The journalists Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn wanted to know whether it is it really possible to sell more in online retail through storytelling.
So, they started a simple experiment. They bought a bunch of junk on eBay; around 200 items with an average value of $1.25 each. Then, they asked several authors to come up with a little story for each of the products. They went ahead and put the products back on eBay and used the story as the product description.
The result: They earned nearly $8,000 from the sale. A tiny jar of mayonnaise was sold for $51 thanks to the short story in the product description.
Applied correctly, storytelling can give you a decisive competitive advantage in online sales and ensure that visitors to your store get the best impression of you and your products.
There are many channels and formats available to you to do this. For example, you can tell your story directly in your online shop on an “About us” page, spread it through social media channels such as Instagram, or tell it to customers in face-to-face conversations.
Why online retailers should use storytelling
Our family business has been producing rat poison in a factory in New York City since 1976.
This description of a fictitious company serves its purpose. By answering the most important W questions (who, where, when, what?), the customer actually finds out everything he should know about this company.
Instead of simply stating sober facts, the story of this company could also be told more impressively:
It was the year 1976, the hottest summer of the decade. Because the garbage collectors went on strike, New York sank into the mud. A bestial stench lay in the streets, and with it came another problem: rats.
One night, when my father was surprised in his sleep by a rat the size of a dachshund that once ran across his bedspread, he made a decision. He had to end this plague. So, he got his old chemistry set out of the basement and set to work…
There are many good reasons why you too should use storytelling to sell your products.
- Stories are perceived: Nowadays we are literally overflooded with advertising. Scientists estimate that each of us is confronted with over 10,000 advertisements every day. As a result, most of them are simply ignored and no longer perceived. It’s different with stories: Customers usually make a conscious decision to get to know a unique story. 86% of consumers believe that authenticity is an important factor in deciding which brands they support. Therefore, storytelling marketing may give you the undivided attention of your target group.
- Stories are remembered: Good stories are not forgotten. Psychologist Jerome Bruner found out that facts are 22 times likelier to be remembered when they are part of a story.
- Stories make you unique: If your products are also sold by other online shops, storytelling marketing can help you stand out from the competition. This also gives you an advantage over platforms such as Amazon, which by the way also has a great story: A young man (the founder Jeff Bezos) has the idea to make money by selling books on the internet and becomes the richest person in the world. But the story of your store will probably not only be more relatable, but also more emotional and therefore will be better received by your visitors than that of the e-commerce giant.
- Stories get passed on: Have you ever left the cinema excited and wanted to tell your friends about the movie you just saw? When we hear a really good story, we want to share it with others. In this age of social media, it’s easier than ever to share stories. You can take advantage of this and turn your target audience into ambassadors for your brand.
- Stories evoke emotions: A good story appeals to all kinds of emotions. It puts us in suspense, makes us laugh or even cry – sometimes even all of them at the same time. Neuro-chemists have found out that our body reacts in certain ways and releases hormones when we hear a good story. For example, through the “cuddling hormone” oxytocin, which is associated with love and trust, we can build a strong bond with the protagonists of a story and identify with them more easily.
- Journalists need good stories: Editors have the often difficult task of offering their readers and viewers interesting stories every day. You can take advantage of this for your content marketing by providing them with a story they can promote. This way you will be discovered by potential customers.
- Storytellers are listened to: Have you ever heard of Ola Källenius? Since May 2019, he has been head of Daimler AG (annual revenue in 2019: 172 billion euros), but has remained relatively unknown until now. In 2019, Tesla had a turnover of 24 billion euros, which was much lower than Daimler’s. But Tesla founder Elon Musk is a gifted storyteller and therefore present everywhere. No matter what topic he talks about – when Elan Musk talks, it gets noticed.
Types of storytelling in e-commerce
Telling the company history
The simplest storytelling method in e-commerce is telling the company’s story. Just share why you wanted to create your online store and what problem you are solving with your products.
On its website, the store Making Music from Ireland provides a sneak peek into the story of the company and its owner while underlining their unique connection to the local community.
Storytelling with product stories
Instead of talking about your company, you can also focus on your products. What makes them special? Why are your customers enthusiastic about them?
The shop Spirit Walker Crystals & Essential Oils does a great job telling the story behind the products through their online store. They provide detailed descriptions and background to their products and display photos of customers and face-to-face workshops in which hand-picked essential oils are being applied by the community.
Stories about people
In his book “On Writing” Stephen King says: “The best stories always end up being about the people, not the event”. That’s why every merchant should put people at the forefront of his stories.
It is particularly clever when a company lets its customers tell stories. A noteworthy example for this is Nike. As you can read in “Shoe Dog”, the biography of founder Phil Knight, the sporting goods manufacturer has a fascinating history. Instead of telling its own story, his company always puts the people who use its products first: Sports legends like Michael Jordan, Cristiano Ronaldo and Tiger Woods.
Even if your online business probably won’t have billionaire athletes as customers, you can make the people who shop with you your brand ambassadors. Communicate with them and find out what makes your products attractive for them. How has their life changed after buying your products?
How can you use storytelling marketing for your online shop?
Your online shop also has a story worth telling. You just have to figure it out.
The following questions will help you:
- How did you get the desire to get into ecommerce and create your online store?
- What is special about your business idea? How do you stand out from your competitors?
- What did you learn by founding your store?
- Can you think of funny or exciting anecdotes that you could tell?
- Were there any unforeseen turns in the history of your shop?
- How has your life changed since the you started with your online shop?
- Which obstacles and problems have been in your way?
- What do your customers appreciate about you, your store and your products?
- What are the aspirations and dreams of your regular customers and potential new customers?
- What do they feel when using your products?
Emma Coats, who works as an editorial lead at Google, has developed a simple template for the structure of a gripping story that you can use:
Once upon a time there was a ___________________.
Every day ___________________.
One day ___________________.
That’s why ___________________.
…and so on…
Until finally ___________________.
Screenwriter Pete Docter contributed to the scripts of two of the most beloved stories of the last decades – the movies “Toy Story” and “Wall-E”. His recipe for good storytelling: You should write about an experience in your life that made you feel something specific and then try to give your audience exactly that feeling.
Checklist for your story
With our checklist you can find out whether your story meets the essentials for it to be successful.
- Is the story interesting?
- Is there a conflict in it?
- Is it emotional?
- Does it appeal to your target group?
- Is it simple and easy to understand?
- Did it really happen that way?
- Is it communicated in a simple and entertaining way?
Your story in your shop
The story behind your company should also be presented in your online shop. For this purpose, you can set up a separate content page, which you can name “About us”, for example. Tell your story with texts, pictures and, ideally, also videos. In addition, you can use an image slider on the start page of your store to guide users to this page.