Storytelling May Be Your Company’s Biggest Asset

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A few years ago, Rob Walker and Josh Glenn led an interesting experiment to prove that stories had the ability to “transform insignificant objects into significant ones.”

The curators bought a group of items from thrift stores and garage sales and assigned writers to create a story associated with each item. The objects were placed for sale on eBay, and the difference between the pre- and postpurchase prices were measured. The result? $128.74 worth of junk sold for $3,612.51. That’s a 2,804 percent increase in value.

This experiment affirms that perception of value is highly subjective, but if you have a young child with a favorite toy or have in your possession a family heirloom, you will understand that objects as generic as a plate or $10 baseball can be considered priceless.

If you’re looking for more recent academic proof that great stories lead to better sales, a study published in the Journal of Brand Managementshowed that people who were aware of a company’s brand story were willing to pay more for its products and also considered brand reputation more positively. This is great news, but for brands a large part of the challenge starts with recognizing what stories can be told.

Here are three sources for inspiration.

• Your story: There is a belief that smaller, niche brands have better brand stories. Think of craft beer companies vs. large breweries. Or stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods vs. large warehouse retailers. This assumption is partly due to the fact that everyone loves to cheer for the underdog, but it is also the result of the needs for smaller brands to differentiate themselves in the market–often on a small budget. The truth is, however, that all brands have stories to tell. All brand ideas have to start somewhere, with someone, and made possible by a committed group of people.

• Their story: Capturing consumer stories is a valuable exercise for any company and has become a common way for brands to engage with their customers. At Saatchi & Saatchi, we collect stories about brands that people love on Lovemarks.comIn my most recent book, I share how The Ritz-Carlton uses stories to inspire and inform its people. In meetings referred to as the “Line Up,” staff come together to share learnings from their day. These stories inspire and spark new ideas for service. Some have even become the basis for their advertising campaigns.

• Our story: The story of “us” is most inspiring and one that generates immediate buzz for brands. It’s what drives trending, Likes, hashtags, and viral videos. Oreo is one company that has successfully used this approach. Whether it is the release of “The Great Gatsby,” a blackout at the Super Bowl, or the debate on gay marriage, Oreo places itself in the wider social conversation. Our collective experience draws us into the moment, and brands that are able to participate in the “now” will remain top of mind.

Brian Sheehan, author of “Loveworks: How the world’s top marketers make emotional connections to win in the marketplace,” is associate professor of advertising at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University. Previously he was with Saatchi & Saatchi for 25 years, with CEO roles at Team One Advertising in Los Angeles and at Saatchi & Saatchi Australia and Japan.