Marketing is nothing but storytelling. Therefore, effective marketing is nothing but telling believable stories.
“Uncle Nearest 1820” is the name of a whiskey. By itself this is completely unremarkable.
Now for more context …
“Uncle Nearest” honors the slave who taught Jack Daniel to make whiskey
Nearest Green is ‘the godfather of Tennessee whiskey’ but few people know his name today. To the people in his hometown of Lynchburg, Tenn., Nathan Green was known as “Uncle Nearest.” He was the first African-American master distiller in the United States. He was also enslaved.
Hearing the backstory changed everything for me. Did someone say storytelling in marketing doesn’t matter?
A historical perspective on why stories matter
For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been how we’ve communicated as a species.
Language led to the creation of culture, and culture was propagated via stories. One could argue without stories we would not be who we are today. Stories were used to help communicate knowledge from the experienced to the inexperienced. Without them, new generations would repeat mistakes, which would significantly impede generational progress.
Stories would form around topics like what fruits were safe to eat, what hunting areas were the most promising, what social behavior was acceptable (or not). In the absence of stories, the young would make the same mistakes their elders made when they were their age.
Stories aid memory and visualization
Stories have 3 amazing properties:
1: They are more memorable. 22 times more memorable than facts & figures alone.
2: They activate the visual cortex. It’s impossible to hear the story about the fox and the sour grapes and not see a fox trying and failing to reach the grapes. The story is instantly converted into a visual narrative; and visual narratives embed more deeply in our brains.
3: As we’re digesting a story our brain waves start synchronizing with the storyteller, says Uri Hasson, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University. We experience what the storyteller is experiencing.
Why stories matter for eCommerce conversion optimization
For hundreds of years, purchases were made by walking into a local store and having a conversation with the store owner. This was a person we had known for years and, potentially, even the parents had known for years. He was a part of the community, which kept the retailer honest.
Our go-to store was usually a bike ride away.
All of that has changed forever with eCommerce. The US alone has 1.8 million eCommerce sites according to etailinsights.
What used to be a deeply intimate experience based on personal relationships has today become super convenient but also quite impersonal.
Modern retail store
There is no doubt that e-commerce is hyper-efficient and provides tremendous value for the shopper. Where previously we would have a “general store” today it’s all about hyper-specialization. Mycarpe.com only sells creams for people with sweaty hands.
The downside of online shopping is that it creates a barrier between the seller and the buyer. This is a problem because our culture has evolved to base trust on the ability to read facial cues. This is impossible to do online. And this makes it a challenge for both the buyer and the seller.
In the absence of that face to face interaction the buyer isn’t buying based on a personal relationship. This causes a number of issues:
- Because there isn’t a human connection and the buyer can’t physically inspect the merchandize they remain somewhat skeptical and that reduces the probability of them converting.
- Because there isn’t a human connection the buyer defaults to focusing on choosing a retailer with the lowest price and this is a problem because it undervalues quality.
- A simple Google search leads to 50 companies vying for our attention:
Because the user has soooo many choices they tend to not care as much.
These are real problems for online retailers. The only solution I know of, and I’ve been thinking about this for the last 11 years, is to use storytelling in our marketing.
Storytelling in marketing: 2 central characters
There are many aspects to a story but the two that matter the most when it comes to improving conversion rates are:
“Why we exist”, and,
“Why our product must exist”
When a user first enters your site their first thought is “why should I care about these guys?” And this is why the “why we exist” story really matters.
Now, they’re ready to explore your site. At some point, they’ll discover your product. Their next question is, “I’ve seen other sites that have similar products, why should I care about yours?” and this is where the “Why our product must exist” story comes in.
If you want more of a deep-dive on this topic read this article: Importance of Storytelling: Converting First-Time Buyers.
Art of the start
Ok, so you’ve got your story in place, you’ve done the editing to make the story flow well, all that’s left now is to nail the start.
First 25% of the story is the most important. If we can get the user to be invested enough to read the first 25% of the story there is a super high likelihood that they will read the whole story. But the first 25% is where the vulnerability lies. You might have the best product in the world but if you can’t get the user to read beyond the first 25% of our page the user will never discover just how awesome your product is.
My suggestion is that you spend a lot of time on the introduction. Those first impressions really matter. We’ve written extensively about The Art of The Start.
Buyer psychology copywriting and storytelling
We are at the final stage of our strategy. All that’s needed now is to ensure our story is hitting buyer psychology beats. After 11 years of A/B testing we’ve identified the 9 most important buyer psychology triggers. These are:
- People are skeptical of “too good to be true”
- They find expertise sexy
- They root for people who beat the odds
- Also, they are fascinated by surprising details
- They are visual animals
- Buyers need motivation to break habits
- They love personalized experiences
- Buyers like knowing they’ve stumbled onto something rare
- We must resolve their negative thoughts
To see examples of each strategy, see this article: The Formula That Unlocked Conversions.
A LITTLE ABOUT US
Thank you for reading this article about storytelling in marketing. We are Frictionless Commerce and over the last 11 years, we’ve thought about just one thing: how do we get online shoppers to convert? We’re fascinated by buyer psychology. And once we understand how your site visitor thinks we use our 9 point copywriting process to convince and convert them.
If you’re on LinkedIn much you
can should definitely connect with me. On LinkedIn, I post ecommerce conversion ideas every day, multiple times a day.