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Retail Storytelling: Unifying Products under a Theme

The Night Before Christmas, The Polar Express and The Gift of the Magi are all part of The Night Before Christmas. Love & Latkes is also included. __S.2__ Everyone loves to curl up with their favorite holiday stories during the holidays. The concept of storytelling extends to merchandise.

Marketing gurus, business schools, and media all promote storytelling as one of your most effective retail marketing strategies for engaging customers. A recent article in Forbes emphasized storytelling as a way of organizing your brand and product offerings. Stories can help you tap into emotions that traditional category displays simply cannot. Let’s look at the color pink. Just recently, I walked into my local Staples to find an entire display of pink-themed products…in an office supply shop! I stopped to take another look and picked up a few pinks. It created a story I immediately responded to.

This is what it means for you, the retailer. You can focus on the product’s core features. For example, the down coat, which can withstand temperatures below 20 degrees. It also has knit cuffs to keep cold drafts out and a hood that seals in warmth. While it may appeal to the head, does it appeal to your heart?

Shakespeare understood that emotions can trigger stronger reactions than logic, even when he was writing Julius Caesarback 1599. Let’s get back to the down jacket. We will see how it can become a story. It’s the ability to take your dog (or lover) on a long, brisk walk through the park on winter’s day. You can also enjoy fresh air and keep warm while sipping on hot coffee. You’ll be warm and toasty, no matter what the weather. To see the effectiveness of stories, one only has to look at Patagonia’s success and its adventures around the world.

HubSpot has almost built an entire content platform, including courses, infographics, blog posts and blogs on retail storytelling. This one is a great example of Apple’s success in using stories to inform customers about technology, which can be quite complex and dry. Apple could list all its tech features (which would make sense if your audience was primarily tech geeks), or it could tell stories about the things these features allow you to do. Apple was once tempting me to write about my 80-year-old mother-in law. She had purchased her first Mac at Christmas, and set it up herself. She was cruising along by morning. Apple could claim its products are simple to use, or it could tell the story. Which one do you believe is more memorable?

STORY was acquired by Macy’s a few months back. STORY’s magazine-like, gallery-morphing retail approach uses themes as its foundation. Every four to eight weeks, the retail space is redesigned from top to bottom. This ensures that customers are always entertained, engaged, and enthralled. This model is also a great opportunity for brand partnerships and collaboration. Although the terms of the deal are not known, investors seem to see great potential. Macy’s share prices have trended significantly higher since the announcement.

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Macy’s has STORY to help them group products in many different ways and tell compelling stories. STORY identifies “made in America” and “wellness as its most popular themes. These are just a few of the potential themes that we quickly identified. They can be applied to virtually every retail sector. But you have unlimited possibilities.

  • Materials: Soft, natural, fuzzy and furry. Shiny, glittery, stainless steel.
  • Designer or artist – tell the brand or artist’s story
  • Sustainability – Natural, organic, recycled and environmentally friendly
  • Don’t forget to give back, help the community and tie in with a nonprofit
  • How to make a look and how to do DIY projects.
  • Holidays – Think beyond the obvious suspects
  • Any season, whether it’s the ski trip or the beach getaway. Staying warm or cool is possible in any season.
  • Any emotion, romance, joy or excitement, including laughter.
  • Made in America, with love, locally made
  • A pattern is black and white, stripes, dots, polka dots or animal prints
  • A color
  • Trend
  • A shape
  • Movie, play, book, or meme

This storytelling concept is applicable to all demographics, geographies, and economic strata. This concept is both universal and adaptable to your audience. Macy’s targets the upper-priced shopper. Five Below uses storytelling to sell its discount stores. They divide them into creative story sections that are distinct and distinctive. This provides remarkable inspiration for the aspirational shopper.

Finding stories that resonate with your audience is the key. The same story that resonates in hip Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Austin, Texas may not be the same for shoppers in Mobile, Alabama or Albany, New York. The tech-savvy business executive, technophobe, or creative spirit may not be attracted to what appeals to them. Stories can be told that appeal to each person.

Five Below has proven that storytelling doesn’t require a huge budget. It can be extremely impactful and yet affordable. It’s not just about the show. But it’s also about how it is told. You can create a theme and a story component. It’s up to the you whether you tell it on retail signage, on a lightboard or on a chalkboard.

There are a million stories waiting to be told. Your story is waiting.

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