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Storytelling in Marketing

Uncle Nearest 1820 is the name of a whiskey. By itself, this is an unremarkable detail.

1820 Whiskey. Great example of Storytelling in marketing.

Now for 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.

Suddenly, Uncle Nearest 1820 feels a lot more remarkable.

Why Storytelling in Marketing Matters

Storytelling influences buyer psychology:

1: Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts & figures alone.

2: They activate your brain’s visual cortex (Occipital Lobes). One can’t hear the story about the fox and the sour grapes and not see a fox jumping up to reach the grapes.

3: When we hear a story, our neurons fire in a pattern that matches the relayer’s— a process known as “neural coupling.”

We experience what the storyteller is experiencing.

4: Stories cause the release of Oxytocin— the love and bonding chemical. It’s what’s activated in the brains of new mothers.

5: It’s a natural part of life. Storytelling accounts for 65% of our daily conversations.

Let’s now see how these details relate to eCommerce.

Storytelling in eCommerce Marketing

For hundreds of years, we bought at our local community store. The store owner was the Google of his day, educating us on new products that promised to make life more convenient. We trusted this person because he was part of our community. Our kids went to the same school.

Then eCommerce came along and took something hyper-local and made it global. It’s been transformative: The US alone has 2.5 million eCommerce sites according to etailinsights.

PS: That number was 1.8 million in 2021.

These 2.5 million sites have to compete fiercely to attract the limited number of shoppers looking to make a purchase at any one time. As a result, they generate a ton of ads.

There is debate about the actual number of ads a shopper is exposed to on a daily basis but the most conservative estimate is 3,000. That feels like 2,500 too many.

Our brains are expensive machines that consume 20% of our daily caloric intake so there’s a limit to how many messages we can give our attention to.

To cope, we filter.

If you happen to run one of these 2.5 million eCom sites your challenge is:

If most of what my potential buyers are seeing is being filtered out, how do I ensure my message gets through?

Shoppers use mental shortcuts to navigate the neon maze we live in. And through extensive experimentation, we’ve identified nine mental shortcuts shoppers use. Build your story using these nine elements and your brand will stand out: The 9 Truths About Online Shoppers.

A Little Appreciated Advantage of Storytelling

If you’ve been reading this series you know that the average time on site for an eCommerce site is 2 minutes and 32 seconds. But this is a big problem for the marketer. How do I present my pitch in under 3 minutes? Storytelling can play a big role here because storytelling has the magical ability to s t r e t c h time. That’s because storytelling can slow down the user and get them to lean in with interest. And people who hang around your messaging longer, buy.

Think about a retail store experience— If two customers walked in and one stayed for 2 minutes while the other hung around for 12 who is more likely to buy?

Storytelling in Marketing Example

Significant Objects was a literary experiment devised by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn where they purchased inexpensive objects for $1.25 apiece. Things like this horse bust:

They then constructed fictitious stories around the objects and placed them on eBay for sale.

Their total investment was $128.74 and the ‘experiment’ generated $3,612.51 in sales.

You might be thinking, “but these are made-up stories, I’m a serious eCommerce business.”

I know you are, which is why you need to read this next: Marketing Ethics: Persuasion Vs Manipulation.


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