Every eCommerce conversation today seems to compare retailers to Amazon. While the retail giant may own the market share, other retailers can offer something Amazon doesn’t: an emotional connection.
While you probably don’t think about Amazon in your spare time or follow them on Instagram, you might be following brands like Allbirds, Glossier or Warby Parker.
“By offering a full experience that engages and delights customers at every touchpoint, a new crop of companies is taking off by creating brands that people want to follow and support for reasons beyond convenience and searchability,” she writes.
The best way to create that emotional connection? Storytelling.
“Stories that connect emotionally and personally, that demand to be shared, are what matter more and more,” says retail strategist Steve Dennis. “The art of storytelling must be woven into your DNA. That starts with remembering that people engage with emotion more than reason and that in order to be remarked upon you must be remarkable.”
Let’s explore how and where to connect with consumers throughout the buyer journey — starting with the eCommerce store itself.
The Online Store
Your eCommerce site is not just transactional; it’s also a powerful place to tell your brand’s story, particularly in several key places.
By definition, your “about” language is where you tell your company or brand story. Whether you focus on who founded the company or what problems your products solve, this should demonstrate what sets you apart.
Consider the “our story” language on the website for retail brand Kit and Ace:
“Commuting, creating, pushing, pausing, sweating and achieving. You don’t slow down from 6AM to 10PM and you need clothing that can keep up.
“In 2014 Shannon Wilson and JJ Wilson created Kit and Ace for those full-contact days — days that start with a hike at dawn and end with a red-eye. We believe what you wear affects your day — it can hold you back or keep you moving. You need performance and functionality for every part of it, not just at the gym.”
This narrative explains why the brand exists by helping you picture exactly what lifestyle and experiences its products are for. It goes on to explain the brand’s point of differentiation:
“We applied our expertise in technical design to clothing that suits how you actually live — pieces you can throw in the wash again and again, that stand up to the fullest days. Whether you are biking to the office, playing a pickup game at lunch or dashing to make your connection, what you wear never stands in your way.”
Patricio Robles at Econsultancy encourages brands to incorporate practical storytelling at an individual product level, even if they’re not ready to apply storytelling at a more strategic brand level. He cites research that consumers are more likely to purchase from product pages that tell stories than those with a “standard” description.
“Product pages are the most important part of your store, not just because they inform customers about your products and entice them to buy from you,” says Rachel Jacobs at Pixc, an eCommerce product optimization solution. “They are important also because great product pages help with your search engine rankings and bring in more customers.”
Write product descriptions that tell a story. Think about the customer (not the product), set a scene, anticipate questions, include user-friendly descriptions, and show don’t tell.
Here are a couple of examples that will show you what these practices look like when implemented:
- Handpicked Wines is a best-in-class example of storytelling at the product level. Each product page tells the story behind the wine region, winemaking process and individual labels.
- Son of a Sailor adds personal touches in a subtle way: “Drawing from [founder] Billy’s Navy days, each piece in Supply has been named from a letter of the phonetic alphabet. Focused around longevity, these pieces are meant to be passed from generation to generation.”
Storytelling shouldn’t just come from you — your customers can also tell your story for you.
According to Jacobs, more than 80 percent of consumers consult product reviews when making a purchase, so adding reviews to your site can lift sales by as much as 18 percent. She points to the exemplary product review functionality from websites for Paul Mitchell, Two Leaves and MountainCrest.
While these are key areas of your website, remember that all brand language contributes to the story you tell consumers. FAQs, chatbots and other customer service functions are also important, for example.
Content marketing will also continue to be important to eCommerce. Most think of content marketing as relationship-building content, which is not a hard sell and aims to gain trust and build a brand’s audience, according to Dr. Mike Baxter.
But there’s also what he calls “transitional content,” which aims to move customers along the purchase funnel. For example, a product guide can help customers choose the product that’s right for them.
Take the example of Food52. When the foodie media site launched its online shop in 2013, eCommerce reporter Jason Del Rey called it an example of a “content-commerce marriage that actually makes sense” at a time when this was a trend that made many roll their eyes.
Today, Food52 is equally a content and eCommerce site. You can find a recipe and then buy the dish you need to serve it in, or the other way around. Among customers of the online store, 57 percent first interacted with content on the site that inspired them to shop and then make a purchase.
Food52 “uses storytelling elements to naturally integrate retail, as well as to create its own point of view,” according to Econsultancy’s Nikki Gilliland. “Unlike the purely functional style of Amazon, for instance, Food52 uses emotive and immersive elements to draw in the audience.”
Retail expert Richard Kestenbaum spoke with co-founder and CEO Amanda Hesser about what differentiates Food52. She says their recipe for success is building a strong, genuine relationship where consumers trust their content as well as the products they sell. Hesser has also emphasized that credibility in content and commerce have to align.
Social Media (Especially Instagram)
After lackluster holiday sales, clothing retailer Express realized they needed to authentically connect consumers with the brand. The retailer’s CEO told Internet Retailer editor Zak Stambor how they turned to social media storytelling to do that.
“We’re not just looking to sell products, we’re looking to show how our products are a part of how these people live their lives. We have to find ways to connect to our customer set and give them a taste of what we’re about.”
Instagram has been the go-to platform for visual storytelling for years and is taking off for eCommerce thanks to its new feature, Shopping on Instagram.
Fashion brand Vitaly saw a 4x return on advertising spend after retargeting customers who expressed interest in their products. In addition, 60 percent of Instagram users have discovered new products on the platform, according to E-Commerce Times.
Social commerce data found that 86 percent of users said that social media video impacted their purchase decision more than images, texts, GIFs and live streams. This has given rise to technology like MikMak. MikMak integrates with Instagram and Snapchat to make stories shoppable by offering products that connect to shopping carts. Nearly 14 percent of users add products in a story to their cart.
For example, Dr. Brandt Skincare created different videos for each SKU to determine what attributes move shoppers down the funnel. One of their Snapchat ads is a tutorial for applying and removing a facial mask. The ad includes a coupon code, price information and buttons for more information and to add the item to the shopping cart.
Digital Commerce 360 spoke with MikMak CEO Rachel Tipograph, who says you don’t have to have big brand names or budgets to make this happen. “We constantly see how lo-fi content can often perform better than polished commercial content. Shoppers now are used to clips that are lo-fi, or a more inferior quality of sound reproduction.”
More than half of all Top 1000 merchants use video on their sites, according to data from Digital Commerce 360.
Video storytelling can be used in a variety of ways throughout the buyer journey. For example, tech retailer Wink uses video to demystify the concept of a smart home to those who are not yet serious shoppers. They then demonstrate how investing in their products can make life easier by showing real-life customers using smart-home gadgets to streamline daily tasks.
Digital Commerce 360 also spoke with Eloquii Design Inc. about how video storytelling has increased their brand loyalty and boosted conversions. Eloquii’s mission is to empower plus-size girls, and the fashion brand uses video to connect with them.
“Storytelling is so powerful, and we’ve used video to elevate special collections, telling the story of how [they] came to be and the inspiration behind it all,” says Eloquii Design. “It’s also a great way for us to offer styling inspiration. We can’t physically style all of our customers, so we use video to help her get the look.”
Thanks to automation, it’s easier than ever to communicate with customers in a personalized way through email.
This is particularly useful at the end of the buyer’s journey, which retailers often overlook. Email can “underscore the importance of your communications during the timeframe between purchase and delivery,” says Wu at Shippo. “This is a great time to engage with customers and get them excited about something coming in the mail.”
In his guide to email marketing, eCommerce expert William Harris walks through types of emails by each phase of the customer journey. Stories about the company’s origin work well to raise awareness, and customer stories are impactful during the consideration and advocacy stages, for example.
We would add that there are opportunities to incorporate storytelling into other types of emails. For example, emails about product features can use storytelling rather than just promote brand messages.
At the end of the day, every interaction with your brand tells your story — from the tone you use in your microcopy to how you retarget your ads.
Harris sums it up well in another post: “The companies that are most effective in using brand storytelling to drive sales don’t focus solely on telling stories about themselves. Instead, they invest time and money into collecting and sharing stories about and with their customers. Remember: it’s not about you — it’s about them.”
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