Why Storytelling Matters in eCommerce

You’ll often hear marketers talk about ‘fluffy’ concepts like ‘making an emotional connection’ to consumers and ‘telling a brand story’. But how much do these things really matter? Does storytelling really create value?

The Significant Objects Project, does perhaps the best job of illustrating the impact a story can have on perceived value. The project was an experiment designed to test the hypothesis that “narrative transforms the insignificant into the significant.”

In short, NY Times columnist Rob Walker and author Josh Glenn bought 100 unremarkable garage sale items, and then had creative writers invent stories about the objects. The hypothesis was that these items, when paired with stories, would acquire measurable value. They tested this hypothesis by posting the items + stories on eBay.

The results were overwhelmingly conclusive. In sum, the addition of “stories” increased the value of the items by 28x on average. The objects originally cost a total of $128.74, but were sold in total for $3,612.51 on eBay when paired with stories.

Some great examples of the types of objects sold include this Missouri shotglass (bought for $1, sold for $76) and this rooster oven mitt (bought for $1, sold for $51.99).

Now, elaborate fictional stories are not always necessary. Bear with me for this thought experiment.

See the zebra bust below. How much would you be willing to pay for it?

Now imagine I told you:

“Layers of upcycled cement bags were covered with vintage French book pages to create this handmade, papier mache zebra head. If you look closely at the white stripes you will be able to see pieces of a story.”

Now how much would you be willing to pay? How much does just a little bit of storytelling matter to you?

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