eCommerce lead gen tip: master the art of storytelling

Neil Kokemuller
Neil Kokemuller
August 9, 2017

Featured image by  Jakob Owens

“Every great ad tells a story,” is a famous line repeated constantly over the course of AMC’s Mad Men television series (2007-2015), which centered on an advertising agency during the 1960s and 70s. This line is intended to convey that a great marketing message isn’t just a 30-second snapshot into your company and product, but it’s a small piece of yarn in the weaving together of a brand story that resonates with the target audience.

In much the same way, great eSellers can more effectively attract quality leads and retain them as customers through the art of storytelling. Crafting an intimate story is more challenging in a digital environment, but not impossible!

Challenges to eCommerce storytelling

To build a brand storytelling strategy that works online, you must first recognize and accept your limitations relative to physical stores. The primary disadvantage is that you don’t typically have the opportunity to meet with customers in person to leverage nonverbal message strategies and to build rapport. You also can’t engage in back-and-forth conversations that allow for the presenting of questions from customers and customized responses in real-time.

Perhaps the greatest challenge, though, is that your online business has to plan a story from the beginning and keep customers coming back long enough to see all the pieces come together.

Strategies to master eCommerce storytelling

Now that you are familiar with central obstacles to online storytelling, consider the following strategies and tips to building a powerful eCommerce brand story:

Focus on customers – Great authors identify the purpose and value a story would offer targeted readers before ever typing a word. They do this so that when they write the book, people feel naturally drawn to the characters and plot.

In much the same way, great businesses focus their brands on people and not products. In eCommerce, it is easy to develop a product-centric mindset because of the time and effort you put into selecting products to sell, and preparing strategies to promote them. However, like authors, you should always begin by identifying the purpose of your business and the value it offers to particular types of customers. Think of yourself as a resource that your customers turn to when faced with relevant needs or problems. This approach allows you to more effectively tell a story that resonates.

Know the conflict – Great literature usually includes some sort of conflict between characters, or that is faced by the main character in the story. Get to know everything you can about the conflict or turmoil faced by the people that you serve. Beyond the functional problems, think about what emotions motivate your prospects and customers to go online in search of a resolution.

When you understand emotions that compel your targeted buyers to act, it is easier to design your eCommerce operation to match. Customer experience, online user experience, product selection, marketing strategies and service are some of the areas in which in-depth familiarity with your “character’s” conflict can help you put together key plot elements in the evolution of your brand story.

eCommerce shaving brand Harry’s uses a simple, clean and concise website design approach to identify the people and conflict in its brand story, and then it identifies superhero qualities. On its “Our Story” features under the “About” tab, it states, “We make a high-quality shave that’s made by real guys for real guys.” In addition to the, “All designed and formulated for a quality shave,” line on the home page, this statement indicates that company wants to help men who hate to shave by eliminating poorly designed products that contribute.

Identify your superhero powers – One of the main reasons that superhero movies have become a popular genre in the last decade is that people love stories about protagonists possessing beyond-human abilities. People love a hero that can come in and save the day.

In the context of a brand story, your superhero powers are the features you provide that drive “save-the-day” benefits your customers need. In competitive eCommerce sectors, it is difficult to become more than an arbitrary option without intense evaluation of your product mix, tools, website and app experiences, services and other brand factors that distinguish you from the industry and competition. Marvel has thrived in the superhero film era with characters like Daredevil, Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and Luke Cage. While each of these characters play the role of a superhero protagonist in comic books, TV shows and movies, their particular superpowers and stories vary greatly.

Know the setting – The setting of a story includes the location in which it takes place, time and other factors that affect the experiences of the characters. As discussed, the fact that you operate in digital space is a key component of your setting. However, dig deeper to consider the construct of your website, whether to offer a mobile app and why, and how to integrate other digital communication strategies like social media and email into your story to improve connections with customers.

By understanding your setting, you can build a website, app and digital communication strategies that offer the features, navigational elements and design schemes that meet the needs of your targeted customers.

Backcountry is an outdoor equipment, gear, apparel, and accessory provider started by two friends who simply loved outdoor recreation. They created a brand aimed at offering products they wanted themselves to other outdoor enthusiasts. Their website uses amazing imagery and concepts to establish the setting in which their brand story thrives and impactful content messages about how their products fit into the story.

Create your content – Finally, when all the key plot elements are decided, it’s time to create the content of your story. In eCommerce, your website and the other digital platforms noted are primary channels through which customers engage your content.

Your website and app effectively serve as “home base,” or as the primary locations where the plot of your brand story plays out. However, blogs, social media campaigns, search engine marketing and other promotional strategies allow you to integrate key bits of your story into the customer experience. Promotional strategies are like the teaser-trailer you use to attract the audience, and social media and email marketing are primary channels through which to lay out key story items that keep the audience engaged.

As you create content, keep in mind the primary route online customers go through to get to providers, which is Google. Organic and paid search are integral to your ability to attract and retain customers. Thus, part of your storytelling should include recognition that Google is essentially a “story screener” for potential customers.


Building a great brand story is not as easy online as it often is in a physical setting. You can’t worry about factors you can’t utilize, but you most certainly can and should do the best with what you have. Like a great author sells a lot of books, eSellers must tell compelling stories that attract and retain targeted customers to sell a lot of products.

You take care of the story, we'll take care of the payments.

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