Storytelling capital and good storytelling

ph: amirali mirhashemian (Unsplash)

Not necessarily does one lead to the other.

Due to curious circumstances this summer I found myself wearing the luxury customer hat, and pay visit to two jewellery stores (let’s call them Big Luxury Brand A and Little Local Jeweller B).

Big Luxury Brand A is 150 years old and counting, with a pedigree of iconic pieces and celebrity customers. High were my expectations about how this wealth of history would play out on the shop floor. Instead, it ended up being the typical SOBO (see online, buy offline) experience: I entered looking for a specific item I had already searched online, I came back a second time to try it on, and I left with my purchase. The sales associates never mentioned the brand; nor was any detail provided about the piece I was interested in. I was left alone in figuring out the magic of the brand I was buying into. In fact, I was left out of it.

I relied on Little Local Jeweller B to have some family jewels revamped. I visited the store a couple times to discuss  options, and to pick the items up at job completed. The sales associates would bring up stories about past cases of jewellery revamps: broken engagements, marriages, family losses, and a few funny cases of restyling and up-cycling. I was taught how to weight economic investment and emotional value. And I learnt about the resilience of jewellery to trends, people, and changes in their personal circumstances. There is always a second life for jewels.

Now, which experience do you think I am most likely to share? Is it my luxury purchase at Big Luxury Brand A or the stories I heard from Little Local Jeweller B? I am comparing oranges to apples, you say?

Certainly the two cases are different. Companies like Big Luxury Brand A are usually blessed with the ideal storytelling capital: they have an impressive history, success stories, compelling anecdotes to tell. Equally important, they can count on a vast, keen audience to validate their brand narratives. On the flip side, their retail network is so vast that is difficult for them to monitor and assess storytelling at the granular level of the in-store experience. Businesses like Little Local Jeweller B, on the opposite, have direct control over a smaller team of sales associates and first-hand understanding of the floor, but they generally lack an evocative brand to celebrate, or a grandiose past to refer to. They focus on commercial transactions, building their reputation customer by customer, interaction by interaction.

My point is: no matter what your storytelling capital is, never miss the opportunity to implement good storytelling in the customer journey. Here are the 3 attributes of good storytelling

  • Good storytelling is empathic

Storytelling is not about sharing contents, or providing plenty of information. Storytelling links products and brands to human experience, and creates a shortcut to the customers’ emotions. Good storytelling is about growing an empathic reaction in your audience. A study [here] by neuroeconomics expert Paul J. Zack shows that human-scale storytelling stimulates oxytocin synthesis, which in turn generates trust and engagement. In store, we need to start from our customers: as human beings, where do they come from, and where they are headed to? What interests them? Information about the reason for the their visit, or any other verbal/non-verbal reaction to icebreakers, provides us with a valid red thread to weave an engaging storytelling.

  •  Good storytelling is interactive 

There is no script for the perfect storytelling. There might be certain information the sales associates want to include (the inspiration behind the latest collection, or updates about the brand/company). Storytelling, however, is mostly a freestyle exercise: it has an impromptu character, and it is unique to every single in-store interaction. It originates from an item on display, the weather, a casual remark, and it unfolds as the customer journey unfolds. A good storyteller masters the art of purposeful improvisation, and balances the planned and unplanned aspects of the storytelling process.

  •  Good storytelling is contagious 

In ancient societies, storytelling was the activity that would keep the community safe and together. Through storytelling people would access the secrets of the universe, learn how to interpret the Gods’ feelings, and educate themselves to be good members of the society. To be really effective, storytelling relied on repeated sharing, from one member of the community to the other. The best in-store storytelling is the one that makes the customer leave the store thinking: “I can’t wait to tell my friends about it”. In selecting anecdotes and information, ask yourself what would trigger your audience to re-tell your story.

Countless studies have demonstrated the benefits of storytelling for business. Accumulating storytelling capital certainly helps. But most of all, make sure to be(come) a good storyteller.