Understanding the Power of Storytelling in Branding – An Interview with Dr Nicolas Hamelin

Dr Nicolas Hamelin (Associate Professor of Marketing and Neuroscience Lab Director, SP Jain) , along with Park Thaichon, Dr Christopher Abraham, Nicholas Driver, Joe Lipscombe, and Jayarethanam Pillai recently authored a research paper titled ‘Storytelling, The Scale of Persuasion and Retention: A Neuromarketing Approach’ in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services.

Q. Why did you choose this topic in research?

Dr Hamelin: This research was done in over 2 years from 2019 to early 2020 in collaboration with Memac Ogilvy in Dubai. The idea was to investigate the importance of storytelling in branding using neuroscience techniques. Persuasive storytelling is an essential tool for propagandists, publicists, and corporations. We used the case of BP, because BP had spent years, and over USD 200 million in Public Relations (PR), polishing their green brand image. All these efforts were ruined by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This was an industrial disaster on an epic scale that destroyed the entire ecosystem of a massive area. The petroleum formed a slick extending over more than 57,500 square miles (149,000 square km). This spill was the worst environmental disaster in the history of the USA and BP lost over USD 1 billion in market value. According to Interbrand, the ‘majority of the company’s brand value has been destroyed’. The research question was to find out if storytelling could help BP recover some credibility. So, I decided to investigate how storytelling writing styles impact persuasion effectiveness in terms of attitude change and retention. 

Q. According to you, which method used would attract attention or create an impact in the mindset of the people?

Dr Hamelin: The effectiveness of storytelling can be measured along two axes. The first is to check if the PR article has a persuasive effect, or in other words, a level of credibility, change in belief, as well as liking (we call that attitude change in consumer behaviour). The second ax measures the level of retention – i.e., how long this attitude change lasts. Is the new belief and liking about a given brand enduring over time? Our findings show that for a PR piece to be effective, it needs to incorporate the right number of emotional cues – albeit not too few emotional cues which lead to lower engagement, or not too many emotional cues / too high valences since the audience becomes a lot more dubious.

Q. Can persuasive storytelling positively change the brand image?

Dr Hamelin: Of course! However, the worst thing a brand can do is be deceitful. Trust is fundamental, especially for new upcoming brands. Brand loyalty is not unlike a relationship. Cheater in a newly established relationship will most likely be dumped – and the relationship will end. However, couples who have been together for many years are generally more resilient to some level of deception. There will be a lot of arguing and tears, but in the end, the relationship will prevail. Look at what happened with iPhone and the battery issue. Apple was deliberately slowing down their older iPhone models to entice customers to get the new one. In Europe, Apple was ‘heavily’ fined and a lot of iPhone users were very upset. However, they still went on to buy the next iPhone model.

Click here to read the full research here.

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