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“You talking to me?”

We’re so complex; we’re mysteries to ourselves; we’re difficult to each other. And then storytelling reminds us we’re all the same.

Brad Pitt

Good entertainment be it movies, theatre, music or even sport is storytelling. It evokes a feeling, a memory – so how can we describe storytelling? When watching a great movie, do we seriously recall the producer’s name or shoot location? Instead, we recall the story and the feeling it evokes.

This nice contribution from Nick Morgan, “connecting with another person is one of the highest forms of social being for humans. At the heart of it is good storytelling. When I’m telling you a story, and you’re engaged in it, you match your brain waves to mine. If I’m telling you a story with a familiar structure, your brain actually anticipates what I’m going to say next. The point is that that’s good for both parties. We want to be in sync with other people”.

And great retailers and leaders in our sector stand out because above all, they are storytellers, in fact, when you think of the truly iconic retail brands from Ralph Lauren to Steve Jobs to Mary Quant, to our most charismatic people – they are great storytellers and their brand DNA has all the essence and elements of a wonderful story.

They denote as all the great brands do, who they wish to invite into their tribe and who they choose to exclude. They have charisma and emotion, sizzle and substance, they understand that the feeling their customer leaves with matters more than what they may or may not purchase. Every opportunity is a clear reflection of their story, across all touchpoints.

Conversely, have some of our brands simply lost sight of their story? Perhaps they have.

Storytelling is a great way of conveying what your brand is about, of making those connections. Whether it’s telling customers where you’ve come from and what you stand for (like Liberty London), to the provenance of your products and ingredients (like Lush) or where your products can take them (like Rapha Cycle Club), storytelling is the ultimate engagement and retention tool. There are many of us who actually don’t believe in customer loyalty per se, rather we are stronger believers in customer affinity – how does this story reflect with where I want to be, what affinity do I feel and how does it resonate in how I see myself, or want to?

So how do you build your story in greater depth and impact?

As our friends at Insider Trends say, Is there a particular message you are trying to convey? Is there a cause you believe in? Is there something unique about your products or ingredients? Do you have an ethical or sustainability mission? Are customers doing or achieving interesting things with your products? Do you offer additional services or experiences to customers? Do you have a long and interesting heritage? Is there something interesting about your store designs and visual merchandising? Is there something different about your product range? Do you have a brand complete with story or are you simply showing a logo?

Recently a  study of the UK’s 100 best storytelling brands was conducted by creative agency Aesop. Looking specifically at retail brands, it is Marks & Spencer that claims the prize as the UK’s top storytelling retailer, having climbed 14 places to 20th. Now some might be surprised given the criticism of department stores not being as “relevant” as they once were.

The study asked 2,000 consumers to identify brands against 10 storytelling attributes, including authenticity, having a clear opinion and evoking an emotional response. M&S scores particularly well when it comes to emotion, with 20 per cent of respondents suggesting they have an emotional response to the retailer. (So never let size get in the way of a good story is the fable here.)

According to the study, storytelling “helps develop a sense of purpose around what the brand is for and what it stands against and that is reflected often in the attitudes of employees, which people pick up on. Internal culture built around the purpose of an organisation gives employees motivation to perform well and consumers notice that.”

So storytelling is real for both external; and internal customers. And the great retail storyteller  for the last few years running is of course Apple, who tell a story in the grandeur of their global flagships through to their product innovation – connecting customers and staff to their story.

Have you noticed that the great storytellers in retail have the consistently higher margins?

I like this summary from Lisa Mukhedkar who touches on what to consider in building a brand that tells your story.

Attract customer’s attention – a great place to start your offline storytelling is the window display. The first point of non-digital interaction of the brand with the customer comes through the window display. Window displays are a great way for the brands to create the right amount of curiosity in the customer that makes them enter the store.

Make information more memorable – storytelling is based on the idea that people remember information better when it is told as a story rather than presented with a list of facts. The higher the connect, the greater the experience.

Make people aware of your brand – storytelling helps brands achieve that iconic element of recall among the customers. Brands that immerse the customer in their story are more memorable and profitable.

Humanise the brand – storytelling gives your brand a voice and moves it away from the image of a retail entity. The personality makes the brand more human and allows the customer to connect with the brand on a more personal level.<span
Educate the customers – facts might tend to overwhelm the customer, hence imparting information through a storytelling format will help get the point across.

Engage customers – storytelling makes the customers feel a part of the brand and hence inspiring them to the next step in the retail journey becomes a natural course of progression.

Build customer affinity – storytelling helps in building a trusting relationship with the customer. The idea is to convert a customer into your brand advocate. The more brand advocates you have, the more your reach increases, which has a direct effect on the sale

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of Retail Doctor Group, retail and consumer experts  and the Australian elected member of the global retail expert’s alliance Ebeltoft Group. Brian can be contacted on (02) 9460 2882 or

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