In 2006, Rob Walker, a New York Times journalist, devised an experiment designed to demonstrate the sheer power of brand storytelling.
For the first stage of the experiment, Mr Walker purchased two hundred thrift-store items on eBay, intending to resell all of them. You should know that these were not expensive items. These were cheap, rusty items; things that the vast majority of us would rarely ever consider buying.
Amongst his full eBay shopping list, there was an old, wooden mallet; an umbrella trinket, a rubber band gun and even a Utah snow globe.
On his unusual shopping spree, Mr Walker spent a total of $128.74.
For the second stage of the experiment, Mr Walker contacted two hundred professional authors. He requested them to write short stories for the two hundred items, one author for each item. The plan was to input these stories into the item description boxes on eBay.
All of the authors agreed to the request, and thus the ‘Significant Objects’ study began.
For the third stage of the experiment, Mr Walker attempted to resell the two hundred cheap items, with only one catch; this time, every item had a story attached to it.
The result? Rob Walker resold all of the two-hundred items, and the sum of his total earnings amounted to $3,612.51.
The theory here is simple: thanks to storytelling, Mr Walker was able to achieve a 2700% increase in final markup.
But, the question here is why? Why is it so easy for us to fall for stories? Better yet, how can one story convince someone to pay $59 for a 99¢ Utah snow globe?
Rob Walker’s experiment is one brilliant example of how brand storytelling can more than double your return on investment.
Here are some of the reasons why you may want to consider including brand storytelling in your marketing toolkit — the reasons why you may want to start telling stories that matter to your customers.
Brand storytelling can help you turn your customers into advocates and supporters.
Compelling, memorable stories are about forming lasting bonds between people.
Stories enable you to paint a vivid portrait of your brand for customers; you can’t offer the same meaningful experience to a customer by handing them a financial report of the profits your business turned last month. You can’t rationalise someone into believing in you; faith stands on the foundation of emotion, not logic.
People find it easier to forge visceral, emotional attachments to the stories that matter to them. Science backs up the positive effects of storytelling through neural coupling.
In the human brain, there are roughly 100 billion nerve cells; we call these nerve cells ‘neurons.’ When you hear a story, the neurons in your brain will transmit signals in the same pattern as the ones in the storyteller’s brain – ‘neural coupling’ is the name of this process.
Neural coupling allows you to turn someone else’s story into your own experience.
As the author Felicia C. Sullivan wrote:
The wiring of our brains pushes us to connect and to empathise with the stories that others tell us. Our reactions to stories are primarily emotional until the rational, more pragmatic side of our brain kicks in.
When marketers sit down to create brand stories for their company, nine times out of ten, their strategy is always to lure in customers with promises.
Sometimes, they will promise high-quality service to their customers. Other times their promises may run along the lines of ‘you, too, can save £4,867 this year!’
It is, of course, not a bad thing to make promises to your customers and to let them know about the benefits they can expect when partnering up with you. The problem, however, lies in the fact that thousands of other companies will be making those same promises, too.
So. What sets your company apart from the crowd?
You can hand out all the promises you want, but if you don’t have a story, a way to set yourself apart from all the other companies clamouring for your customers’ coins, you’ll find it harder to stand out in the crowd.
Need help telling your brand's story? Feel free to