How To Use Stories To Increase Value and Drive Sales

5 Value Enhancing Stories Every Business Can Tell

story to tellStories make your products special thereby increasing their monetary value. Stories set your offering apart from your competitors and near substitutes and build demand.

This is particularly critical for small businesses that need to differentiate themselves, often with no budget. As an added benefit, stories support your social media and content marketing efforts.

In their book, Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath taught us that stories make ideas tangible and memorable for your audience. Your product is no longer one of many objects, it’s got context.

Using eBay as their sales platform (as do many small businesses) Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker created the Significant Object Project to test whether adding a fictional story to a thrift store tchotchke, generally valued less than $1.00, would increase its price. Established fiction writers crafted stories about the product they were given and these pieces of fiction were used in lieu of the information presented to the buyer. The experiment yielded total sales of $3,612.51 from merchandise that cost $128.74.

The take-away from the Significant Object Project is that stories increase both the subjective and objective value of your offering.

5 Value enhancing stories every business can tell

Since most small businesses can’t attract prize-winning writers to craft content about their offering, how can you find the stories about your products and services that sets you apart?

  1. What is your business’s history? How did your business come into being? Has it always been known for your current product line?  This works well for family owned businesses such as Kiehl’s Pharmacy in New York City’s East Village. It started in 1851 as the Brunswick Apotheke and was bought in 1894 by one of their apprentice’s, John Kiehl, who changed the name. Kiehl’s expanded beyond its original shop to 30 stores including boutiques in high-end department stores around the world.
    Kiehl’s is an important example since the business was built on letting products do what they do without selling. Further, Kiehl’s is also known for its collection of vintage motorcycles on display in its stores.
    Kiehls History
  2. What’s your product’s secret ingredient? There must be something that’s core to your total offering that makes it different. For example, Dan Barber, chef of New York restaurant Blue Hill, has built his reputation based on his focus on the local ingredients go into his cooking. It’s the Blue Hill farm and how the food is raised that’s important.Blue Hill Farm
  3. Where is your business located and what’s special about the location? Are there special stories associated with the location? Is there an angle related to the location’s history? Is there a way that your business can work with the local government to help establish something bigger than just your business? For example, Smorgasburg is an extension of Brooklyn Flea Food Market where local food vendors sell their wares. They must be created from local ingredients. Here’s an example of Grady’s Cold Brew via YouTube.Smorgasburg - Brooklyn Flea Food Market
  4. What happens behind the scenes at your company? The idea is to show people how you create your product. This is a great way to get everyone in your firm involved in the process. You can do this by interviewing different members of your team or letting them tell what they think is important behind the scenes. Pretend you’re part of the film crew on Project Runway gathering the story behind how the different fashions are created.
  5. Who are the people behind your company? This can be you and your employees. What you want is their stories related to your firm. You can use a variety of approaches such as gathering input from your workers regarding why they chose to work for your firm, what attracted them to your business, or what excites them about the firm, its products or their coworkers. If you can’t find a business related hook, try finding out more about them as people. These stories make your offering personal because your employees are no longer nameless clerks or phone operators, they’re real people who connect with prospects.  Make sure that you get employees’ permission to share their stories and images. Don’t assume that everyone wants to be the face of your organization.
    You can also gather stories from your customers. This has the added value of endorsing your product in a subtle way. Lion Brand Yarn Studio does a great job of this with photos of their customers wearing the items they made using Lion Brand Yarn.Lion Brand Yarn Studio -Customer projects

 3 Ways to improve your stories

Think beyond the story to how you tell it and how it’s packaged to ensure that it has maximum impact.

  1. Tell your unique story. Your story needs to be special and have a relationship to your product to attract attention.
  2. Use a variety of content formats to make your story real. Don’t assume that people will be able to visualize your story. Therefore use text, audio, photographs and video to tell your tale. (Here’s how to use images to tell your stories (with examples!))
  3. Make your story shareable. There are two facets to this point. Keep your story easy-to-remember and retell. Don’t keep embellishing it in hopes that it will get better. If you do, people will get it mixed up like a game of telephone. The second part is to enable others to share it on social media platforms.


Understand that the goal isn’t to create the best story but rather to add value to your product offering. As Tim Washer of Cisco said at Content Marketing World 2013, “If you don’t have an interesting story, tell someone else’s story.”

What are your suggestions for using stories to increase product value and sales?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen



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