After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing

we need most in the world.”  ― Philip Pullman

Story Telling in Catalog Printing

Have you ever sat back and wondered, what is the first story ever to be told?  For thousands of years—thousands of years!!—humans have been telling stories in one fashion or another.  But what was the first story ever told? Was it an image drawn in the sand? Was it a story sprawled across the wall of a cave?  Of this there is no real way to know. In the article The Science of Storytelling, author Leo Widrich explains, “For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods.”


“The Epic of Gilgamesh,” is the first story that we know of to be written.  The Babylonian story was found sometime in the 1800’s.  It was written on clay tablets and thought to have been created over 3,000 years ago. That predates even the Old Testament.  In fact there are some parts of this story that are said to have been revealed in other writings as well, including the Old Testament.  These stories that have been passed from person to person for generations, back then completely by word of mouth,   make up the building blocks of human civilization. They are how we, as people, view and understand the world.  Most important, they are an integral part of how we communicate the world to each other.


It’s a powerful thing to be able to communicate with people who lived over 3,000 years ago. Fact or fiction is irrelevant, the stories themselves are timeless. They are part of the larger puzzle; they bind us together in a way nothing else is capable. Stories go straight for the heart and that is the purpose of a story, to provoke an emotional response that ultimately allows us to share experiences. It is something that no other animal on earth can do.


You may wonder what all of this has to do with catalogs. If you want to reach your audience through print catalogs—like really reach them and make a saleyou must first realize the importance of storytelling and second incorporate it in your catalog campaign.  In an article published on, content marketer Brianne Carlon Rush  explains that “…research reveals emotional response to an ad has far greater influence on a consumer’s reported intent to buy a product …” (read this article).  Here are a few reasons why stories are a great way to communicate with your consumer through printed catalogs.


Our brains are hardwired for stories

According to Widrich (referenced above), while absorbing a story: “Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too…. If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active…”


Widrich continues on to explain that “evolution has wired our brains for storytelling.”  He explains how everything we think about has a cause and effect. It is the way of the world.  What makes a story? Ask any writer and they will all say the same thing: stories are simply action and reaction, cause and effect. Fiction writers say all the time, they write their characters into a corner just so they can write them out.  It’s just the way that our brains are wired. It’s just how we communicate with one another to create shared experiences.


Stories reach for the heart

Good storytelling does more than relay facts, as revealed in the last section it actually creates an experience in the brain (as stated above) for the person who is reading, seeing, or hearing the story. In addition to that, however, studies have shown that stories unlock other parts of ours brains that will dig up similar experiences to that story we are hearing.  These experiences allow us to experience the story emotionally.  In other words, stories reach straight for the heart (figuratively speaking of course).


Are you familiar with the story of Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild)?  If I were to tell you that there was a guy who died in the woods in 1992, it wouldn’t mean much. But if I gave you the story adaptation from McCandless’ journal written by Jon Krakauer, the story would have a much greater impact on you.


This is because the story then becomes a shared experience where you are now able to live through the same emotions that McCandless felt  before his death in the Alaskan wilderness.  You are much more likely to remember the date and circumstances of his death after reading the story than if I were just to tell you the fact.


Consumers Buy from the Heart

According to Rush “Functional MRI neuro-imagery shows that, when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features and facts).” We have already determined that the human brain is hardwired for stories in a way that provokes us emotionally thus allowing us a complete experience.  This is to say that if you use catalogs to tell a story and do a good job at it, your customers are far more likely to buy from your catalog.  This along with the stimuli that the physical act of touch creates in your brain is probably one of the most powerful forms of marketing out there.


Now that you are familiar with how storytelling can benefit catalog marketing, you might be thinking, that’s great and all, but how do I tell a story in a product catalog? That’s a very good question!


Check out Part II, How to Utilize Storytelling in Your Catalog, and find out!