“Once Upon A Time…” – The Art of Storytelling in Commerce

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” – Ursula K. LeGuin


We are all exposed to stories from a young age- they are used to entertain us when we are restless, soothe us when we won’t settle and teach us when we may otherwise refuse to be taught. Yet, despite storytelling continuing to be a widely accepted and important method of communication, and in turn a respected marketing and branding tool, it is often the first thing to be neglected within a business.

Because let’s face it, the corporate world has a way of making us forget that we are, underneath it all, just people. We concentrate so much on the what of our businesses – features, benefits, pricing and delivery – that we forget to communicate the why and the how. But it is these parts that are going to be memorable to your customers.

When we are told a story parts our brain wake up that aren’t active when consuming information in other formats, including the motor and sensory cortices, which process your movement and the receipt of sensual information. This extra physical processing makes the information you are receiving  more memorable, essentially because your brain is performing as if it is experiencing the things you are being told about. And if something is more memorable, it is also easier to relay- which means, in storytelling, you have not only crafted a message about your company or products that your customers and prospects are more likely to remember, but also to share.

The fact that ours mind don’t distinguish between a story that is relayed to us and our own real-life experiences goes some way to explain why we become more emotionally invested when information is given to us in this format. And let’s not underestimate the power of emotion and the effect it can have on making your business a success.

In fact, while the temptation is to bombard potential buyers with facts and figures, research has consistently shown that emotional content has a greater impact on our intent to buy than its factual counterpart. And not only is the immediate effect (driving customers to buy) a positive one but there is also a long-term benefit, with emotionally invested customers more likely to feel loyalty to your brand, increasing the likelihood of repeated custom.

Ok, it’s clear why storytelling is important to your business (more emotionally invested, loyal customers, who are more likely to remember your company, share information about it, and of course buy your products) but how should you go about it?

1. Tell your own story

Telling your story, whatever it is, is a way to tell the world what you do and why you do it. Take the tale of Ferruccio Lamborghini as an example, a very successful and Ferrari owning farmer, who, after many visits to the mechanic, found out his beloved car had the exact same clutch as his tractor. After complaining to Enzo Ferrari himself, he was told “Lamborghini, you may be able to drive a tractor but you will never be able to handle a Ferrari properly, and so the Lamborghini company was born. The lesson? Your reason for being portrays a lot about your beliefs and your passions. Even if they are based in revenge! If you want people to believe in what you do, they should know that you believe in it as well. Stutterheim, a swedish raincoat company and a Nosto customer, is a great example of a founding story done well. Building on the personal story of what inspired their business they manage to showcase their product, their beliefs and connect with their customers in a more meaningful way.

How to do it:

  • Share your founding story. Your ‘about us’ section should be more than your office locations. Tell people why your company came to be, allowing them more of an insight into your business than your product list could ever give.
  • Craft an honest and genuine mission statement. This should align with where and how your company started but also where it is going and why. If people understand what you are trying to achieve then they can decide to be a part of it.
  • Interview your founder or employees. Retail business are more than the sum of their products- give your customers an insight into the people behind the storefront. We all like to deal with people at the end of the day.

2. Share the stories of others

A story doesn’t have to be yours for you to tell it. In fact, talk just about yourself and you will soon find people stop listening. The world is full of interesting stories so why not share them? Tell your audience about the people or companies you admire, relay relevant industry news, or share the customer successes you have seen (or been a part of). Google’s heart-warming video about the Cambridge Satchel Company and their story is a great example of this. Ultimately the tale may be have been entwined with a message about the services they offer but it was also well-told, feel-good and championed a small(er) business.

How to do it:

  • Produce emotional case studies. Facts and figures are important when portraying a company or product’s success but creating case studies that follow a narrative will really see someone invested in what you do, or what your customers have achieved. Ask them about how your product or service has fit into their wider story so people can get the big picture on what it is you enable.  
  • Curate your industry. There is a lot of noise out there and you can bring value to the your customers’ lives just by cutting through it. Use newsletters, blogs posts or your social channels to highlight the stories that are most likely to be relevant to them, building up the authority of your company’s voice but also showing an interest and understanding of the things that matter to your customers.

3. Become part of a wider story

We have already seen that each person and each company has a story, but so does each industry. Subject to the same trends and rises in technology, each profession constitutes a community, with a history, a past and a future. And surrounding those there will always be conversation, an ongoing narrative which you can, and should, choose to contribute to.  

How to do it:

  • Start a blog. This is your corner of the internet to discuss the issues that matter in your industry and to your customers. Give opinions, advice and start discussion – effectively writing your chapter in the book of whatever it is you do!
  • Take part in guest blogging. Conversations are basically two way story-telling and this is your way to get involved. Identify companies or individuals who align with interests associated with your products and then feature them on your blog and produce content for theirs. This is a mutually beneficial strategy, which, if done right, should lend authority to your content and widen the reach of your brand voice.
  • Participate in industry discussion. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, the chances are there is already a community of people who care about products of its type or the issues they attend to. Find out where that community are and join in the discussion. Too many companies try to get a community to congregate around them but by interacting on social channels, in industry forums (both offline and online) and question and answer sites such as Quora, you show that your participation in the wider story goes beyond a tick in the box.

So there we have it, just a few of the ways that you, as an ecommerce merchant, can become a character in, and the author, of your own success story. By implementing these techniques you can, and will, see a level of engagement with your company that you haven’t seen previously- whether that be increased sales, more loyal customers or even ambassadors for your brand.

And as you may have noticed we will also be telling our story – here on the brand new Nosto blog! As a company lucky enough to be working with over 10,000 retailers from various sectors across the globe, we are privileged to have a unique and valuable insight into the everyday stories of the modern merchant. They may not all start “Once upon a time” or feature a hero and a villain but we believe the lessons, questions and answers that arise from these interactions are beneficial in being told to a wider audience.

And so we shall recount them here, in the hope that they shall enable you to make your own story one of success. Because who knows? Maybe, if we all listen to each other, we can live happily ever after…

The End (for now…)

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