You can’t knock the power of a good story. Since the beginning of time, stories have been shared from generation to generation to impart wisdom, embed learning lessons, and pass down rituals and traditions.

With such an impact across society, it only makes sense that story plays an integral role in your marketing strategy as well. Today, we explore how to use stories to sell your products and services. 

Why do my products and services need a story?

As a marketer, one of your responsibilities is to communicate why customers need your products and services in their lives. In fact, even if your small business sells arguably the best product in your space, you’ll lose out to a competitor with an inferior product if they can paint a clearer and more compelling picture of how the consumer will benefit after buying from them. 

Consumers want to know, like, and trust you before they’ll even consider buying from you. To that end, stories can breathe life into your products and services and help consumers connect with your business and progress through the Customer Journey. 

What is the customer journey? 

The customer journey is referred to by many names:

  • Customer sales cycle
  • Customer engagement cycle
  • Customer funnel

The customer journey is the path a customer goes through when interacting with your brand.

There are four stages of the customer journey:

  1. Awareness: the potential customer discovers you through online search, advertising, social media, or word of mouth
  2. Consideration: the potential customer weighs their options, deciding if they want to buy from you or a competitor
  3. Purchase: the potential customer converts to a paying customer
  4. Loyalty: the new customer enjoys the buying experience and becomes a repeat customer and brand advocate, telling others about your products and services

Your goal as a marketer is to progress potential customers through the customer journey, and a well-positioned story is just the ticket to make them feel connected and comfortable with your brand. Watch this quick video to learn more about the effects of storytelling in marketing: 

Power of Storytelling in Retail

Let’s talk a little bit about the power of story for retail, especially when it comes to selling your products or services online.

Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I were searching for some items to take on our trip to the Cape Verde Islands. As we sat side by side, perusing a website that sells durable pots and pans, Linda summed it up beautifully when she said, “They seem to have a great product, but they don’t really give me a reason to buy.” 

While the website had fancy photos of the pots and pans, there was no story, no video of the pans being used, and no real reason for us to connect with the brand and buy its higher-priced cookware set. 

Sometimes, as retail business owners, we get stuck in this kind of cycle where we think everybody knows what we’re talking about. Like everybody knows these products and services and understands why they should buy them.

The reality is the way our prospective customers are wired, they may not care about technical details and features. Instead, they want to envision how the product or service can help them. What will it do to make their life or job easier? What makes it the top choice for them at this point in time?

That’s where the power of story comes in

From a very young age, we’re told stories. Think about fables or tales from Mother Goose. Those fables are meant to calibrate our moral compass and instill societal learning lessons in us. Each one of those stories had a moral it was telling us, such as to be kind to people or to stop and think things through before acting, or to approach new situations slowly and methodically instead of fueling the boosters.

Just like you still find stories appealing, so do your customers.

Why your customers care about a product’s story

Let’s take that same impact of storytelling at a young age and think about how it relates to our customers. As we grow, stories stay with us.

So then, wouldn’t it make sense that storytelling lends itself to us being able to sell products or services? And wouldn’t it make sense that if we can tell a story about a product, then people are more apt to feel familiar with that product, to be receptive to us trying to have them buy that product, to envision themselves owning that product?

Here’s an example for you: A very elementary way of selling is through Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace or apps like LetGo. We’re selling something from one person to another; no business or corporate entity is involved — just people. It could be anything from a used shovel to a gas grill to, in my case, a very ugly brown couch.

How I used story to sell an ugly brown couch on Facebook

Years ago, when my wife and I lived in a condominium, and we were planning out my office for BJC Digital Marketing, for some reason, we bought this hideous brown couch.

brown couch
This is it. Our ugly brown couch.

Neither of us knows why we bought it and don’t even remember discussing the color options. In fact, we playfully blamed one another for the purchase. Needless to say, for years, we were stuck with an ugly brown couch, and we “put baby in the corner” out of sight, in the basement.

Years later, we’re looking at ourselves thinking, why the heck do we have such an ugly couch, and how do we get rid of it? With that, we posted on Facebook Marketplace, where most of the world posts their stuff, whether they’re giving it away for free or trying to sell it at a highly discounted price to offload quickly. Of course, if someone has to come and manually carry this couch out of my house, I’m going to put it at a lower price.

Attempt #1: Trying to sell the couch with a plain description

product description of brown couch on facebook marketpace
Our first attempt at trying to get rid of the couch.

So my wife started by posting the couch up for $200. She wrote the ad, highlighting that it was a gently used, light brown couch with microsuede material. It folds out into a bed, but it doesn’t have a mattress.

It reminded me of an ad I read way back when in the AutoTrader magazine. I’ll never forget when someone posted a nice-looking car saying, “Great body. New steering wheel. Runs great, needs engine.” 

In the ad, my wife highlighted that the couch was seven feet long, gently used, purchased from a reputable furniture store in New England, and it cost over $900.

But who cares — the thing is still ugly, and it has no mattress!

Well, here’s what happened: Because we posted on Facebook, we were able to gain instant awareness (step 1 of the customer journey), but no one responded! And it got so bad, and my wife grew so impatient, that she started sharing it on personal posts, trying to get some people to consider (step 2) with callouts like: “It’s free! Come take this away from me.”

She was being cute (as she always is), but people were reading into this as desperation that we needed to get rid of this ugly brown couch. Nobody wanted it because we focused on the technology instead of the experience. They simply couldn’t relate to an ugly brown sleeper sofa with no mattress. 

Attempt #2: Selling with story

example of how to use story to sell

As I laughed “with” my wife in her frustration, I offered to take a stab at the ad. And I brought the couch to life.

It wasn’t just a couch anymore. It was a character, and I did some fun stuff with my graphic design skills to show Mr. Bean, and the Seinfeld cast, sitting on the couch. I knew one of those two would grab people’s attention (awareness), and if I could grab their attention (also known as hooking them), then I could have them become familiar with the artist known as my ugly brown couch (consideration).

I wrote a story about the couch. You can read the full description below, but I made it a character on a tv show. As I playfully talked about the character wrapping up its final season at our house, I inserted little facts about it:

“The smooth feeling of this easy-to-clean fabric allows for comedy genius to begin brewing in mere minutes. In fact, some of the best dad jokes of 2019 and 2020 have been created on this couch.”

“Spoiler Alert: this couch turns into a bed. That’s right. This cutting-edge technology was imported by the most brilliant minds in Switzerland…”

“Plot Twist: A three-year-old boy who shall remain unnamed, thought it would be a good idea to poke the air mattress with a pen. As a result, the air mattress character was pulled from the show…”

Here’s where the power of story took over. This was no longer an ugly brown couch; It had come to life. All of a sudden, we had over 700 views of the listing, six people saving the listing, and nine people sharing the listing. (Remember, my wife had to basically plead with people to consider taking the couch and still nothing.)

Now I start getting messages from people like: “Bryan, I don’t need a sofa, but if I did, I would buy yours simply for the comedy gold description.” The story got people commenting and interacting and engaging with the actual post on Facebook Marketplace.

Creating a story helped me sell the couch

Well, guess what? In less than a day, someone took it off our hands (conversion) and told us to call if we had any additional furniture we wanted to remove (loyalty).

So, my friends, I ask you: Do you want to buy a seven-foot ugly microsuede couch, or do you want to buy something that has brought happiness and joy and fun and comedy to a house? Something where some of the best dad jokes have been invented, where the best minds in Switzerland have come up with this insane technology?

That’s the power of a story! As you’re thinking about your products and services, and of course, your ideal customer’s persona, it’s crucially important for you to think about how you can tell them a story that makes them more likely to relate your product to their lives, moving them towards a purchase.

The power of a story is so amazing that if you do it right for your products and services, I’m confident you can sell anything you want. I hope you’ll take this to heart when you’re thinking about how you communicate with your customers. Use the power of a story!

Learn more about storytelling marketing

To learn more about storytelling marketing and how it can help your business or nonprofit grow, check out one of these articles: