Storytelling vs Statistics

18.01.16

One person's story is far more captivating than a collection of facts and figures

At Forward, we’re huge believers in the power of story, its ability to help impart your message whilst creating a powerful connection between you and your audience. Ensuring that your video has a strong narrative and engaging characters at its core is a surefire way to effectively communicate your ideas to your viewers. However, we often find there’s a natural tendency for clients to want to include statistics and figures in the videos we create for them, in order to help get their message across. Whilst facts, figures and statistics often have a place in the videos we make, we firmly believe statistics aren’t nearly as effective at motivating people as story.

It’s often very difficult to explain clearly why story is such a powerful tool. ‘Story’ can be quite an abstract concept to put across, whilst facts and figures are reassuringly concrete, so its easy to see why clients would be keen to include the latter at the expense of the former. We were therefore really excited when we came across a great article from StillMotion, which aims to clarify the importance of storytelling over statistics with some fascinating research and evidence (and a healthy dose of good storytelling!) that’s hard to ignore.

The guys delve into the concept of The Identifiable Victim Effect, which in essence suggests that when we use the example or tell the story of one specific individual, there is often an outpouring of support. However, when telling someone about a statistically huge problem, like the millions of people living in famine and poverty everyday, there is often much less action taken, and people’s responses are often far more indifferent. This is because people find it easier to understand and relate to the specific, small scale, human example of one person in need, whilst finding it difficult to comprehend and relate to an issue when explained via numbers and statistics. StillMotion use the example of a famous case from the US in the 1980s, where a baby girl fell down a well and was trapped for several days. The resulting media coverage of the story led to a huge outpouring of public support, to the tune of nearly $800,000! That’s a huge amount of action taken and money raised in support of one individual’s story. They then go onto explore some really interesting research, which proves that an identifiable victim’s story raises far more money than a statistical victim, surprisingly even when the identifiable victim’s story was backed up with statistical evidence.

This obviously has huge implications for how we tell stories and construct our videos to ensure they resonate with their audience and create the impact that our client desires. The evidence presented in the article clearly suggests that a video focussing on one specific character and their story will have a greater impact and impart your message to your audience far more effectively than a video which is just a collection of statistics, facts and figures.

The full article is well worth taking the time to read, as it goes far more in depth and presents the results of the scientific research that backs up this analysis: learnstory.org/importance-of-storytelling

Hopefully it’ll change your perception of what makes an engaging, effective video, and get you thinking about how best to engage your audience and impart your message when you’re planning your next video.