Brand storytelling or content marketing engages the imagination, encourages buyer curiosity, and brings customers into your brand story like no other marketing technique I know.
Case in point: the right story increases ROI by 2,700%.
And no, that’s not a typo.
Here’s the story behind this dramatic increase in ROI and how you can grab your own share of that incredible profit potential.
A Tale of Two Brand Stories
Ancient Quartz Crystal Unearthed
Do you see this crystal?
It was unearthed during an excavation in Virginia. As dawn’s rosy fingers touched the sky, a ray of sunlight fell upon the earth, illuminating the crystal with inner fire. Legend has it that the land where the crystal was found was once a sacred hunting ground. Many flint and stone arrowheads have been found nearby, and evidence of old forests of oak and poplar, inhabited by abundant herds of deer, point to a time long gone when Indians roamed the quiet mossy woods. Perhaps Mother Earth, hearing the cries of her children, gave this healing crystal from her generous supply to restore harmony to the finder. Who knows?
My New Paperweight
Do you see this chunk of quartz crystal?
One morning as I walked my dog across the lawn, I stubbed my toe on a rock. I kicked at the point of muddy rock a bit more until I realized it was part of a bigger rock. My dog started digging and soon handed me what at first looked like a chunk of mud. But I saw a little glimmer so I rinsed it off under the garden hose. It was a beautiful hunk of almost pure quartz. I liked it so I kept it on my desk as a paperweight.
Hey, marketing superstar!
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Stories That Sell – The Power of Brand Stories
Both stories are true. I just spun them differently. Which one did you find more appealing?
The second story is, of course, the true story. I stubbed my toe on what I thought was a plain old rock sticking out of the ground while I was walking my dog one morning. I noticed a little glimmer, though, and washed off the rock. Much to my delight, I had a huge chunk of almost perfect quartz. It seems as if my house is actually built on a large quartz deposit. We continually find the most beautiful quartz under the lawn, pure, white, and rose.
But some people who love using crystals for healing might be more attracted to the story of the ancient ground expelling a quartz with healing properties. I wrote this story with a lot of flamboyance and hyperbole, which isn’t my typical style, and not something I might find appealing.
Many copywriters have used such a style to successfully sell products. The most famous example is an advertisement written by the legendary John Caples. “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano” is a long form ad, or advertorial, used to sell an online course. And it is famous for good reason: not only is it immediately compelling, but it uses the story of an imaginary customer, one who purchased and used the course successfully, to sell the home study music course. It engages the imagination, the emotions, and weaves a net of desire in the prospect’s mind to encourage them to buy the course.
Good content marketing does the same. It uses brand storytelling to sell, and engages the emotions before engaging logic to encourage customers to take the desired action. It builds awareness, interest, desire, and action (AIDA), the proven formula for increasing sales.
The Significant Object Project
Stories sell. Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn conducted an anthropological experiment that has had significant ramifications for marketing professionals. Walker and Glenn’s experiment “demonstrated that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively.”
To conduct their experiment, the duo purchased $129 worth of tchotchkes, or low value objects from dollar stores. (You know what I mean. C’mon, your house is probably full of them. Mine is.) They hired creative writers to weave compelling narratives around the objects. Then, they placed each object on eBay and measured the final sales value of objects enhanced with stories.
The results: $129 worth of objects generated $3.6 million in net profits, an increase of 2,700%.
This experiment, dubbed the Significant Objects Social Experiment, illustrated what many in marketing had known all along – stories sell more products and enhance their perceived value.
Why Do Stories Increase Perceived Value?
Humans evolved with both logic and emotion. In fact, our emotional brains tend to overrule our logical brains. This is why many marketing and sales techniques play on feelings of scarcity, love, hunger, and desire. Sex sells. So does inadequacy, comfort, longing, status, and a hundred other emotional nuances inherent in the human condition.
Stories tap into the emotional aspect of the buying process and serve as a shortcut directly into the customers’ minds.
Many companies bombard their customers with logic; facts, figures, and features galore. But it is the stories about the products that actually help them sell; the case studies, success stories, and benefits to the end customer. These are what harnesses the emotions of customers and transforms browsers into buyers, looky-lous into loyal fans.
The Bottom Line: Key Takeaways for Marketers
The bottom line is that stories sell. Brand stories are especially powerful as they engage customers in the overall company narrative like nothing else can. But product stories, service stories, and success stories are also powerful motivators.
Your Digital Marketing Action Steps
- Don’t flood your audience with facts and figures. Even if you sell a highly technical product, start with the story first and support it with facts and figures.
- Use plain, creative, and natural language in your written materials. Avoid corporate and industry jargon. I always have a tough time convincing my clients in engineering and manufacturing that this is so because they love their jargon (marketers do, too). But at the end of the day, engineers and manufacturers are people, with brains hardwired to love stories. Their stories may resonate with numbers but they still love a good story!
- Show, show, and show – then tell. Demonstrate the value of your products. Paint colorful pictures about your products with words, photos, and videos. Collect testimonials and success stories among your customers and get their permission to share them. But above all, show – don’t tell – your customers what value they’ll receive from your brand, your business, your products and services.
You may also want to read on Seven Oaks Consulting: What You Can Learn About Marketing from a Lucky Lobster.
Would you like to explore how stories can increase your ROI? Your next step: Call Seven Oaks Consulting for a consultation. We helped a local photographer increase her annual revenues by 50%. We have launched multi-million brands through compelling storytelling. It’s content marketing with digital rocket fuel. Call (434) 574-6253 for a consultation or contact us for a free no-obligation consultation.
Jeanne Grunert, president of Seven Oaks Consulting, is an award-winning direct and digital marketer with over 20 years of senior marketing leadership experience. She’s passionate about mentoring marketing managers and providing exceptional content marketing programs and services to Seven Oaks clients. Jeanne holds an M.S. (awarded with distinction) in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University and frequently lectures on content marketing, search engine optimization, and project management techniques.J