Fuel Cycle

The Science Behind the Magic of Telling Stories: A Dynamic Framework for Developing and Evaluating the Power of Storytelling

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Written by: Renata Policicio
VP of Research & Insights
ESPN


 “We are the only animal with the mysterious glue that enables millions of us to cooperate. That mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes.” 

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens 

Stories are a fundamental part of the human experience. The sports world creates some of the best stories – drama is built-in, and the main characters resonate at both a personal and societal level, with the ultimate hero’s journey playing out in real life before our eyes.  

However, today we are inundated with sports stories – only a small fraction break through the noise, posing a challenge to even the most established brands.  

How can research inform and guide that challenge? Is it possible to ‘crack the code’ on consistently compelling, powerful storytelling? Is it possible to quantify it and create a method to complement the magic of telling memorable stories?  

This project’s mission was to come up with an actionable approach, easy to digest for creative teams, with real-life examples, and more importantly, build a tool that could be used and could drive actual business results. 

To address these challenges, we employed an innovative approach, using input from industry experts (seasoned sports storytellers in media and senior professional league executives) and fans to create a list of 60 of the best short and long-format sports stories from the last five years. We then asked over a thousand fans nationwide to watch and describe each story, including how they felt after viewing.   

The result was a framework for content creation that provides measurable and actionable impact. 

The Framework: A New Storytelling Paradigm 

From a marketing research perspective, this study required developing a framework to guide and optimize ESPN’s storytelling. The goal was to translate this into a proprietary tool through which brands and content can be evaluated by: 

  • Developing a unique perspective on effective and impactful storytelling in sports that can be applied to ESPN, competitive media brands, and content properties to guide future planning and investments 
  • Cultivating a thought leadership piece that instigates curiosity and helps position ESPN as the leader in sports storytelling  
  • Defining and quantifying the importance of the characteristics of effective and impactful storytelling, especially in the world of sports.  
  • Measuring ESPN’s proficiency in sports storytelling and developing a distinctive POV on the key characteristics of impactful and memorable stories.  

To hear more about the project and resulting framework, be sure to watch the recording of my session, “The Power of Storytelling in Sports” from FC Connect 2020!