Consumers want to know more than what products a business is selling; they want to know the story behind them.
As buyers crave and demand more information, marketing teams are finding unique and captivating ways to give consumers what they want by humanizing businesses and products. Selling with a story is a new marketing approach that uses a compelling narrative to create a personal connection with customers.
Design With Benefits — a website that sells clever, design-driven products — has used the new marketing method to its benefit.
"Unlike promoting your business or wares by listing off facts, stats and advantages, it’s about leading with the unique and often untold backstory behind a product or company," Tania Garbe, founder of Design With Benefits, told BusinessNewsDaily. "Telling an absorbing story creates a connection with your customers." [Read related article: 4 Budget-Friendly PR Strategies for Small Businesses]
Rather than highlight the materials used to make its Homeboy Totebags, for instance, Design With Benefits focuses its marketing on the fact that the bags are designed by former gang members who have traded in their graffiti skills for graphic talent.
Similarly, the company could sell its wooden radios simply by highlighting their retro designs that contrast with wood materials and modern MP3 ports. However, Garbe said the products become richer once the shopper learns they're manufactured in a small farming village in Indonesia that suffered an economic decline following the downfall of agriculture in the region.
"When someone compliments you on your iPad case or totebag, it’s a whole lot more satisfying to respond with a story about how it’s made from unusual recycled materials, or that it was designed by an ex-gang member, than to say you got it on eBay," Garbe said.
Business consultant Melinda Emerson said all businesses, even those selling services rather than products, have a tale to tell.
"There is no such thing as a company without a story," Emerson said.
She pointed to Instueta Roofing, a Florida-based company that posted a video of its workers removing a roof that had thousands of bats living underneath it. The video garnered millions of views and made the Florida business an overnight sensation.
"The company is now a household name in Miami," Emerson said.
Even companies that offer relatively standard products or services should find something unique about themselves to emphasize, marketing expert Eddie Earnest said.
"If you don’t feel like you have a story to tell, look inward to your company’s vision or mission statement," said Earnest, who is also the founder and CEO of the online jobs site seedRef. "Oftentimes, the vision of a company is its story —it just might not be being told properly."
Technology giant Apple has used storytelling successfully for years, Earnest said.
"Apple did such an amazing job of telling its story in its early day that it inspired a movement that has lasted decades," he said. "Apple consumers are, by and large, incredibly loyal to the brand —which is the result of great products, great marketing and great storytelling."
Emerson believes some of the best stories are those that explain how the business has helped someone.
"It can be the most mundane thing, but if you solve someone else's pain, that's the story people want to hear," Emerson said. [Read related article: Social Entrepreneurs: The Business of Giving Back]
Garbe thinks good stories are those that have multiple dimensions. On the Design With Benefits website, the least-interesting products have only one unique aspect, such as being made from recycled materials, she said. But by adding more layers — like that the product is made by local Mayan women who are simultaneously learning entrepreneurial skills, or that the designs are the brainchild of an ex-fashion editor who gave up everything to move to rural Mexico — the story becomes more captivating.
"Now, you have more chances for a customer to relate to, or be drawn in by something in the story," Garbe said. "I think the untold story is the most interesting untapped aspect of e-commerce today."
To determine what will make a compelling story that will sell, talk with your customers, Earnest said.
"You know what resonates with them and what attracts them to your brand," Earnest said. "It’s up to you to refine your storytelling abilities from a marketing perspective."
He predicted that storytelling as a marketing medium will only gain popularity in the years to come.
"Internet marketing is no longer optional, and it’s a crowded marketplace," he said. "In order for your brand to survive and grow, you need messaging and content that tells your story for you and, ultimately, connects and draws in customers to your business."
Emerson said the good news is that this form of marketing makes it more about who has the best story to tell, and who can tell it best — and less about how much money you have to spend.
"It’s about attracting customers through inbound marketing with high-quality content — content that reflects the story your company is telling and the mission it's on," he said.