Storytelling has become the marketer’s weapon of choice over the last few years, mainly because — get ready for it — humans love stories.
From the moment we’re born, society supplies us with stories of old, new and the future. They inspire us, give us confidence and help us to learn. When it comes to making a purchase, a good story can be the difference between us falling in love with a product, and ignoring it altogether.
The falling in love part is especially true when your story confirms something the customer believes about themselves — “I’m a good person so I buy from ethical shops”— or if your story shows them how they can be the person they want to be.
Storytelling is an effective method for eCommerce companies as well as most other businesses. We’ve seen it used by just about everyone under the sun. But, before jumping into the benefits and how you may be able to achieve them, you should start by learning more about storytelling and why it is important.
Storytelling is the creation of a narrative around your company and the goods/products it sells. You’re building a brand, not just offering goods. The story frames how your offerings are used, why you created them, the mission behind your company, and much more. Everything you tell someone or want them to know about you and your company is part of the story.
Think of it like that remarkable story you always tell when you meet new people or are hanging out the bar or a conference. It’s usually a quick anecdote that shows how you want others to think of you. It frames how they understand who you are. And, importantly, it is about a situation.
The advice of “show, don’t tell” for this type of storytelling really means that you present yourself (or company) in context of a larger story that proves your point. You don’t just say “I’m the best rock climber;” you tell a story of a mountain you conquered and all the rough parts. You talk about the sweat and effort and everything else that went into making a great climb.
This is about doing that for your company. Since we’re looking at eCommerce, there are a few other considerations that you’ll want once the story is complete. They include background and on-page details to help make your story and the writing more believable and effective:
Now that you’ve got an idea of what storytelling is, here are six ways to make sure the next story you tell is captivating, and conversion optimized.
Every company can be a lifestyle brand if they present themselves in that light. It’s worth it to you to tell your story and focus on how people feel or what they experience when using your products.
Need proof? “More than 3 in 4 Millennials (78%) would choose to spend money on a desirable experience or event over buying something desirable,” says the Harris Group.
You’ll be pleased to know that this type of storytelling and experience isn’t restricted to a certain type of product. Always had a #LikeAGirl campaign back in 2014 that started with YouTube videos about how using the phrase “like a girl” was an insult but showed how girls and women were reclaiming it to be empowering.
It was a successful campaign and picked up more than 90 million views, tripled the company’s Twitter followers, and increased purchase intent by more than 50% in its target.
What you can do with this motif is to tell the broader experience of your audience. It doesn’t even have to involve your product directly. Talk about what’s good about your audience or break down old barriers and highlight what they’re doing today. Use a story to tie a positive experience (here it was turning the “like a girl” insult into a mantle) to your company and products.
Start by telling or showing us how your customers accomplished a task before they had your product. Then, show them using your goods. Focus on emotional language and faces in your visuals, so visitors get an understanding of how the two situations changed. You want customers to associate the shift with positive feels like joy, relaxation, happiness, fun, and relief.
You can also adopt language and metaphor that we commonly associate with those same feelings. It’s why you see so many Corona and beer ads showing people on the beach.
They aren’t saying that you can only have a drink at the beach, but implying that you’ll feel like a great beach vacation every time you rip off the cap and pop in a lime.
You don’t sell a product by showing it to people with no context. If you went to a website and there was a photo of a phone on the right-hand side, with no text or promise or anything else, you likely wouldn’t click. It wouldn’t speak to you or interest you, because it is just a product by itself. You need context.
For those of us on the older side of marketing, think about going to a music store to pick up a CD when it was released. At the register, there was likely a small, cheap little bit of plastic that we bought in droves because it could cut the annoying plastic ribbons off your CD case. It made enjoyment of music easier and the whole store (plus past experience) gave us the context that we needed.
Your eCommerce store can do the same, but you’ll need to be consistent on your messaging across the site to achieve this.
What’s the chief competitive advantage of your company? Write it down.
Now, take that sentence and explain it from the perspective of your customer. Do a product increase productivity by 20%? That means a more enjoyable day at work because it’s easier to do your job.
Do your products make it easier to wash the dog or clean up after the kids? That means more quality time with the people you love doing the things you love. Practice products help us get back to what we want to be doing instead — it’s why every dishwasher is a miracle.
Products we engage with to relax or enjoy help melt our stresses away. We get to take a break from the daily grind and have a little fun. Tell us how that fun happens, what it looks like, and who it is with when we get it.
One important note here: storytelling isn’t just words. It’s the whole web page.
So, load up with great photos related to the benefit. Dog shampoo should have one or two images of the product in action, but those can be dwarfed by images of the dogs and kids and everyone else playing. Board games and toys should have groups of people smiling and being happy together because that connection and emotion is your benefit.
Here’s another angle on the concept of highlighting your benefits: What’s the problem your customers face that you solve better than your customers?
We’ll jump right into how you can do this with storytelling on your site.
Frame that discussion regarding the solution to the problem and all the long hours you put in finding the right fix. The storytelling here allows you to say it was a tough problem that your customers faced, and they couldn’t do it alone, but you were able to solve it for them.
This is one journey where you need to talk about yourself. Here are a few parts of the story that you want customers to follow and understand in order to connect with your brand.
This builds up how you care and why it matters. If people have the same problem that you did (hint: perform market research to understand the problems your customers have and the specific language they use to talk about it), then you’ve got a great “in” to their hearts and minds.
Many companies do this well, but we wanted to highlight Harry’s because they have relied on this tactic consistently and changed the wording without losing the spirit. Here’s the current take:
It presents a large problem that did not have a simple solution, but now the customer has an easy fix just by signing up for Harry’s service.
The Raising Cane’s restaurant chain founder has a pretty impressive story to tell. Todd Graves had an idea to create a restaurant that only served chicken fingers, which got him the worst grade on a business plan for a college class. He also couldn’t get loan support.
So, he rolled up his sleeves and worked as a boilermaker with a 90-hour week. He then went to Alaska to try and fish for salmon, having to sleep on the ground near boats before someone hired him. He renovated the first building himself, and from there his vision and stores grew.
It’s a very inspiring, American Dream kind of tale that pairs well with tasty food. It’s the company’s “One Love” mantra, and its storytelling is present in every location that’s decked out with local college memorabilia and posters as well as photos of the mascot, Todd, and even a few salmon thrown in the mix. Each building even has a literal “1” built into its architecture.
The story of simplicity and hard work is easy to feel, and it builds community. Being a fast food restaurant, it caters to a variety of people working and grabbing a quick bite during lunch. It targets the universal appeal of anyone being able to better their situation through hard work.
The story of Cane’s is ever-present in the company’s stores and marketing, and it’s a big part of why you’ll find cars wrapped around some location for hours during a rush.
Write out your company’s story. Now, replace the company name with something generic and replace your product names with general categories.
Read the text again and see what you connect with; you can also read it and imagine what your friends or family would connect within each section. When you get rid of some of the specifics, you start to see larger themes that you might be able to connect with the big stories we tell ourselves, like Cane’s hard work motif.
We all have a variety of shared experiences. When you write out a broad version of your story, you should be able to identify some. Then, with those in mind, fill the details back in and frame your marketing and outreach with those kinds of messages and connections.
A simple message resonates well with most people because we can understand it and then make it our own. The classic “Just Do It” is a simple call-to-action that has almost no specifics. The “It” is whatever you’re thinking about doing, from speaking up in a meeting to climbing Everest.
The Always ad campaign mentioned above earned it billions of impression and flooded Twitter with people using the company’s hashtag. Each person could turn it into whatever they needed for their own growth and strength.
Under Armour had an #IWILLIWANT campaign that ran for years (with the hashtag changing slowly but consistently) designed to reframe how athletic apparel targeted women and how they talked about it. Searching it and related hashtags on Twitter will show you everything from dance groups and yoga studios to hunting, boxing, and four-wheeling.
Storytelling that allows your customers to connect with you also enables them to make the story their own. The more you encourage this, the more people will do some of the work for you.
Your goal is to create a central message that you share across multiple social accounts with related hashtags and specific CTAs (calls to action). For it to work in all these different channels and accounts, it needs to be simple.
Write out your core values and message, and then keep drilling down until you get to the core. Nike’s “Do It” isn’t a win, success or any other specific verb. It’s something amorphous and general and can apply to anything in the world. But, it does conjure up the feeling that you need to work and sweat for it, which then ties in to Nike’s brand and products.
Look for your “Do It” and build the messaging and imagery around it in a way that’s easy for people to identify with and share. Then, directly ask customers to tell their story. Customers can often be the best salespeople you have, so make it easy for them to share.
You can also highlight users or experiences and then ask if people feel the same. Encourage these interactions through platform-specific options, like voting on Twitter. Keeping things flowing can mean giving them content to share, hashtags to use, an ad campaign that can be customized, or any other item that is simple to understand and easy to edit or adapt.
This last lesson in storytelling comes from companies who are growing new markets without necessarily having to change products or their company mission. While everyone is on the hunt for new customers, sometimes brands take a bigger leap and create a brand-new story for a segment it didn’t traditionally target.
Harley-Davidson is a prime example, as it started to pivot away from purely macho marketing around 2011, with a specific focus on letting women know they were welcome and encouraged to join the ride. It started out as a part of its website that was dedicated to women and featured the best bikes or how to get started riding.
What you can learn from Harley is that traditionally masculine and feminine things can be bent or inverted - it’s actually the same technique as the Always advertisements.
Take the things you love about your brand or products. Now, define a new market you want to tap. Show how your brand values or characteristics match with that market, even if you’re going against the “norm.”
People are nuanced. Treat them that way with your story, image, and branding. This way, you can dive in and capture groups that share the same values or mentality as your brand, no matter what they look like or who they are. Harley’s Mother’s Day ad above won’t speak to all moms, but it’ll resonate with some who want to be a badass on a bike.
Sometimes the story you tell is about who you are fundamentally. Other times, it is about who your customers are on a fundamental level. The one thing to remember about business is that everything can change. Embrace your values and your customers today to find the right story.