Chris Haddad sells informational products that teach women how to find their perfect match. When he first created the landing page for his product, he listed the benefits of the product and the reasons to buy. His offer at the time converted at 2%.
When he changed the copy on the landing page to tell the story of how his then girlfriend (now wife) used specific sales tactics to keep him interested and lock him down, his conversion rate went up to 8%. The reason for the 4 fold increase in conversion – a personal story that women could relate to.
This is just an example of the power of storytelling. You have probably heard that the real power of a good brand story lies in being able to communicate an idea or concept in an emotional way.
While this is great in terms of engaging people, can storytelling make a difference to a business’s bottom line? Does it actually provide a ROI (return on investment)? Does it actually increase sales online?
However, there are examples of the power of storytelling and the return on investment it can bring.
The power of storytelling for products
Salt is quite easily available in any supermarket in Australia for about a dollar. However, you can get a pink Himalayan variety for about 70 times that price. The Himalayan variety is touted as having health benefits. But the fact that people buy it, seems to indicate that we are feeling creatures who think as Jill Bote Taylor says.
It is hard to prove that one kind of salt is much more valuable than the other. But what does make one more valuable, is that people believe in the story behind the Himalayan salt’s health benefits. So people buy with their hearts and justify the purchase accordingly.
It seems that products and services that succeed and provide a considerable ROI do so not by just providing rational explanations but by giving people reasons to identify with and believe and to belong.
A team of researchers and writers conducted an experiment by putting up a website called Significantobjects.com. It was a site dedicated to quantifying the bottom line power of story at a product level. To do this the team bought products from thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets each item costing no more than a couple of dollars. They then composed a fictional story for each of the products thus imbuing them with history, heritage and value. The products were then sold on eBay. The difference in the cost price and the story price was recorded as the objective value of that story. According to the team –
If an increase in the thrift-store objects’ “value in trade” can be accepted as objective evidence of an increase in the objects’ significance, then our hypothesis was 100% correct. We sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51
So even at that small scale level, we see that a story can potentially increase product value by 2706%. Perhaps one of their most significant sales was that of a snow globe that was purchased for a dollar and later sold for $59.
The power of storytelling – stories that resonate with customers
Consider the difficulty in communicating the idea that you provide excellent customer service. You could tell your customers that you do provide excellent customer service or you could show them with a story.
This is probably now something of an urban legend. It is said that a woman returned a set of snow tires to Nordstrom. The salesperson gladly provided a refund and took the tires off her hands.
See even though Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires they did what it took to make a valued customer happy.
This story is told and retold by Nordstrom customers to illustrate how great the customer service is.
The power of storytelling – Zappos
Another example is the pizza story that Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh tells and which has become part and parcel of the Zappos narrative. It serves to illustrate to what lengths Zappos will go to, to serve their customers.
Here’s the story excerpt from a post on the Huffington Post
I’m reminded of a time when I was in Santa Monica, California, a few years ago at a Skechers sales conference. After a long night of bar-hopping, a small group of us headed up to someone’s hotel room to order some food. My friend from Skechers tried to order a pepperoni pizza from the room-service menu, but was disappointed to learn that the hotel we were staying at did not deliver hot food after 11:00pm. We had missed the deadline by several hours.
In our inebriated state, a few of us cajoled her into calling Zappos to try to order a pizza. She took us up on our dare, turned on the speakerphone, and explained to the (very) patient Zappos rep that she was staying in a Santa Monica hotel and really craving a pepperoni pizza, that room service was no longer delivering hot food, and that she wanted to know if there was anything Zappos could do to help.
The Zappos rep was initially a bit confused by the request, but she quickly recovered and put us on hold. She returned two minutes later, listing the five closest places in the Santa Monica area that were still open and delivering pizzas at that time.
Now, truth be told, I was a little hesitant to include this story because I don’t actually want everyone who reads this book to start calling Zappos and ordering pizza. But I just think it’s a fun story to illustrate the power of not having scripts in your call center and empowering your employees to do what’s right for your brand, no matter how unusual or bizarre the situation.
As for my friend from Skechers? After that phone call, she’s now a customer for life.
Tony could have easily said “Our customer service is the best” or “we’ll do anything to ensure customer satisfaction at Zappos”. But instead by telling this story he doesn’t have to. He shares an experience that the listener can relate to and can then draw their own conclusions.
Power of storytelling for brands
Since 2008 Burberry has moved away from traditional campaign-specific tactics in favor of brand level story-driven ones. It’s stock prices have risen more than 750% since then. Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer, and incoming CEO says –
“I think [storytelling] is important globally, but in China it stops things from being [mere] product and starts to give it life. Everything has a story — your clothes, buildings, videos, music. I think its important people go along with this journey otherwise it becomes a faceless product”.
“It’s all about touching people emotionally,” added Bailey. “Tonight language doesn’t matter — no matter where you are from, when you do something properly, people respond to that. It always surprises me how many people discover Burberry through our music projects for example. It’s important to keep innovating with your product and keep telling different stories with it. History and heritage is important to have as a foundation, but you have to build on top of that to keep it moving forward. Technology helps us do that.”
Bailey has previously called Burberry “as much a media-content company as we are a design company”. And since the brand regained control of its China business in late 2010, paying £70 million to buy out its franchisee, Kwok Hang Holdings of Hong Kong, Burberry has leveraged an array of touchpoints to connect with Chinese consumers and tell its brand story.
Tiffany and Co launched a “What Makes Love True” microsite as part of their brand story effort in June 2011. Users could check in on the microsite and leave a love message for their significant other. The message along with a heart would appear on a Tiffany geo-location map. It was part of Tiffany & Co’s attempt to own the story of true love and make it part of its own brand story. The site did not sell or promote any of the company’s jewelry pieces. But, in less than a month its stock prices were $10 higher.
Most executives and shareholders are generally quite pleased with higher share prices. So they focus on that as a key metric of the value of a company. However, case studies indicate that a strong brand story effort can not only increase the value of products and services but also the value of the company or brand.
But is there real science behind this or just anecdotes?
The psychology behind the power of storytelling
Psychological studies over the past few years reveal how a story affects the human mind. Results show that people’s attitudes, hopes fears and values are strongly influenced by story. Fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than a series of logical arguments.
Psychologists Melanie Green and Tim Brock conducted studies that showed that the more immersed the reader is in a story, the more the story changes them. Highly absorbed readers also tend to detect fewer mistakes or inconsistencies than those who aren’t absorbed in the story.
In another study at the University of Washington in St. Louis researchers conducted a study on peoples brain activity as they were read a story about a boy named Raymond.
The researchers found that the neurons responsible for hand movements fired when participants heard that Raymond picked up an object. Neurons related to vision fired when participants heard that Raymond looked at was around him, in other words, the participants were living the story as they heard it. To put it another way, the participants were immersed and engaged with the story.
What makes a story sticky?
Storytelling is all the rage at the moment. In the book “Tell to Win”, Peter Guber, Annette Simmons, and Stephen Denning argue that people aren’t moved by data dumps. They argue that people are moved by emotion instead.
How to ensure an emotional connection
In a study done to understand audiences evolving expectations around everyday content experiences they found that 4 I’s will play a significant role in peoples experiences with narrative based media. The 4 I’s are Immersion, Interactivity, Integration, and Impact.
Here are 4 elements of great stories that you can use as building blocks to create an emotional connection with your audience.
1. Trigger Point
A story really begins when a problem or an underserved misfortune occurs to the lead character. This is the trigger point. In business, this is your customer. What will their trigger point be to make them want to use your product or service?
In some cases, you may have experienced the same trigger point your potential customers are facing and created a business to solve that very problem. For example, Keith Pabley discovered that the healthy bars a physician he was working with recommended tasted awful. He couldn’t find the ones that he liked. That trigger point in his story is the same trigger point that leads customers to buy his Good Green Bars. Gluten-free, dairy-free, all-natural super bars which include 40 antioxidants and 3 probiotics. Tying your business or brand to this kind of personal story will help you appeal to your consumer emotionally.
Dilemma is when the lead character in the story finds himself or herself in a conundrum. Or between a rock and a hard place. It occurs after the trigger point. It is the point in the story where the character is set to make a difficult decision that gets the plot in motion.
Kraft, for example, tapped into a consumer dilemma. The dilemma faced by most parents is – do I pack lunches for the kids or get them to school on time?
You can watch an interview with Michael Moss author of the book “Salt Sugar Fat” below. In the interview, he recounts how Oscar Mayer won parents and kids back to eating their products.
The company was able to convey a story about not only a working parents stressful morning but also a kid’s boring lunchtime, thus forging an emotional connection by offering a possible solution to a real problem. Take a look at a couple of Lunchable commercials below.
Actions are what will help advance the story and the viewer or reader towards achieving their goal. You do need to take care that the story does not take an unexpected turn or go where it was never intended.
Dove, for example, has been quite successful at connecting their brand to an emotional narrative. More recently they have focused on women finding confidence in their own beauty. The videos below were part of their advertising campaigns.
So it was damaging to their story when Dove’s ads began showing on Facebook pages that contained violent and sexist content. Every interaction with your company or brand is part of the ongoing story whether it is watching an ad or a customer service call. When your company or brands actions align with the customer’s goal you strengthen the relationship and connection and improve the probability of repeat business.
The resolution of the plot really links back to the dilemma.
Because the goal is really about coming up with a solution to the initial problem. Your story needs the consumer to feel that hiring you or buying your product will help them achieve their goal. Clarifying this intent in your messaging and actions will help establish a deeper connection with your customers.
Nike understands this with its “Find Your Greatness” video series. They don’t talk about the features of their products. Instead, they tell you a story of how you’re going to achieve your inner greatness. The underlying message is that wearing Nike products helps you achieve that.
Staples is another example of a company that gets this idea. They launched their “That was easy’ campaign having identified that customers found shopping for office supplies, tedious and complicated.
So what was Staples solution to the problem with the release of their marketing campaigns?
They revamped their stores so that the shopping experience would be easier. They even created a physical button that customers could push upon achieving their goals. The sales of the millions of Easy buttons alone show how powerfully customers crave a solution. It also shows how much they’ll embrace a company that helps them achieve their goals.
Use storytelling for brand marketing success
So whether your business is selling widgets or services, success doesn’t depend on pumping out feature-rich ads and factsheets but rather stories on how people use those widgets and services and how customers lives or businesses are impacted.
Questions like the ones below will help develop the kind of story your business needs to tell.
- What problem are we solving for the customer?
- Is the problem compelling enough to capture and keep their attention?
- Is it convincing as the best possible solution to overcoming a problem when compared to your competitors?
Your customers are looking for and want to hear your stories. So find more ways to tell them!
Consider reaching out to your customers and brand advocates to collaborate with them. It is also important to look past impressions and think more like a publisher to get better results. So include actual metrics to help your business grow with the power of storytelling. Include quality of engagement or share of voice in your metrics for a better overall view of how you’re doing as you harness the power of storytelling to gain a return on investment.
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Post updated September 2019
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