The Blend Podcast EP002 – The Power Of Storytelling

Brendan Cox  00:32

So we are going to talk about storytelling, and why it’s so universally powerful for connecting with people.

Tom Payani  00:43

Yeah, and for anyone sort of listening to this podcast who knows what we do you know, that we create interactive content for for eLearning and marketing and asking, why are these guys talking about storytelling? Do you want to sort of explain why this is so important to us?

Brendan Cox  01:00

Okay, so basically, humans are the same way they’ve been for millennia, like chemistry, biology wise, psychologically wise. And so one of the kind of the original ways that humans connect with each other was through storytelling. And because we’re a social creature, we empathise really quickly with people is part of our nature. 

And it’s actually a way that we protect ourselves, we’re safer in a community all the way back to like caveman days. And so our ability to empathise with each other extends to being able to empathise with fabricated stories and create stories and things like that. 

And you can really use that to create strong bonds for things like elearning, marketing. And you can see it running all the way through things like films as well. And books and stories throughout history.

Tom Payani  02:00

Yeah, it’s coming back to this idea of of creating connection, isn’t it? And engagement.

Brendan Cox  02:08

Yeah. Humans want to engage with each other. It’s kind of the thing that everyone has been having so much trouble with over the last year and the Christmas period is that as a social species, we kind of want to connect with everybody. So it’s not a surprise that things like Netflix, got absolutely hammered. In terms of like, US subscribers, they went up loads over last year, because people crave that kind of connection.

Tom Payani  02:39

You mean hammered in a good way.

Brendan Cox  02:41

Hammered in a good way. Yeah. Positive hammering.

Tom Payani  02:44

Yeah, I mean, and I think for us, what’s important about storytelling is, you see how much technology is changing. You know, but the human brain hasn’t evolved as fast as technology. And this is why we have so many problems connected with social media and stuff.  This is a conversation for another day. 

But the good thing about storytelling is it’s always a constant, isn’t it? It’s been around in all sorts of shapes and sizes forever. And you can’t go wrong, as long as you stick to the sort of key storytelling rules. I say rules loosely. But I think you’re gonna sort of mention a few sort of tropes, let’s say of storytelling, and how it can be implemented into what we do.

Brendan Cox 03:30

Yeah, I think the thing is,  as soon as you start saying there’s rules, there’s ways of bending them as well afterwards, that I suppose the main kind of like storytelling trope, would be kind of overcoming adversity, taking someone out of something, take something out of what is comfortable out of his comfort zone, kind of test it, trial by fire sort of thing, and then change it. 

And I think because deep down all of us want to be able to overcome things and improve and kind of be a hero as it were. And so that kind of like the sense of a journey is kind of paramount actually, like you’ll feel it. 

If you look for it, you’ll see it across all kinds of cultural storytelling all the way back to like Greek mythology. Literally, it’s like the Odyssey and Theseus and all those kind of journeys that all those sort of famous characters went on, is followed through all the way to like things like Star Wars. 

Tom Payani 04:43

Yeah, and I think what you’re what you’re, what you’re mentioning there, or what you’re explaining is this concept of the hero’s journey, which we’re going to go into more detail later on later aren’t you?

Brendan Cox 04:52

Yeah, we can dig a bit more into that and kind of go more into the specifics of it. But yeah, basically going on a journey and like an emotional one, a kind of metaphor as well, for all those kind of things.

Tom Payani 05:05

Yeah, I mean, just before we sort of move on to the hero’s journey, I think one thing I want to talk about is, is how we try and use storytelling in what we do. And I think this is something that could be useful for people out there, who do have their own businesses who want to connect with their audience, connect with their customers. 

It’s all well and good as talking about these sort of storytelling ideas, like the hero’s journey that they use in cinema and TV and stuff like that. But they’re thinking, well, Tom, this doesn’t really help me for my business. But, but I think there are things that you can you can apply in a in a business context or in a sort of marketing context, as well. 

And and we’ve tried to do that, haven’t we? So I think one thing I want to, I want to talk about is just the chemistry of our brain really, and and how our brain works in terms of in terms of storytelling, and our brain releases, certain chemicals that create certain reactions. And storytelling can create these chemicals in the brain. 

There’s a really good TED talk by a guy called David Phillips – I will have the link in the in the show notes. But he talks about the sort of different chemicals your brain can create when telling a story. And the bottom line is, the more emotionally invested you are in anything in your life, the less critical and the less objectively observant, you become, you know, it becomes totally subjective, doesn’t it?

Brendan Cox  06:37

The thing is, you’ll see there’s like a massive trend in and it’s been going on for a while, but in marketing in general have the idea of the lifestyle of a product rather than the product itself. And so you often get like cheap sales always feels a bit like they’re just selling the benefits of the product. 

Whereas things like car adverts, and really well written marketing has, you get a sense of the character, the sense of the lifestyle that’s attached to that. So there was a there all the way back going back quite long way. There was a really famous one, I think it was used globally, but it was definitely in the UK, was for Nescafe. And there was Giles, the guy from the librarian for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

Going over like basically borrowing coffee from this girl in his apartment in a different apartment room. And there’s this ongoing love story that actually followed through all of the adverts for it. And literally everyone went nuts for it. Because it’s it’s not talking about the coffee. It’s talking about the idea of having a coffee with a new person and the excitement of like coming together. 

And then there was another one that was I think ran out did a really good one that was the Nicole and Papa. And it was just like, Nicole, when she drives off and it was basically about the the journey of their relationship as a father and daughter all the way through. And it followed her all the way through a set of adverts all the way till she got married, and then left with someone else. And the whole way through that journey was the product. 

And so there’s stuff like that were thinking about thinking about what you want your product or your customers to feel when they use your product is more important than, like the details of your product. You want it to feel it. People don’t think about how my football boots are made. Or like the details of the studs or something like that. 

What I love about it is like I feel I feel sporty, I feel athletic. I feel like a hero when I’m running around the pitch kicking the ball. And so there’s a very much sense of like tying in the the feeling of what you want your customers to feel when they’re using your product, rather than focusing necessarily on the details of like the, like the kind of the parts of the product.

Tom Payani  09:17

David Phillips talks about these different cocktails of chemicals. He first of all has the angels cocktail, which is a combination of dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. He mentioned in his talk that talks about how they build suspense, and the way to create these chemicals in in the in the audience is usually through something like a cliffhanger, or some sort of some sort of cycle of waiting or expecting. 

We tried to do this ourselves, didn’t we, when we built the content detectives, our own our own marketing because the cliffhanger was at the end. Who is the who is the mystery suspect? We wanted to make sure that the audience didn’t know who that was. Because then they have to come back next time and see what happens.

Brendan Cox 10:07

Yeah, we could strategically change who that person was later on if we change that.

Tom Payani  10:12

That’s also true. But don’t tell everyone that Brendan.

Brendan Cox  10:14

Yeah, that’s a secret. So I think everyone’s familiar with that kind of cliffhanger approach. And it works for a reason. And Netflix do this thing, they’ve perfected the art of ending episodes. So they leave on a cliffhanger. And then they’re like, next episode starts in three seconds, you almost don’t have time to get the remote control. And you’re straight back in. You get this sort of rollercoaster of emotion. But the roller coaster emotion comes from the chemicals.

Tom Payani  10:53

Yeah. And I think the point is, there’s nothing stopping someone doing that in terms of their own content, you know, their own content marketing?

Brendan Cox  11:00

If you sit too much in the details, you can take the kind of you can I squeeze the enjoyment out of the actual project. And so sometimes sitting back from it and thinking, Okay, we’re going to teach them something, but let’s sort of take them on a bit of a ride on a journey while they we show them it. It can make a big difference. 

Like I said, we did we try to do that in our content detectives. So anyone that’s not had to go there. Give it a go. It was our kind of homage to the games that we we played as kids, and kind of the idea that you could, people could find out a bit about us by taking them on a bit of a journey and telling a bit of a story. 

Rather than just going, oh, by the way, here’s all our work and give us a shout, if you’re interested. We love the stories and the movies and the kind of like the, like the game side of stuff. And it just made more sense to sort of put to sort of practice what we preach and put it in a story.

Tom Payani  12:15

When I was talking about this angels cocktail, the dopamine element of it was, was the cliffhanger. And then you’ve got oxytocin, which is this idea, which is created when you create empathy for whatever characters you build. And we put a lot of effort into that, in terms of what we wanted, the design and the look of the characters to be, you know, and that’s where your animation and your ability there really helps us out because there’s a certain feel to the characters that like you said, is an homage and it’s almost nostalgic to the the games we used to play

Using the point and click adventures, and this was a deliberate move by us.

Brendan Cox  12:59

Yeah, and I think the thing is, it was making the point of having you and me in it, and kind of both of us having our own way of talking. And also there were there was like the the top Trump style character selection. So the idea of like, you get a sense of what we can do, but there’s like a cheeky little kind of weaknesses at the bottom as well. So you can feel it, or you could relate to us a bit more.

Tom Payani  13:23

Yeah. And then the final chemical in this cocktail of endorphins, and you bring out endorphins of them when you when you make people laugh. We tried to design that in a slightly tongue in cheek way, didn’t we by not taking ourselves too seriously.

Brendan Cox  13:42

LikeThe Dollar Shave Club.

Tom Payani  13:48

Yeah. Brilliant, brilliant advert.

Brendan Cox  13:50

It’s perfect example of releasing endorphins. Cuz you’ve basically, you’ve taken something that is so boring, and also taken an industry that takes itself way too seriously in terms of marketing, and communications, and then just flicked both on their head and just done a spoof of it. 

And what is crazy, they sold the company for millions and millions of pounds. And they became a reference point to all advertising. Like, courses that if you do anywhere, they’ll always refer back to the the Dollar Shave Club is a perfect example of kind of flipping it on its head.

Tom Payani  14:32

Yeah, it’s a great case study actually, isn’t it?

Brendan Cox  14:35

Yeah. Yeah.

Tom Payani  14:36

We’ll put that in the show notes as well, actually.

Brendan Cox  14:38

Yeah, it’s worth it just to watch it. Yeah. And you can see it’s, it’s kind of influenced because there’s things like the Old Spice adverts that have very similar will find a link for that a lot as well, but they have a very similar kind of tongue in cheek silliness, that it’s almost like I’m allowed on fun. I’m a cheeky guy, I can relate to this person I can, I’d want this, this product suits me. And so it’s Yeah, it’s a good example.

Tom Payani 15:09

We want to get into this Hero’s Journey thing. Yeah, I think because the hero’s journey has 12 stages. And, you know, we don’t want people to think that you have to use all 12 stages in your one minute advert for your product, it doesn’t work like that. But you can pick and choose certain aspects of the journey or you can dip into it cant you?

Brendan Cox 15:33

The hero’s journey was sort of developed by Joseph Campbell, who wrote a book called The hero with 1000 faces. And what it did was it basically compared tonnes and tonnes of mythology, like Greek mythology, biblical stuff, all through different civilizations. And basically, what he realised was the kind of core the core point running through everything that made it so memorable. 

And he kind of called it like the the mono-myth, because it basically was just a template for an adventure. And the hero goes on. And so basically, the idea the general gist of it is that pretty much you can, once you once we tell you, it, you can see it kind of like is followed by a lot of stuff. And is the idea is you take character from the known, so that kind of comfort zone, and you give him a call to action. 

Then you basically get help from someone. And then they’re basically taken out of their comfort zone. And they go over a threshold. So sort of out of the Shire, in like in Lord of the Rings or something. They start to transform and the general idea is that they go through challenges, and we can kind of like a roller coaster of challenges. 

They have helpers, they have a mentor over time. And then they come up against a giant kind of conflict. And At which point, they basically have to overcome it. And they’re transformed. So they become a hero, they sort of save the day, they overcome the monster. And then basically what they do is they return changed. So I mean, the returning change bit can literally be they go back home, and they are now a hero, or it can be they move on as a having found new insight into themselves or grown as a person.

Tom Payani  17:31

I mean, most of the most famous stories in popular culture use the structure, don’t they?

Brendan Cox  17:37

Yeah, totally. And I mean, the thing is, is that you can, you can pick and choose bits of it. So I mean, you can literally if you say for example, Lord of the Rings is a great example. Because they literally go all the way out, they go through a load of conflict, you’ve got the mentor in the form of Gandalf, you’ve got the big battles, you’ve got the transformation of the hobbits becoming brave heroes. 

And then they come back home, having changed and returned to their, their, the little houses in poverty. And then you’ve also got simpler versions of that, but still touch upon those points in things like Toy Story, where you take the toys out of there, out of the room, they’ve always been in and take them on a crazy adventure. And they learn to be more confident, and they learn to be heroes, and they learn kind of more about themselves and return at the end of the film.

Tom Payani  18:30

Yeah. And I think even if you even simplify it down one more level, you’re using it in a marketing context, or a business context is pretty much about the transformation of your audience, isn’t it? How are they? Where do you want them to finish compared to where they started? And how that transformation is going to come about and why you want it to come about?

Brendan Cox  18:53

You can basically you could create a set of visuals that basically lead them on a journey that they empathise with, or aspire to. And like you see it in car adverts where you see the couple, they have kids, they’re driving their kids around in the car on holiday, they then basically picking up their grandkids when they’re old, and things like that. And just basically, even if it’s not a giant journey that takes nine hours of your time, if you watch all of the DVD extras, it could literally be there’s something as simple as just a montage.

Tom Payani  19:36

And I think from our point of view, why we’re sort of so militant about why we think interactivity is so important in in terms of content is because you’re allowing the user, the audience, the customer to become part of the decision making process about this transformation, if you make something interactive.

Brendan Cox 19:58

Yeah, I think the thing is, is that if you really want people to connect with something, putting them in, it makes a massive difference because a kid, I was given a Winnie the Pooh book with me in it. And literally what is one of the few things apart from Lego, it’s one of the few things as a kid, I have, I can visualise it, now I can like I have a very, very strong memory of that connection to that book. 

I was Christopher Robin’s friend, and he was having a party, and I was helping him with it. And they literally stuck, I mean, blonde boy in the book, and refer to me as Brendan in the book. Just that simple interaction of putting somebody in it, and letting them choose their character is why this is not a surprise, always, this is exactly why video games are so popular. 

It was like it was always seemed as a kind of, like a waste of time, or just sort of distraction or not good view or anything. But actually, video games is proven to be one of the most powerful mediums for storytelling as

Tom Payani  21:10

Going back to that Winnie the Pooh book, maybe you will openly admit that we were massively influenced by the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. Page 12 to do this, turn to page 22 to do option B, you know, and we try and we try and integrate that into our own content as much as possible.

Brendan Cox  21:31

In an ideal world, we’d basically have infinite amount of time, and we could just literally make games to teach people stuff. So you always have to kind of balance the the the time you’ve got to do it with kind of what gives the biggest impact. 

I think the things that we we we played with as a kid, the the, the Choose Your Own Adventure books is a massive part of it. Actually, there’s the reference in the new Netflix stuff. So like the interactivity, and Netflix and things.

Tom Payani 22:05

You’re talking about things like Black Mirror bandersnatch.

Brendan Cox 22:09

Yeah, that’s literally choose your own adventure. It’s kind of like, oh, what do you want to happen? Now? Do you want Frosties or cornflakes to kind of ease people back into it, but it’s a very, it has a really retro feel? Because it’s it’s referencing those same things from the 80s and 90s.

Tom Payani 22:24

It’s just a different format of the same concept, isn’t it? I think this is what we really try and show our own clients that, you know, interactive content is something that’s never going to go away. And you just need  to plug into the new ways in which you can use it. And especially when you look at the demographics. 

Nowadays, young people are playing so many video games, that their attention spans much shorter, and also, their expectations of content is much higher. Now. These are the people who are going to become, you know, businesses, customers in the future. And they have certain expectations, and they expect things to be interactive and engaging. And a lot of digital marketing out there right now is just not that.

Brendan Cox  23:08

Yeah, I mean, the thing is, is people forget the things like on the amount of people in the world, they’ve got a mobile phone is exponentially growing. And the thing is, because my background is in animation, everyone doesn’t really think about it, but there’s animation is creeping into everything, like all the things that are on your phone, the way that the apps open, the way that the things load, the way the buttons get pressed, it’s all animated. 

These animations are all now tied into interactions. Everyone born since the 90s, was born with a phone in their hand pretty much. And so they are used to interacting with every bit of content that they come across. And so it’s only natural that they’re going to want to interact with stories as they go along. 

So I think the more interaction you can kind of gently enhance a story with the better. I mean, I’m not saying you have to go full full video game with everything. But it just something as simple as, like the charm of having your name put into a story is sometimes enough.

Tom Payani  24:13

Well, yeah, and we’ve sort of been talking about marketing quite a lot. But it’s exactly the same for eLearning, isn’t it you look at things like Duolingo, the personalization of that, you know, it’s going to be exactly the same in terms of elearning and training for for staff and students.

Brendan Cox  24:31

I think that’s the thing is that if you’re trying to you’re basically his core is trying to connect with people through storytelling, and having it practical makes you connect with it even further. And the thing is, is that whether you’re trying to learn about a brand, or you’re learning about a character, or you’re learning about skill, that storytelling aspect, and the journey aspect and the practical aspect of it mean that your brain goes through all these chemical reactions and you go through this emotional attachment to it. 

So by the end rather than just reading something or watching something you’re connected to. And so that works for me learning, marketing and entertainment.

Tom Payani  25:15

Yeah, it’s super interesting. And for sure, I think we’re going to come back to storytelling examples and how it influences us and certain types of storytelling. But I think this, this has been quite a good starting point.

Brendan Cox 25:27

There was one last thing I was gonna say, there was a book that I was reading, called The Power of moments. It is by Chip and Dan Heath. And so it talks about the emotional kind of, like power of creating moments with people. And so this is kind of not just for marketing, or elearning. But in general, basically, the principle is, is that we don’t really remember our memories of things, we kind of do remember the highs and all the really deep lows of something. 

You can go to Disneyland, and you remember going on the roller coaster, and it’s epic. And then you remember how knackered you were in the car on the way home. But the details in between, you kind of lose. So there’s this aspect of focusing on the the highs of your story and what you’re trying to get across and focusing on the ending. 

And so if you this definitely worth checking out this book, I will put the link in the show notes. So basically, the power of moments, the secret is just to basically create a moment with your audience, and make it as emotional as possible and really, like boost it and make it as special as possible. 

So involve them in it or make it practical. And then at the end, don’t just kind of fizzle out. really hit it home, like the way that you say a customer will contact you. And then you go, you just send a like an automated receipt, think about ways in which you can create a little moment with them there as well. And so that’s something that has any anyone in any industry can kind of can kind of use. And that way that you can kind of like leave them with a smile on their face after you finished work or like providing them with whatever it is you did.

Tom Payani 27:20

I like that. And as you were saying that actually it reminds me of stand up comedy, when a lot of stand ups say their best jokes at the beginning and the end, you know, and that’s how they’ll structure their format, because that’s when they want to leave the biggest impact.

Brendan Cox 27:36

Yeah I always used to watch Eddie Izzard. And he always used to do this thing where he read what most comedians do, where they reference themselves. And they reference a joke earlier on. And they always end on a joke that’s referencing something at the beginning, because not only do you if you find it really funny, but they trigger a response in you because you recognise you feel clever for remembering it from the beginning.

Tom Payani 28:03

Yes, this is building rapport, isn’t it? That’s cool…It’s been a pleasure as always, mate. I’m sure this isn’t the end of this conversation in one form or another.

Brendan Cox  28:16

Yeah, I think we’re gonna have to pick loads of bits out and dig a bit deeper if, if we feel like it on the other things. I know, there’s a lot of stuff on the on the storytelling aspect. We can jump into different things for later, later episodes.

Tom Payani  28:29

Yeah, I mean, all the things we’ve mentioned. I’ll stick it in the show notes anyway, so people can refer to the stuff. Yeah. All right. Yeah. So it’s been a pleasure as always, and I will catch you next week. 

Brendan Cox  28:47

Thanks for listening to the blend podcast. It’s available on Spotify, Google and Apple. You can find blend interactive content on LinkedIn, or Don’t forget to like and subscribe. See you next time.

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