Storytelling is a central part of e-commerce marketing, and it’s vital that brands both know their own stories and understand how to tell them. Everything from brand loyalty to purchasing decisions relies on a company having an engaging and well-told story.
“Facts tell, but stories sell,” remarked Samantha Reynolds, president of Echo Storytelling Agency.
“We decide what to buy based on emotion, and then we use logic and data to reassure ourselves that we made the ‘right’ decision,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
A good story can distinguish one company from another, particularly in a field crowded with competing brands.
“In a world where customers are bombarded with advertisements and infinite choices, the only way to cut through the noise is to appeal to that emotional instinct in your customer,” Reynolds said.
“You have to win their heart. Without that emotional connection, your product or service will be competing solely on price and features, and that’s a brutal playing field,” she added. “So how do you strike that deep emotional connection with your customers? By telling your story.”
Stories are all about connecting humans with one another via emotions. This is true for brands as much as it is for individuals, since narrative plays a significant role in shaping the way people communicate and connect.
“Humans relate best to humans — not institutions and concepts,” observed Lisa Kagan, executive story coach and director of communications at Unify Consulting.
“Humans operate in the world of relationships and experience, which translate well in stories,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “Plus, neuroscience has proven humans can’t make decisions devoid of emotion, and stories are one of the best ways to deliver emotion to audiences. Assuming that every customer or client is a human, stories should work on them.”
Stories can tell customers about what makes a company unique.
“You have to show why you matter, not what you do,” said Kagan. “Your target audiences want proof of your company’s brand narrative, plus authentic emotion. If you have a lot of brand language and no stories to prove it, bridging that gap should be the first order of business.”
It’s also important to understand that stories can attract not only customers, but also potential employees.
“The best employer brands tell stories on multiple channels about their workplace cultures in order to attract and recruit the best talent,” said Echo’s Reynolds. “These same progressive companies use storytelling to efficiently onboard new hires, and to keep employees engaged and living the company’s values, mission and purpose every day.”
Telling a Good Story
The first kind of story that brands need to tell is their origin story — how they started and why.
“What motivated the founder or founders to start the company? This content must live on your About Us page, but it shouldn’t end there,” said Reynolds. “It’s your opportunity to humanize your company by introducing the faces and stories behind the brand, and it should inspire by telling us what you stand for.”
Telling a good story involves both understanding it and living it. A brand story is not just a matter of marketing — it must be the spirit behind a company as well.
“You have to make sure your words, action and heart are aligned,” advised Esther Choy, president of Leadership Story Lab.
“Stories can’t be just words or a nice infographic. The real stories are also in what the organization does and what values and purpose are at the heart of its actions,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “You have to know your story, tell your story, and live your story.”
Another important component of brand storytelling is customers’ stories — particularly in relation to how a company’s identity fits in with those stories.
In fact, your customers “should take up most of your storytelling airtime,” said Reynolds. “Your customers are in the midst of a compelling story arc at all times. They are on a quest to solve a problem or meet a need, just like every lead character in every blockbuster movie you’ve ever seen. Your job is to convince them that you are their happy ending.”
A good story is all in the telling, so it’s important to focus on style as well as substance. In particular, companies need to tell their stories in language and images that people will understand and find engaging.
“Pretending to tell a story and then, one sentence in, switching to company jargon will lose your audience in a flash,” said Kagan. “Case studies are vulnerable to this. You are not your clients, products or catch phrases. Tell a genuine story that demonstrates your company’s contribution — not one about your association to cool things. You are your people and your conviction. Your clients and products are where you manifest that.”
Stories of the Future
As technologies and media change, so too will storytelling. One significant change is that they’re increasingly being told via social media, which requires that they be interactive.
“Social media equips anyone and everyone to talk about companies on their behalf without giving the companies control over it,” said Unify Consulting’s Kagan. “If the stories are negative, that is proof of brand failure and could be a company’s undoing. If the stories are good, the company has a credible reference. The future will be about cultivating stories from genuine customers and users so you can win your brand skeptics over.”
Stories that look toward the future also must be conceived as being part of the customer’s journey. That journey, in essence, becomes part of the larger story a brand tells.
“Brand storytelling used to be limited to discrete marketing and advertising assets, such as the one-minute long commercial, the billboard, the full page spread,” recalled Matthew Woodget, CEO of Go Narrative.
“Now storytelling can be used across multiple assets and across the customer journey,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “The best marketers are constructing stories designed to move people forward on their journey — a journey that, because their brand was their guide, is chosen to go along for the ride.”
Stories no longer are static, unchanging paragraphs on an “About Us” page. Instead, new technologies allow stories to evolve in real-time, based on who’s interacting with them, where and when.
“Data-driven marketing gives us the ability to test, adapt and evolve our stories as people interact with them,” said Woodget.
“Brands need to plan for more than just storytelling, and they need to participate and adjust with interactive story-making across the whole customer journey,” he suggested.
“Data can give you insights into the difficulty and desire of customers. Data also shows you the effectiveness and impact of storytelling,” Woodget said. “Combining storytelling with data gives your brand ammunition to adapt and maximize the number of people remembering — and ultimately buying from — your brand.”
Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists. Email Vivian.