If you aspire to take a cold, dispassionate, unempathetic ecommerce business to a position of great success, I have some bad news for you: you’re somewhat behind the curve. Unless you happen to have a product or service vastly superior to that of any comparable company (which isn’t tremendously likely), you’re going to need something more than your basic financial value proposition to win new customers and keep them coming back.
And even if you did have a product so good that it almost sold itself, why would you stop at that when you could yield even more sales from sprucing up your presentation? There’s really no practical reason to refrain from creating an in-depth promotional strategy for turning your brand into a household name — and at the core of brand, promotion lies storytelling.
In the ecommerce world, storytelling has several important functions. It succinctly explains the nature of a brand, it yields customer empathy and goodwill, and it makes products and services seem vastly more valuable. But storytelling can be tricky. How do you use it, particularly if you have little writing or creative experience?
In this piece, we’re going to cover 6 ecommerce storytelling tips that are really easy to follow.
See what your competitors are doing
This tip is certainly the most enjoyable and least strenuous of the 6! A common mistake that people make when trying to write compelling stories is trying too hard to shy away from other work for fear of unintentionally copying it. In reality, that’s only ever likely if you do very minimal research — the more widely you read, the less heavily your creative process will take from any one source, and the more easily you’ll be able to build something new from old elements.
Start by visiting the websites and social media accounts of your competitors (both de facto and de jure), and reading through their copy. Review their blog posts, their case studies, their product descriptions. Cast a critical eye over their advertising. What do they do well? What do they do poorly? How are their efforts perceived by their existing or prospective customers?
With all of the existing methods and approaches in your head, you can mix and match the features until you find something that takes all of the biggest storytelling strengths and deploys them in a unique fashion fitting your particular business. I assure you that it will be far, far easier than trying to start totally from scratch, and you’ll be less likely to write stories similar to those already out there because you’ll be able to specifically avoid that kind of similarity.
Keep things very succinct
Everyone’s in a rush on the internet. Barring the exceptional circumstance of finding super-high-quality content from a well-established brand, they’re not going to commit all that much time to follow your brand or product stories, so you need to get to the point. This isn’t about the complexity of what you have to say, and you can use sophisticated terms if contextually appropriate — just aim for brevity at all times.
Give each story a beginning, a middle, and an end, then add details and elaborations only when truly justified. If you read through your “About Us” page draft and can’t think of a strong reason why your backstory needed a detailed recap of your first tax audit, remove it entirely. Never be afraid to leave things out. You’re not writing an autobiography for posterity, you’re trying to frame your business in a way that will resonate with the reader. It’s art, not history.
Focus on emotions
Emotion is what draws people into a story, more than anything else. We want to identify with protagonists and relate their experiences to our own, and we need empathy for that, so be sure to include strong emotive terms in your stories where appropriate. Don’t simply explain what happened: explain how it made you feel. Have your successes made you proud? Elated? And what of your challenges, or even your failures? Did you ever doubt yourself?
And when it comes to product storytelling, what is it like to use the product? Does it inspire relief, generate joy, or nurture creativity? People are sold on benefits, not features, so look past the “objective” strengths of your value proposition and focus on how it will make the buyer’s life better in some meaningful way.
Assuming you’re capable of feeling emotion, this tip should be easy enough to follow. Just keep the concept of emotionality in your mind while you’re writing or reviewing a draft, and make sure that every story has some kind of emotional throughline.
Match your audience’s language
What kind of terminology should you use for your story? Should the phrasing be formal or informal? This entirely depends on the audience you’re trying to reach with your stories, which itself depends on the audience you’re trying to reach with your business. What demographics and segments are you aiming for? You should already have figured this out as part of your fundamental business model, plus you’ll have clues from your previous sales.
If you’re addressing readers likely to be high-income and eloquent, it won’t suffice to use incredibly basic language. You’ll need to carefully craft a story that will pass muster with relatively-harsh critics. If you don’t feel that you have the writing chops for that, consider bringing in a professional copywriter. A great brand story can be used for years (building equity that can pay off if you ever decide to sell the business), so it’s likely worth it.
If you’re addressing less well-read people with more everyday interests, you’ll want to steer clear of verbosity or you’ll come across as trying too hard and being pretentious. Think carefully about what kind of writing your targeted audience would like to read, and aim to provide it.
Follow a problem with a solution
Whether you’re recapping your company history or talking the reader through a hypothetical situation for a product or service, never forget that the bulk of ecommerce is about addressing pain points and/or creating happiness. Because of this, stories should almost-always be structured as sequences of problem/solution combinations.
Here’s an example: imagine that you need to write an ecommerce story, and it’s going horribly. You’re not sure where to start, the clock is ticking, and you start to feel very stressed. But then you remember that piece you saw about 6 ecommerce storytelling tips, and you hunt it down online. To your relief, it gives you a much clearer idea of what you’re doing, and you’re quickly able to work through a solid draft with zero stress.
This example established a problem (you’re confused and stressed about writing a story) and provided a solution (this piece helps you finish your draft stress-free). Understand the things that annoy your readers, introduce them to your story, and then bring in your product or solution to get rid of those annoying problems. Sticking to this format will really help you keep things succinct and compelling.
Optimize your presentation
It isn’t just the text of your ecommerce stories that has an effect on their success — in the digital realm, presentation is just as (if not more) important for getting your message across. At a minimum, you should be aiming for the following:
- Spacing out paragraphs in digestible chunks to accommodate limited attention spans.
- Using distinct and informative heading+p06p.s and subheadings to add clarity.
- Employ stylistic elements such as bulleted lists and tables to add variety.
- Include relevant high-quality images to provide an illustration.
How easy this will be — and how good the content will look when formatted optimally — will depend entirely on the structure and nature of your website. There are surprisingly many ecommerce sites that do not display content at all well, and plenty of them don’t even natively support text-centric pages for “About Us” histories.
Assuming you use a standard CMS for your store, you will have access to numerous themes capable of significantly improving the default presentation of your content. Users of Shopify or Magento, for instance, can draw from their respective theme stores, while users of WooCommerce can browse this wide range of WooCommerce themes, using the live demos to determine which one might best present their material.
Ecommerce storytelling is all about finding simple and effective angles you can customize for your business and present clearly. It is a challenging task, but if you take advantage of these 6 straightforward tips, you can make it a lot easier. Good luck!
Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to spreading the word about startups and small businesses of all shapes and sizes. Visit the blog for the latest marketing insights from top experts and inspiring entrepreneurial stories. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.