How to Get Your Boring Information Into Their Head (and remembered!) With the Oldest Trick in the Book
We live in an information glut that is only growing more bloated and obese by the day. By the hour. By the minute.
Yet, somehow, within this sea of factoids and lists and how-to’s, every single content creator, every single marketer, agency, and brand out there needs to get it’s message to stand out and somehow stick.
This is not an easy proposition.
There’s a LOT of competition out there.
Fortunately, the best possible solution is actually the most easily accessible!
Counterintuitively, the most effective solution is actually the oldest and most obvious.
We are blessed with a tried-and-true technology right in front of our noses--the ancient root of human communication that has helped information stick in minds since the dawn of words.
The oldest method of encoding information is the most effective
I’m talking about Story. Metaphor.
This draws from the driving principles behind evolutionary psychology. The conditions humans encountered over thousands and thousands of years are deeply ingrained into our fundamental neural pathways. This has hardwired us for taking in information in a specific way.
Our brains are not designed to memorize facts.
Our ancient ancestors did not find helpful “10 tips for better hunting” lists carved into the trees.
Dry information is not bioavailable. It’s not all that easy to use. Why is that?
Because there’s no emotion! There’s no juice! There’s nothing relatable to make a lasting impression. At the evolutionary level, what differentiates this particular tree, this sacred rock, this blog post, this company, this whatever, is the emotional content attached to it. The story. Without a story it never gets “tagged” with an emotional marker that makes it remarkable.
So let’s take a look at this connection and dig a little bit deeper.
The Neurobiology of Emotion and Memory
Our emotions play in incredibly important role in memory formation.
The brain system that controls our emotions is a group of regions collectively called the Limbic System. All the emotions you will ever experience, from fear to pleasure to anger to peace are all mediated by this system.
The limbic system ALSO contains one special region called the hippocampus, which is where new memories are formed and stabilized.
Neurologically, the system that governs Emotion is the SAME system that governs MEMORY.
Hmm…. interesting…. So how might we use this…?
Stories Make Information Relatable
Deep in the evolutionary history of humankind, we created stories. We created metaphors. We imposed characters and plot lines on stars and planets to better chart and remember their natural cycles, we preserved wisdom through fables, encoded deep psychological truths in myth.
See any of Joseph Campbell’s or Carl Jung’s writings, they are fascinating.
Why? Because if I were to tell you that there are deep psychological drives for a son to want to possess his own mother, you’d look at me a little strange and then go about your day. The information wouldn't’ stick. In one ear, out there other.
But if I told you a fantastic story about some guy named Oedipus with rich details and characters that imparts the same information, wow, that might actually stick! If it’s a really good story, you might even tell your friends.
Take Norse Mythology for example. There are numerous numerical references to the great cycle of the precession of the equinoxes, a 26,000 year cycle of the wobble of Earth’s axis. Nobody is going to remember those precise numbers for thousands of years. UNLESS they are encoded into a compelling story.
A story is, in a sense, an emotional mnemonic device.
Now, the point here for you, is by embedding your message and information within a story of some sort, you co-opt the human brain’s natural memory building function.
You can make your information remarkable, emotional. Memorable. Sticky.
Metahpor as a mini-Story
So far, we’ve only looked at story in the general sense. But let’s look at something very closely related to stories: METAPHOR.
Metaphors help us to relate to new knowledge through things we already understand.
Another way to put it, in marketing terms, is that we can connect new information to things we already know, like, and trust.
This is especially relevant when we come to intensely boring and/or technical information. Explaining technical features to anyone but a techie geek is just not going to work. You have to find a way to create an emotional bridge to something the reader already understands to the information to make it stick.
For example, if you are trying to explain how L-Theanine with caffeine creates a different experience of mental energy than just pure caffeine, you could relate it to a wood stove. Caffeine is like burning the fuel with the damper wide open. The fire burns fast and hot, but ultimately isn’t all that sustainable because it uses so much fuel. If you add L-Theanine, it’s like closing the damper. It maintains a consistent burn allowing for a more regulated and long-lasting fire.
And now the mechanism of green tea and L-theanine supplements is apparent and easy to relate to. While my perspective is informed by the science behind it, I did not need to go into biochemical mechanisms of action in order to get the point across.
I cut through the jargon with metaphor, with analogical thinking.
It seems obvious, but this is deceptively powerful, it cuts right through to our basic mechanism of memory and understanding. (Analogical thinking, it turns out, is also one of the most powerful tools of critical thinking and learning)
And most technically-oriented copywriters and content creators totally miss it.
So with that...
I want to tell you a little story...
Long, long ago when humans could still speak with the animals, there was a young man named Zabumba. Zabumba was one cleverest in his village, but nobody seemed to know it.
This village loved rabbits and had many dozens of the cute little animals and their cuddly loveable nature kept everybody happy. The village was peaceful and prosperous. But one day, they noticed that the rabbits were disappearing. They were hopping all over the place, getting picked off and eaten by foxes that had moved into the forest.
Nobody knew what to do!
Nobody could get the rabbits to stay in one place so they just kept getting eaten!
No matter what anybody did, the rabbits kept wandering off and getting eaten by the foxes.
But clever Zabumba had an idea. He began telling the rabbits a story. All the rabbits turned and listened. They stopped hopping around and began gathering around Zabumba. And the story was so interesting, they just had to keep on listening. And they stayed there listening to Zabumba for so long, the foxes left the valley because there were no more rabbits to eat.
The village was happy and peaceful and prosperous once again.