How storytelling creates high-quality content and connection

Storytelling tips for marketing from fantasy writers

Table of Contents

Could marketing professionals gain an advantage if they draw upon the wisdom of storytelling? Content marketing is, after all, about creating a good story.

Few are aware that fantasy, sci-fi, and even romance authors use several tactics to master the craft and grab the attention of the audience in just a few moments.  A marketer’s dream, no less. 

When an author builds a character for a story, they start with the character’s motivation and stakes. What the character wants to gain, and what the character stands to lose. There is a reason for this. This is because humans are social creatures who use empathy to make sense of the world. As such, storytelling matters for the consumer experience.  

Whether that experience is a fantasy novel, a TV commercial for yoga mats, or a fitness article in a magazine. 

When we create high-quality content, we can boost the audience’s reception of this content by framing it as a story. Neurologically, storylines alter activity of the brain (1), and there is no reason why we cannot apply these proven effects to content creation.  

By combining scientific research with the expertise of a professional author, this article aims to highlight how creative storytelling results in high-quality content. 

In summary, we will be talking about a potent mix of brain-derived compounds, narrative transportation,  tension and conclude with four tips. All of which marketing professionals can use to level up their game. 

Four tips for creative writing and storytelling for professionals in content marketing showing fantasy creature with people standing around

Cortisol & Oxytocin: A recipe for high-quality content

The lifelong research of neuroeconomist Paul Zak from Claremont Graduate University has proven that storytelling evokes a strong neurological response. Zak’s research explains how our brains produce cortisol, a stress hormone, and oxytocin, a feel-good chemical. Cortisol helps us focus during tense moments in a story, while oxytocin promotes connection and empathy (2; 3). 

When laced together, cortisol and oxytocin are a potent mix. These brain-derived compounds force a reader to a) pay attention and b) invest themselves emotionally in the story.

In one of Zak’s experiments, participants watched an emotionally charged movie about a father and a toddler diagnosed with cancer. After watching the movie, the participants were asked to donate money to a stranger. 

So, what do you think happened?

With their levels of oxytocin and cortisol heightened by the emotionally charged movie, the participants were more likely to give money to someone they had never met before (3).

Additionally, neurological research has shown us that happy endings in stories have a way of triggering our limbic system (i.e., the brain’s reward center). That trigger releases dopamine and makes us feel more positive (2).

When it comes to marketing, there is a clear benefit to be found from this neurological research. For example, a purchase is more likely to occur if a consumer experiences storytelling. 

How Narrative Transportation captures audiences during storytelling? 

When a story has kept an audience immersed for long enough, the audience will begin to relate emotionally to the characters. This process is what narratologists call narrative transportation (1). Oxytocin has been identified as the neurochemical that makes narrative transportation possible (4).  

Zak and his team discovered that if they administered synthetic oxytocin, instead of a placebo, to participants one hour before they watched a donation commercial, participants donated about 56% more. The participants who received oxytocin reported more emotional transportation, i.e., narrative transportation (4). 

For many of us, a good example of narrative transportation was the moment in Star Wars (1980) when Darth Vader reveals he is Luke’s father. You feel your own world collapsing alongside Luke’s. Or the moment in The Lord of the Rings (2001) when Frodo offers to carry the ring to Mordor, and you feel just as nervous as Frodo.

As a marketer, you could create a longer campaign with a series of recurring characters/actors to encourage more narrative transportation in the audience. This might also be why mascots are useful in marketing, such as the Michelin Man, and logos in general.

Tension: A storytelling and marketing tool 

When you read a book, tension is what makes you turn a page. When you watch a movie, tension is what keeps your eyes glued to the screen. The best storytelling increases tension so as to keep the attention of an audience (5).

Consider a TV commercial from an organization like The World Animal Protection. In that commercial imagine chained bears and caged primates. A commercial like this, if designed well, will gradually escalate the level of animal cruelty for the purpose of creating tension. This tension is created via stakes (i.e., animal cruelty) that helps immerse the viewer and motivates them to act (i.e., donate).

Or consider a commercial for a charity that involves children. Such a commercial will often end with a smiling child who benefited from a donation. This image dispels tension with a happy ending, which triggers our limbic system to release dopamine and makes us feel positive (and thus more inclined to donate).

It’s not just content for donation campaigns that benefit from rising tension.

The Danish organization, Rådet for Sikker Trafik (Council for Traffic Safety), regularly runs safety campaigns for transportation habits. Cars, specifically.  

In one commercial, we open with the image of a child in the backseat. The camera pans out to show the parents. They are driving, but not paying attention to the road. An oncoming car approaches. They narrowly avoid crashing into it (6). The tension rises all throughout that commercial because lives are at stake, triggering both our empathy and our stress hormone, cortisol, which immerses us in the story on the screen. This is an example of high-quality content created nearly entirely from storytelling.

How do you apply storytelling to your marketing campaigns?

So, now you know about a potent mix of brainderived compounds, narrative transportation, and tension. The next question is: how can you apply these scientific discoveries and insights to your next campaign? 

It is safe to assume that high-quality content arises when we combine creative storytelling and consumer experience. This has even been studied in the past with the result that “consumers who were exposed to the story described the brand using more positive terms and were willing to pay more for the product” (7).

So, how can you boost your high-quality content with creative storytelling?

Four content writing tips from a professional author and storyteller, backed by science: 

Here are four  creative storytelling strategies you can apply to make your  marketing more original. However, we suggest to apply them sparingly, meaning less is more. The moment that you overdo it, your audience can tell, and they will reject your efforts at tampering with their heartstrings.

  • Use rising tension in your content. If you can engage your audience in motivation and stakes, they are much more likely to respond to your call to action (i.e., “donate or the animals will keep suffering”).
  • Set the right Use targeted social cues to activate the empathy of your audience. Consider your audience and what social expectations they have. Play into those expectations to create maximum empathy (i.e., “a helpless child in a backseat while mom and dad don’t pay attention to traffic”)
  • Get to the point. Professional authors revise their first lines and first pages more than any other parts. The same should count for your content. Make it clear from the get-go why they benefit from staying.
  • Use dynamic language. Consider what verbs you use, and how they engage your audience by providing active imagery. Don’t use “walk” when you can use “stroll”. Strolling is more emotionally immersive than walking.


Remember, if you have a worthy product or service to promote, your goal is to influence and showcase its value, not manipulate people into buying things at random. 


  1. Zak, P. (2014, October 28). Why your brain loves good storytelling. Harvard Business Review.
  2. Monarth, H. (2014, March 11). The irresistible power of storytelling as a strategic business tool. Harvard Business Review.
  3. Future of Storytelling. (2013, February 19). Future of Storytelling: Paul Zak [Video]. YouTube.
  4. Zak, P. (2013, December 17). How stories change the brain. Greater Good Magazine: science-based insights for a meaningful life. 
  5. Friedman, J. (2021, August 3). The importance of curiosity and tension to storytelling. Jane Friedman.
  6. Rådet for Sikker Trafik. (2022, October 27). Kør bil når du kører bil – ”smiley” [Video]. YouTube. 
  7. Lundqvist, A., Liljander, V., Gummerus, J., van Riel, A. (2013). The impact of storytelling on the consumer brand experience: The case of a firm-originated story. Journal of Brand Management. 20 (4). 283-297. 
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