Businesses that tell stories sell more stuff

I spend a lot of time banging on to clients about the virtues of storytelling.

Most of the time when I do that I’m thinking about brand storytelling, also known as transmedia storytelling: the idea that to really connect with an audience it’s firstly necessary to have a very strong idea of the story at the heart of the brand, and secondly to ensure that that story is clearly evident in every piece of information, content or interaction delivered at every customer touchpoint.

However, the art of storytelling – and the age-old techniques involved, irrelevant of whether it’s brand content or any other kind of content – is equally important. This is also something I bang on about quite a lot. A good story, well told, will be more entertaining, will be more readily remembered, and more often retold than other brand content. This sounds incredibly obvious, and yet so many businesses continue to get this wrong.

Consider product copy. I’ve lost track of the number of clients I’ve worked with who invest serious dollars and serious hours in a website design and build project only to rush the content and whack up some awful product copy. Even when well written, this sort of thing often has to go through several layers of sign-off, each removing a little more character and a little more individuality until you’re left with something that is, frankly, boring. It’s copywriting without due consideration, or copywriting by committee, and each is frankly a bit rubbish.

Which brings me on to a nice example. Ever heard of It’s a great place to check out A-B tests and the like that other marketers have performed in the past. It’s a good resource for inspiration and to get a general idea of what works (albeit with the usual cautions around different audiences and contexts etc). Anyway, I came across a cracking example that compared what they called ‘humourous’ copy against ‘factual copy’.

Here’s humourous: ‘Did your iPhone screen have a rough night out? We can’t cure a hangover, but we can make your iPhone look brand new in less than one hour. For half of what the other guys charge.’

Here’s factual: ‘iPhone 4 or 4S screen repair. Our promise: Fixed fast, fixed right. Cracked iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S? Need it fixed quickly? Want to make sure it’s done right? This is the repair you want.’

So which one do you reckon was more effective? It probably won’t surprise you to find out it was the former, with the ‘humourous’ copy receiving 17.9% more clicks than the factual copy.

There are obviously huge caveats around this. The team didn’t test further down the purchase funnel, to completed purchase. The factual version would arguably contribute more to SEO and therefore drive more traffic, possibly outweighing the benefit of the increased click rate. The target audience was more likely to respond to humour.

But what we can take from it is that content that weaves in a story, or utilises storytelling approaches, can seriously affect customer behaviour. And that’s gold.

Richard Parker is head of strategy at content marketing agency Edge, where he works with brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel.


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