Data Doesn’t Convince Us. Stories Do.


Facts are stacked like bricks to become a tower. Do you see it? But a story is a wave that takes you on a journey and leaves the memory of the tower far behind. Facts are solid. Stories are seductive.

Laurie Beth Jones spoke the truth when she said, “People will remember stories long after they have forgotten your bullet points.” Are your ads loaded with facts, or are you crafting stories? Do you know what a good story requires?

A Harvard graduate, Maria Konnikova received her Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia. She is the recipient of the 2015 Harvard Medical School Media Fellowship and is a Schachter Writing Fellow at Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center.

Let me put it a little more “Texan.”

Harvard Medical School believes in Maria enough to give her money. The Motivation Science Center believes in her enough to give her money. These big-league institutions are helping to fund her research.

Conclusion: Maria Konnikova is neither a poser nor a lightweight.

In her new book, The Confidence Game, Maria explains how cognitive scientists are proving that stories are the most effective way to get people to change their minds.

Eric Barker of Wired magazine was impressed with Maria’s book and followed it up with an interview. He talks about it in his blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

“When people tell us stories, we tend to let our guard down. We don’t think we’re being ‘sold’ something, so we tend to go along for the ride. We quietly lose motivation to detect lies.”

“When psychologists Melanie Green and Timothy Brock decided to test the persuasive power of narrative, they found that the more a story transported us into its world, the more we were likely to believe it … The more engrossed a reader was in the story, the fewer false notes she noticed. The sweep of the narrative trumped the facts of logic. What’s more, the most engaged readers were also more likely to agree with the beliefs the story implied.”                      — Maria Konnokova, The Confidence Game

Eric Barker’s additional research included the following nuggets:

— “Nothing beats a story when it comes to convincing you of something.”

— “Our brains are wired to respond to stories.”

— “Paul Zak, the director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, has found repeatedly that nothing changes our emotions and behavior like the flow of a good story.”

— “Keith Quesenberry at Johns Hopkins studied more than 100 Super Bowl ads to determine what the most effective ones had in common. The answer? They told a story.”

I want to help you attract more customers, so I’m going to help you write better stories for your clients. But first you need to know exactly what is — and is not — a story.

I opened this column with a simile, “Facts are stacked like bricks,” and a metaphor, “a story is a wave,” to make simple statements of fact more colorful.

But it takes more than color to tell a story.

You met several characters in this memo — Maria Konnokova, Eric Barker, Melanie Green, Timothy Brock, Paul Zak, and Keith Quesenberry — but none of those characters took you on a journey. You never felt what they were feeling or saw the world through their eyes. You never identified with any of them. Nothing happens to them, so they remain unchanged.

A story…

  1. has a character
  2. with whom you identify
  3. and a pivotal moment. (The best stories have a series of them.)
  4. As a result of these moments, the character — and you — are both changed.

Good advertising is relevant. This means the cus­tomer relates to it and feels connected.


  1. Roy’s comments are reinforced with the addition of Dick Orkin’s (and other’s) positions on these matters.
    Radio, in general and however, finds itself staggering around in the starter’s gate as the rest of the field is turning into the back stretch.

  2. This works great. You have to make sure they remember the product being advertised. I remember stories of products and companies that are no longer around. It works well!


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