Which of these opening words to a narrative makes you want to read whatever text follows?

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”


“The Open Compliance and Ethics Group (OCEG), a non-profit organization based in Phoenix, Arizona, today announced the release of a major update to its GRC Capability Model (Red Book 2.0), the central piece of the OCEG Framework for Principled Performance®.”

The first choice is the opening to one of the most famous short stories ever written, “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, and the other is the opening paragraph of a news release.

It’s hard to imagine anyone but the most orthodox geek preferring to learn more about version 2 of this capability model than the fate of a man turned into a giant cockroach.

And yet, when companies introduce new products or services, or even if they are trying to describe themselves to a prospect, a journalist, or an investor, they invariably flinch at the idea of telling a compelling story in favor of a deadly, dry incantation of features, boasts of experience or pledges to deliver dedicated service.

Why? If you want to stimulate a change in behavior, such as inducing someone to spend their money, why would you try to reach that person the same way all your competitors do, with the points your potential customers have heard before, again and again? Why not offer a narrative that stimulates your listener or reader to act -- not just the reason to buy but the motivation, the need to buy?

That is no longer a rhetorical question. Researchers have been looking at narratives to assess their effect on brain activity. For example, volunteers were recruited to watch the opening sequence of Sergio Leone’s much-imitated 1966 film “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” while having their brains scanned. The parts of each viewer’s brains closely associated with vision, hearing, language and emotion responded in very much the same way at the same time in response to the same images. In other words, the movie, what it showed, how it was edited and scored, exerted considerable control over its audience’s reactions.

These researchers then had volunteers view a ten-minute, unedited, one-shot clip of a concert in a park. The shot was taken from a single viewpoint, so people entered and exited the frame at random. The activity in the same parts of the brain studied in the first sample was dramatically lower.

There’s more. In a different study, volunteers who watched a five-minute video telling the story of a 4-year-old boy with terminal brain cancer experienced an increase in their oxytocin levels of 47% compared with others who saw an emotionally neutral film about the same boy going to the zoo. Oxytocin facilitates bonding, empathy, and emotional connections, all of which are pre-requisites to falling in love or -- wanting to learn more about a person, or a product, or a service or an investment opportunity. Stimulating the production of oxytocin is, in other words, what is required to go beyond having a reason to do something. It’s what’s necessary to motivate someone to believe he or she must act on that reason.

What does this mean for life science marketers? A company’s virtues will remain hidden unless its achievements are presented to make the blood flow, to create excitement, or concern, or empathy. These are the feelings that motivate decisions. Don’t compile a list; do tell a story:

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning he realized that the new drug he had been taking for the past several weeks had succeeded in turning him from a revolting giant bug back into a perfectly normal-looking, -smelling, and -acting human being!”