By Ross Thomson, Chief Creative Officer, Greater Than One


If you’ve ever wondered what dragons eat, the answer came in the opening episode of Game of Thrones final season. “Whatever they want.” Was the rather casual, matter-of-fact reply. Nielsen reported that 17.4 million people tuned in to the premier, a viewership record for HBO. While, the top 10 global Twitter trends immediately after the show all focused around dramatic revelations. Such is the power of storytelling.

GTO Chief Creative Officer Ross Thomson

Stories are a shared experience. GOT is aired in over 150 countries, worldwide. Incredible, but perhaps not surprising. It’s one hellava story. Our brains are hard-wired to receive information primarily through storytelling. The more imaginative, the better. Imagination is a powerful tool, it’s the creative spark that lights up the brain. Powerful and compelling communications dwell deep in the synapsis for decades. A fact not lost in a world inhabited by fiercely competitive brands all seeking to become an omnipotent leader. Imaginative storytelling is fundamental to survival. We all know a little lizard that’s as powerful as any dragon.

There are many scholarly articles on the neuroscience of imagination. Scientists have spent years seeking to understand why stories can change our thought processes. Dr. Paul Zak, the director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University and author of the “Moral Molecule” may have hit on the answer-oxytocin. Oxytocin is a molecule that our brains release when we engage in social interactions. Oxytocin is critical to storytelling. When a great story is being told our brains release oxytocin which causes us to feel empathy. Narratologists see storytelling as “narrative transportation”, a theory which proposes that the story receiver’s brain will become more susceptible through empathy for the characters and the story they tell. In other words, powerful, imaginative storytelling can move us to take a positive action.

Of course, storytelling as a buzzword in marketing has become ubiquitous. So much so it’s almost lost all meaning. In healthcare marketing, our audiences brains are numbed to formulaic approaches that, if you put your hand over the product logo, you’d be hard pressed to identify it. (As a judge on many award shows I’m constantly at a loss as to why agencies hold onto their ideas long after they’ve been lobotomized.) Imagination deficiency in healthcare advertising is rife. It’s a communication condition a former Medical Officer of mine once described as creative aphasia.

Well, that needn’t be the case, because I hear the latest medical discovery is that doctors have a brain. So, let’s light ‘em up!

Stories change our brains and in the world of business, science of data and the art of storytelling are not exclusive. Quite the opposite. Research and data inform the stories we craft. Statistics validate the point and, well, the story is the point. Narrative is a way in which we simplify the complex. Humanize the data. Context, content, and connectivity are important tenets of compelling storytelling. Pharmaceutical marketing is full of smart minds so restrictive boxes shouldn’t pose a problem for the brain box. The application of imagination will help us to think beyond the current model.

Doctors themselves are employing technology as a way to tell their story: Dr. Shafi Ahmed, “the most watched surgeon in human history” performed the first live operation using Snapchat when the technology was little more than a gimmick. Where once a handful of students hunched over a surgical team, tens of thousands of student doctors are now simultaneously able to study intricate techniques first hand. AI, AR, VR and other technologies are giving doctor’s a more intimate story of their patient’s health. Imaginative ideas are wrapped in story – the key is to link your story to the reason the product exists. Here are some key imagination principles.

Keep it simple: In the digital age, with multiple devices and shortened attention spans, keeping your idea simple has never been more critical.

Connect to your audience: Healthcare is about people’s lives and there is a veritable well of emotion to draw from. Have an affinity with your audience based on emotion that’s subsequently supported with logic.

Give it meaning: Searching for meaning is a fundamental human need and a primary motivator.

Authentic in tone: Allow the human truth of your story to resonate.

Be engaging: Know where your audience is looking for information. You may have the greatest story on earth but if you’re not connecting with your audience you may as well have not crafted it.

Imagination is a science. As an invaluable business skill we can reach out to our audience in new ways, telling stories they never dreamt of. Stories they will never forget.


About the author:

Ross Thomson is the Chief Creative Officer of Greater Than One, a New York based Health & Wellness digital marketing agency. During his career he has won and led his team to numerous creative honors in the professional and consumer space.