Storytelling is a popular marketing buzzword, and there are numerous examples demonstrating how brands that engage in storytelling derive value from the exercise.

Much of the discussion around the topic focuses on how brands tell stories at a strategic level, but according to a study conducted by Hill Holiday research division Origin, companies can profit from applying storytelling at a much more practical level too. 

Origin's study presented 3,000 consumers in the US with two variations of product pages – one with a "standard" description and another with a description containing some sort of story.

For instance, one product page for a bottle of wine contained a standard description of the wine with tasting notes, while the variation contained the winemaker's story instead of the tasting notes.

Which page performed better? Consumers were 5% more likely to purchase from the product page with the winemaker's story, and they were willing to pay 6% more for the same bottle of wine.

Origin saw a similar trend for other kinds of products. Consumers were willing to pay 11% more for a painting, for example, when the artist's story was included on the product page, and 5% more for a hotel room that was promoted with a real guest's story instead of the standard hotel-supplied description.

On eBay, the impact of a story was even more pronounced, as Origin was able to lure 64% higher bids for a set of fish-shaped spoons when the listing was accompanied by a short fiction story.

Why simple stories work

Origin's study suggests that companies don't necessarily need to develop strategic, brand-level initiatives to benefit from the power of storytelling. Instead, the mere inclusion of stories into product pages can pay dividends.

That the use of simple stories at a product-level can be an effective way to drive more sales and increase perceived value, in turn boosting what consumers are willing to pay for a product, shouldn't come as a surprise. 

A 2014 Nielsen study found that globally, over half of online consumers are willing to pay more for products and services offered by companies that they believe are committed to social responsibility.

While not every story speaks directly to social responsibility, many stories, such as those that provide information about the person who created a product, piggyback on the related trend of consumers wanting to know where their products come from, particularly on a personal level.

Stories can also be used to capitalize on the trend of consumers, particularly young consumers, preferring experiences over products. Origin's hotel room product page with a photo and story from a real guest sells the possibility of a real experience, not just a hotel room, and a product page for a wine bottle that contains the winemaker's story sells the creator's vision and journey, not just a bottle of wine.

A worthwhile priority for 2017?

Given the ease with which simple stories can be incorporated at an individual product level, companies should consider using the new year to explore the opportunities they have to engage in practical storytelling, even if they're not convinced or ready to apply storytelling at a more strategic, brand level. 

For more on this topic, check out these resources:

Patricio Robles

Published 19 January, 2017 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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