The Importance of Story-telling

The Narrative and Editorial for Long Term Growth

Does that title sound boring? Well, a company narrative doesn’t have to be mundane. The truth is, the companies that get it are successful.

During a discovery meeting last week, one of our clients leaned toward me and said, “All these commerce ‘thingies’ are great but how do we really grow, I mean long term?” The question was simple, but that straightforward query was music to my ears.

Prior to this exchange, we spoke about retention, feeds, advertising, responsive designs, cart and geoIP promotions, along with a long list of other “thingies” that help broadcast a company’s message and product. It was a healthy chat. We covered a lot of ground but toward the end, she asked me that delightfully simple question. My answer was in true Occam’s Razor form. “You grow long-term,” I said, “by creating or highlighting your company narrative and percolating your editorial branding into various product descriptions.” The statement was surprisingly articulate, especially since I had not eaten all day.

It only took the client a few seconds to put it all together. Before the clever interactive designs, before style guides, and even before development, there should be a narrative. Years ago, you may have been able to get along without it. But in the era of Amazon, eBay, shopping engines and thousands of companies coming online every year, you need to get back to the basics — who you are. Unless you are supremely well-funded, you won’t be able to compete on price and and free shipping alone.

The Narrative

The narrative comes in all shapes, sizes and styles. It can be one crystallized sentence or it can be an entire “approach” to how you do what you do. It is leveraged in every single sales channel and should never be neglected. I always think of Patagonia (love them) when I explain narratives to clients.

Over the years, most of us know what the Patagonia outdoor clothing brand conveys. It’s not a South American region to the vast majority of Americans. It’s a brand with a consistent narrative and they’ve achieved name saturation in their market without huge advertising budgets. From the founder’s story to their Footprint Program to their sense of adventure — conveyed with epic adventure imagery — to their material sourcing guides, you immediately understand who they are, where they are going and what the ride is going to be like. That carries over into everything they broadcast: their photography, their product descriptions, their promotions and every experience you have with them — checking their website on a tablet, phone, desktop, or even walking into a store.

So what can you do as a small company just starting out or perhaps you guide an even a larger, successful company that has mainly shied away from internet sales? What sort of story do you have to tell? At first, take the money out of this brainstorming exercise. Ask yourself what really drives you to exist as a company or an organization? Once you have your answer, everything else falls in line. It’s a beautiful and rewarding process.

All that said, some stores still manage to stay afloat online without a solid narrative. These sites usually employ free shipping, price matching and massive inventories as the primary catalysts for retention and conversions. You can only travel that track for so long before a disruptor comes along who does have a narrative, sells many of your same products and starts taking your piece of your pie.

The Editorial

Product and category editorial gives your products real color and depth. I know, you might say, “Hey, I have a parts store and there is nothing interesting to say about all these mundane objects.” Or you think, “I have 40,000 very similar SKUs, and I don’t have the time or resources to write a description for each.” Smart thinking and that’s fine. Instead, in those cases, focus on the category landing pages and go from there. The key is to start the process of defining your company narrative.

A recent client shared some product pages from Bicycles Online in Australia. There is no mystery why this store ranks well. They have clear descriptions, videos, bullet points, data tables, and infographics. Immediately, that level of detail invokes a sense of trust. Why? In customers’ minds, it stands to reason that if they are spending the money and time to carefully create those pages, you can bet they will spend the same time building your order and being there when you need support. It shows they are in it for the long haul!

Reach out to us right now if you would like for us to help with your business narrative online.