How can retailers tell engaging stories in 2019?

By Will Gillingham

The tale. It’s what we live for, isn’t it? Those careering narratives; those shrewd turns of phrase; those uncannily relatable character studies. They’re the reason bedside lamps nationwide are left on far beyond even the most outer-limits of what could be considered a ‘reasonable hour’, and perhaps they’re even the first word of the day over a coffee, before they’re boxed away to be rediscovered later on.

What’s to say retail can’t inhabit a corner of this escapist enthralment? There are stories to tell, after all: these brands aren’t static; they’re constantly moving, evolving, shaping, and they certainly didn’t arrive on the scene without taking some anecdotal knocks. Stories are magnetic, and with a good tale in tow, customers are sure to follow, like so many iron filings.

But, of course, it’s no good waxing lyrical on a topic which nobody wants to hear about. You need to capture the collective muse. So, what makes for an engaging story in 2019? We approached our community of experts, who have supplied a few thinking points to get you started.

Work your story into the customer experience

Retail isn’t solely about selling things anymore. It’s a biome of social postings, political messages, and, most of all, experiences. Shoppers these days visit brands for their flair as much as for their wares, and by imbuing the customer journey with a story, the experience can take on a residual quality, which, in turn, can lead to word-of-mouth endorsements (more on that to come).

It’s for this reason that Brendan Murray, Content Marketing Manager at Akeneo, has identified experiences as ‘crucial’.

Murray: ‘Experience is crucial in 2019 — 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience, and 73% of buyers point to customer experience as an important factor in purchasing decisions, while 65% of buyers find their experience with a brand more influential than advertising. What’s worse, a poor experience can cripple your sales — 67% of customers cite bad experiences as a reason for no longer doing business with a company.

‘Creating these compelling experiences requires telling your customers a story they can connect with, and will ultimately lead them to make a purchase. Effective storytelling can be a catalyst, helping to forge the emotional bonds that lead to long-term loyalty. Successful brands in the B2B and B2C spaces alike — from Kurt Geiger and to Assa Abloy and Ridgeons — have used the story of their brand and product to create connections that keep customers coming back for more.

‘This level of storytelling, however, is not possible without high-quality product information. Your product information, including product descriptions and multimedia assets, can be powerful tools in telling the story of the brand and the product they represent, while giving customers an accurate and comprehensive concept of the product.’

When it comes to ecommerce, however, these catalysing stories have the capability of being unheard if some form of outreach isn’t undertaken. And one of the best ways to reach out to provisional shoppers? Email.


Treat email as a storytelling device

Used properly, email can be a fantastic asset for retailers. Aside from its ability to drive product promotions, it can also be used to deliver a concise segment of brand personality directly into people’s inboxes, to engage an audience without them first having to actively search out the brand’s homepage.

But how should these emails be structured in order to capitalise on their engagement potential? Mike Harris, VP at Bluecore, shares his three top tips.

Harris: ‘Most retailers recognise email as a powerful tool for driving online sales - that being said, it is also a powerful engagement tool. Research by Bluecore found 68% of consumers still consider email the most personal channel for engaging with their favourite brands, and the key is to ensure your messages are informing and entertaining through content.

‘Post-purchase tips around product care or getting the most from the new purchase all deliver high levels of click-to-conversion. Styling tips also help as they can point to accompanying ‘get the look’ products.

‘Our top tips for building successful engagement include:

a) Keep a consistent house style and tone of voice, 

b) Think of different, creative ways to resurface and reignite interest in products that customers have already seen. Instead of sending a basket abandonment email, try an educational approach such as tips about how to wear/use/style that product. Offering the informational value customers want can often be the extra prompt they need to make the purchase.

c) Keep it real: ensure the human element comes across in your emails, because it will help establish a much stronger emotional connection with your customers.’

And one of the most pertinent ‘human elements’ of 2019? Awareness of climate change.


Talk about sustainability

Climate change is becoming progressively more prevalent in the social psyche. Individuals, particularly in the millennial generation, want to feel they’re doing their bit to stem the tide of the throwaway culture, and part of this involves purchasing products which are environmentally friendly.

According to LiveArea, if you’re looking to strike up an engaging conversation with a shopper in 2019, you’ll want to be mentioning your strategy for sustainability (before becoming vocal though, it’s a good idea to make sure you have your house in full environmental order or it can backfire spectacularly).

Shane Orchard, Head of Digital Trading & Marketing Operations, LiveArea EMEA: ‘Consumers are socially and politically aware right now. We are in the age of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish school-child climate activist, the British television series Blue Planet 2, Extinction Rebellion and climate emergencies. It’s not falling on deaf ears, it’s shaping consumer perceptions about brands’ ethics, sustainability, inclusivity, authenticity, and transparency.

‘This isn’t a passing fad, it’s an integral part of a business model that can either make or break a brand. And much of this is driven by emotion. Immersive and emotive content can help to articulate the brand and provide the context around products. This, in-turn, can transform it into a much more engaging experience for customers.’

One final piece of advice, briefly touched on earlier, is to tell your story in such a way that it echoes through your customer base.


Embody the anecdote

If you tell your story right, you only have to tell it once. If you identify the story which will resonate with your particular buyer demographic, then, with a bit of fortune, that story will continue to be told by your audience, making its way into parties, coffee socials, camping trips, and myriad other events which the brand wouldn’t necessarily have reached otherwise.

This is the view of Flora Frichou, Senior Content Strategist at Trustpilot: At Trustpilot, we believe brands shouldn’t have to tell their own story. In 2019, letting your customers do the talking has become so important in order to build trust and engage with your audience. Today, people seek third-party validation more than ever before, which means your customers’ stamp of approval means a lot more than your self-proclaimed excellence from a consumer’s point of view. Encouraging your customers to share their experience will help you build trusted, long-lasting relationships, and will push them to sing your praises to the rest of the world. That’s the only story you should focus on this year, and next.’

Commit yourself to research, identify the beating heart of your buying community, and complement it with your story. Your audience should do the rest.


In Summary

The brand story is an important one: it has the chance of generating customer retention as much, or even more so, than the products themselves.

In order to ensure your story is an engaging one, it takes a little research and a dose of creativity. Tell your story so that it resounds with the values of your buyers and tell it in such a way that it will be retold.

Once your story is cemented into your brand’s character, entwine it with all aspects of the customer experience. It’s in these things working synchronously that customer engagement with your brand (and profit margins, too) can really take off.

Will Gillingham, Content Manager, IMRG

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