are hardwired for stories. There are a wide range of emotions that you can tap into to create motivation, because when communicating, emotion wins. When you connect with someone’s emotions, your message is more likely to be remembered.

The opposite of storytelling is putting together long, detailed proposals that provide vast amounts of information. It’s very common for people to do this, but data is not how people make decisions. Rather, they make decisions based on emotions having to do with relationships and the perception that they will get a “win.” Wins could be delivering your product ahead of schedule or providing a quality product that makes someone’s job easier. The key is to understand what type of win they value.

In the end, almost all pitches are decided based on two factors: do they like you and do they trust you? If they like and trust you, get them leaning in and interested, present them with a story and then tap into an emotional driver.

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