We’ve reached an enlightened age in content marketing. You’ve likely heard this statement repeated ad nauseum: “Content is king.” But can content and storytelling actually help your company’s bottom line? Absolutely.

76X ROI on a Used Shot Glass

Researchers Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn created SignificantObjects.com as a way to show the value of storytelling. They acquired several random inexpensive knick-knacks from eBay actions — averaging $1.50 per purchase. They had writers create heartfelt stories about these tchotchkes: items such as a butter dish, a porcelain miniature and a mini jar of mayonnaise.

Altogether, the $128.74 investment yielded $3,612.51 when re-sold with the stories. By adding an intriguing story, a simple Missouri shot glass purchased for $1 sold for $76. Here’s part of the tale:

See that freaky little bird? That’s the state bird, my friend. The Missouri Hunt-and-Pecker. Never heard of ’em? Well, then I guess you’ve never been to Missouri, have you? Maybe passed through, didn’t get out of the car. Or changed planes in the airport, or went up in the Arch once, just to say you’d done it. But that’s not Missouri to me. St. Louis is the gateway, sure, but you want to know Missouri you need to drive a few hours into the corn, you want to visit St. Joseph, up through Maryville — skirt the Iowa border, though Iowa’s a sore point from where I sit. You need to get lost in Missouri or you never really were there in the first place. Even then you won’t be likely to meet the Hunt-and-Pecker unless you circulate a manuscript or two.

Having an effective storytelling strategy may not always generate quick conversions, but it can illustrate why a consumer should invest in your product instead of a competitor’s. In this case, storytelling added massive return on objects originally valued at a pittance.

Let Your Fans Talk

Coca-Cola openly wants its customers telling its story. The #ShareACoke campaign, where Coca-Cola printed names on its cans and bottles and asked customers to share the story on social media, has been a massive hit.

At one point in summer 2014, Coke saw sales growth greater than 30 percent. According to the American Marketing Association, the campaign drove a 28 percent lift in customers in 2014, compared to the same time frame in 2013.

“Share a Coke gave the brand a new way to do something we’ve done for almost 129 years: connect people… our bottles and cans became a special part of people’s most memorable moments last year,” Jennifer Healan, group director of integrated marketing content for Coca-Cola North America, said in a corporate blog post. “Whether they were hanging out with friends, with their family on vacation or at a wedding, they personalized these moments and made them even more special with Coca-Cola.”

The campaign was so successful that it’s back, now with famous song lyrics.

Coca-Cola didn’t need a superstar or expensive marketing team telling its story — its customers were more than happy to do that for them.

Know the Focus (It’s Not Always You)

Some of the biggest brands in the world have embraced the power of storytelling. Nike’s executives are also known as corporate storytellers, and it shows when you watch any of the athletic giant’s ads.Instead of having athletes such as Kobe Bryant simply model the newest kicks, the players star in what feels like a short film.

This was most apparent this basketball season, when Nike told the story of the retiring Los Angeles Laker embracing his role as villain.

While Nike is prominently featured, the swoosh takes a back seat to Kobe and his band of haters. The ad has been seen more than 6.6 million times on YouTube and more than 11 million times from Nike’s official Facebook pages.

Nike uses its considerable platform to put endorsed athletes and weekend warriors in the spotlight. The story isn’t always about Nike, but the amazing people who wear the products.

This is an important thing to keep in mind when composing a storytelling campaign — putting your brand front and center isn’t the main purpose.

Adapt to the Situation

Proper storytelling — whether that’s generating your own brand story or embracing influencers to sing your praises — is a powerful top-of-funnel awareness tactic. It can generate the levels of engagement for which most companies would pay handsomely.

Take, for instance, the intriguing case of Kohl’s and the Chewbacca Mask Mom. Last month, Texas mom Candace Payne took to Facebook Live to share the joy of her purchase of a realistic Chewbacca mask from Kohl’s. The four-minute video went viral, becoming the most-viewed Facebook Live video ever (154 million views and counting) and earning Payne a visit to Facebook headquarters.

Kohl’s capitalized, surprising Payne with gift cards and sharing her story. A response video by Kohl’s has more than 33 million views on Facebook.

As a result, Kohl’s quickly sold out of the Chewbacca mask online. Kohl’s, which struggled in Q1 this year, received a huge marketing and sales boost simply by contributing to Payne’s feel-good story.

Today’s customers are smarter than ever and can see right through a self-serving advertisement. However, by telling an entertaining story, you can endear yourself to customers and turn fans into influencers.


About the Author

Justin Lafferty is the founder and CEO of On Base Marketing and the former editor of SocialTimes. Follow him on Twitter: @JLafferty21 and @OnBaseMarketing.

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