Digital marketing, ecommerce, social media marketing

Why a good sales story doesn’t have an happy end

Including 13 Ways to make your story convert better

By  Ger van den Buijs – FiveDOLPHINSP1070688-3

This blog is about storytelling as a instrument for Ecommerce sites. My objective is to help you generate more sales by using storytelling in a more effective way.

Do you already have your story lined out? If you have, are you fully satisfied with the results it generates? The fact that you decided to invest some time to open this blog most likely means you are eager to improve the effect storytelling has for your company. My intention is to make the next 5 minutes very valuable. I will start with sharing my vision on the role of storytelling in Ecommerce. My vision is different from the main road opinions, because I will approach the topic from a customer perspective. In the second part, I will also outline 13 good tips to get your storytelling to convert better for you.

I would like to start with a quote:Princess

A good sales story doesn’t have an happy end.

It has no end at all.

I leave this quote unexplained for now, but during this article I will touch upon this quote several times.

Achieve the maximum effect

I’m curious what your first association is with the word “effect”? The disadvantage of a blog is that it is not interactive, so you can’t answer me. Most people will translate the word “effect” as sales. And in the end you are right. Bottom line you are in business to earn an income.

It’s helpful however to set a number of intermediate goals. Storytelling can support different intermediate goals. To tell a story in the most effective way, you have to adapt it to your audience. You could describe your audience as being “The customers”.

That definition however does not take into consideration that “customers” is not a homogenous group. They differ in many dimensions. The most prominent difference is their position in the purchasing process. Let’s look at each of the 3 phases: orientation phase, selection phase and closing phase and line out the role of storytelling.

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1.         Orientation phase

Storytelling will increase your organic search results, thus helping your customers to find you. The Google Panda and Penguin algorithms assign your site a higher value, because it provides:

  • Unique content: your product might be a commodity like a cell phone, you and your organization aren’t a commodity.
  • Time spent on site: first time visitors will want to see your story at the first glance, but returning visitors will be open to read more, thus increasing the average time spent on your site.
  • Repeat visitors: people that feel engaged to your story will be quicker to return.
  • Pages viewed: again returning visitors will be open to explore your story in more detail in special pages.

Once the customer has reached your site, your story will make it easier to differentiate your from the competition. We live in an information overload era. You’ll have to help your customer by providing this information at a glance. Photo’s, infographics, drawings and quotes work best in this phase. This is often times called Story Showing.

A company that took this to an extreme is . Their front page is all about their story. You actually have to step into their shop from their story page.

In this phase your story should focus on the experience, on the impact your product will have on his life. A cell phone is not just an machine. It is a means to communicate with your loved one or to show you are a trendsetter and winner. This relates very much with your advertisement. Your story should show a similar message, but a little more focused on your product and / or company.

2.         Selection phase

Storytelling during the selection phase has a different function than during the orientation phase. The customer is now mainly product oriented. Your story should focus on three things: Product, Production and History

  • giving more detail to the stories about the product as presented in the orientation phase. Again hiutdenim does that very well. Each product page shows additional story elements.
  • how the product was produced. A nice example is com website. They continuously emphasis the natural and ethical production process of the clothes they sell.  Harry’s (shavers) gives an extensive insight into the factories and production process. On top of that they communicate they spend time and money on helping people to reach their potential.
  • Burt’s Bees tells extensively about their history with a story one can relate to. com mixes their history, leaning on the cool image of Brooklyn, with their passion for quality and keenness on cost.

During the selection phase the customer is comparing the different offers. He is more focused now, directing his attention to a limited number of products and vendors.  The customer will be looking for more in depth content. If he finds only the superficial material presented at first glance he will get disappointed or bored. You want to provide a real story.

You can supply this additional content in separate pages. That also allows you to be open to questions and comments about your story. On top of your own story, this user generated content will be very effective in this phase. It deepens the engagement between your customers as a group around your company. Check out the website of Emma’s Soap to get a good example.

Storytelling is also an ideal means to position your product in the context of other products and how that combination fulfills specific customer requirements. This is a good preparation for up-selling.

What is important to realize is that the customer will most likely return a couple of times before he makes his decision. He will thus see the same pages more often. It is a good idea to vary the content during his visits. This will keep him hooked onto your site. The messages should of course be consistent, but the variation is necessary to keep the customer interested to return.

3.         Closing phase

The key characteristic of storytelling during the closing phase is trust. The customer is about to pay you money and he has to trust that you will deliver what he expects to get. Your customer wants to understand your drivers. Reversely he wants to see that you understand his drivers. The story you tell should thus focus on the values of your company.

Warby Parker is a company that sets a nice example of combining values with product. Their “Buy a pair, give a pair” policy is a strong value message. Less strong is that they tugged this message away in a separate page only.

Another example is Delicious Ella. Ella Woodward shares her journey from a chronic illness to recovery. This story respires strength, hope and persistence. The fact that she personally takes time to respond to reactions makes the story even stronger.

The second element of storytelling in this phase is the social positioning. We are group creatures and we feel a need to explain our choices to others. Products define ourselves in the social spectrum. You need to help your customer with a story to tell about his purchase. The values incorporated in your product are in this respect more helpful than the features.

There are two more functions of storytelling in this phase:

  • justify the budget. The fact that money can only be spent once is a huge barrier. Everybody wants more things than he can afford. Even when there is no one to argue the spend, people still feel the need to justify the budget allocation. The story on the product’s impact should remain available, but in summarized format. He knows the arguments, but he needs the reminder, because other needs are also screaming for attention.
  • justify the choice of product. The same need can be satisfied with different products, yours and from the competition. For most products the technical differences are difficult to really understand for customers. The more or less intuitive choice must be turned into words , especially when you don’t want to be the cheapest supplier.

To summarize this part, we conclude that you need to provide your story in different formats at different moments during the shopping process. We have given you some good handles to do this effectively.

Why Not?

What’s curious nowadays is that many companies use storytelling in their content management in social media, so outside their shop. They want their shop to focus on closing the deal. The reason behind this approach is often times that content management is run by the marketing team and the shop by the sales team. The two are just not cooperating well enough. Check for your own company how these departments interact.

For the customer however the story should never end. He needs a continuous reminder of the values of the product and the company. It has to be a consistent and complete experience. When you create a divide between your story in content management and your shop, you waste a lot of good opportunities to persuade the customer to purchase from you. A good (or should I say bad) example is Backcountry. They have a lot of good stories on their site, but these are completely separated from their shop. The stories could be really inspirational when browsing the shop.

How to tell great stories

Building a great story is an art and professional script writing is helpful. But that is not sufficient and only partly required. Your customer is shopping, not reading a book or watching a movie. He has a mission to accomplish. You need to keep the balance between building the story and effectiveness. The following 13 tips will help you:

  1. Sincerity is most important. It will triumph styling. The story has to be authentic.
  2. The story has to be relevant, useful to the customer. Businesses that struggle with storytelling are often to much focused on themselves. They mainly tell how great they are and how long they are in business, bladibladibla. This kind of messages will not be effective. They don’t create engagement with customers and might even turn them off.
  3. Be simple. Make your story easy to understand.
  4. Vary the story. Repeating the same story is boring and makes it appear less authentic.
  5. Listen to the customer to understand relevancy. Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the customer’s problems. Show that you relate to the stories customers tell you about the reason they buy your product.
  6. Include user generated content. Make your story a conversation instead of a speech. Hiutdenim again does an excellent job here. You can actually link your story to the individual tag tight to each jeans.
  7. Be unique. Diversify from the traditional brands where possible. Juniper Ridge became successful by consistently telling about their focus on naturally harvested, wild ingredients.
  8. Include calls to action inside your story. When your customer likes your story, all emotions are ready to close the deal.
  9. Leverage the power of key influencers, either bloggers or journalists.
  10. Get inspired by retail Multi channel companies can leverage the knowledge of their retail sales team within the ecommerce channel.
  11. Get inspired by media. Supply different versions of the story and let personalization drive the display of the different stories at sub sequential visits. Use different media types to enrich the story experience.
  12. Organize your team around the story. The story should run through the veins of your complete team. Don’t treat storytelling as a marketing tactic. Let it be the basis of every communication you share with the world
  13. Enrich people’s lives.

P1070701-1 40-60--20Companies that offer value in the exchange provide a reason to come back. And returning customers are the best thing that can happen to your sale. That is why a good sales story should have no end. It should be an invitation to engage for a long relationship.

Challenge me. What is the barrier keeping your from implementing the above approach?

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