With the massive transformation of how people do their shopping, retailers have found themselves in a crowded and hyper-competitive environment. They have to compete not only with fellow retailers but with multiple sales channels, the ultimate convenience rendered by Amazon-like ecommerce behemoths, and customers’ shorter attention span.

Retailers are realizing that in addition to such must-haves as fast delivery, helpful customer support or friendly shop assistants, personalized offers, easy checkout, and optimized web stores, they need to add some spice to turn their experiences into something memorable and truly outstanding, making people come for more.

Here’s how brand storytelling superimposed on innovations and personalization has become an indispensable element able to make a difference for retailers and their customers. However, this time, it’s not a ‘once upon a time’ story where brands tell how they turn out to be the best of the best, hoping for customers to pick them out of an array of unfamiliar names. Instead, customers’ problems and values become a part of the retailer’s story.

Why stories are a thing for retail

When people get access to huge marketplaces, they can’t help shopping there, at least from time to time—they can find virtually everything and get it the same day or overnight. With time, however, they get frustrated when spending hours scrolling endlessly or making frequent returns as images and descriptions don’t match the real product. Then they start thinking about the environmental impact, equality and fairness principles pursued by the company. Finally, they feel that their values and priorities don’t align with this kind of shopping so they start looking for alternatives.

Out of the noise of one-size-fits-all marketing full of ‘scientific’ facts, promises of beauty and miraculous outcomes, customers hear stories best of all. A coherent and inspirational story that taps into the customer’s heart and mind and focuses on problems they experience makes it easier to remember the brand, find personal associations, check for similar values, and crave becoming a part of the brand community. As a result, strong bonds with the company and its story make it harder to divert from the favorite brand because of a single attractive offer from another shop.

How to get started with retail storytelling

Storytelling is a skill that should be constantly mastered, so the brand story can’t be crafted overnight—it’s the result of a number of steps taken.

Go omnichannel

To provide the foundation for the story and make it consistent everywhere, retailers need to connect all the channels where they can engage with customers. To solve the task of connecting both online and offline channels, retail businesses should rely on retail software solutions. They will help meet customers where they are and share uniform brand stories across such essential channels as brick-and-mortar stores, websites, mobile apps, and social media accounts. This way, customers won’t have a feeling that each channel is a separate company division but a part of the same universe, with the same rules, access to the same data, and, of course, the same storyline.

Create a problem-based narrative

To understand what your story is going to be about, it’s necessary to think whether there’s a cause you believe in and what value you can bring to that cause with your brand. It can be anything from supporting local initiatives or using local raw materials to providing best-in-class quality or pursuing a zero-waste approach. Whatever difference you can make for your customers, turn it into your story. Don’t pursue magnificent yet fake narratives—they will inspire neither you nor your customers. 

When you start telling your story, make sure to reflect how your products or services can help your customers to overcome challenges, get new skills, or find joy, how they can change the world around them, and what they get or change when they choose your brand. It’s not easy to stir powerful emotions but something that makes people smile, cry, get motivated, or inspired is a way to go with your narrative. 

A brand in the spotlight: The Welder Catherine

The Welder Catherine is a Moscow-based coffee roaster. Prior to establishing the company, its team members roasted all kinds of coffee, worked as baristas, participated and won in championships, and helped start production in different countries and cities. At some point, they understood that they had enough knowledge and experience to continue on their own. But they didn’t want to be a part of the repeating narrative in the specialty coffee field where everyone works with coffee varieties from the best plantations, roast them with the best technologies, and pursue unique approaches and philosophy. Instead, they just wanted to make coffee they liked.

As a result, they don’t hunt for the best plantations but travel around the world and get acquainted with farmers with family-based businesses. They taste coffee and if they like it, they purchase it and name coffee after the farmers to show how they value their suppliers.

The Welder Catherine team treat people as the most important part of the entire production and make friends with all the farmers they work with, from Columbia to Rwanda. What’s more, their philosophy of being guided by their own taste lets them constantly experiment with their coffee, both on their own small plantation in Columbia and by collaborating with other small businesses in Moscow. Such passion and dedication of The Welder Catherine’s team are contagious, making people return for more. 

Engage in social commerce

Social media is one of the best places to tell your story, provide a look behind the scenes to humanize the brand, and make your customers a part of the narrative by encouraging them to share their experiences. However, while curating content for different social media accounts, make sure to deliver messages coherent with your brand’s narrative. Your text, images, videos, or podcasts should make customers feel they participate in an ongoing conversation even if they communicate with you via different channels. This way, it’s possible to turn your social media followers into a loyal community.

A brand in the spotlight: Oatly

Oatly, a Swedish oat drink company, is a rock star of the social commerce game. They take their cause of making the world a more sustainable place very seriously, but they are never serious about their means, be it social media posts, ads, or their packaging.

Whatever they talk about, from their production of sustainable and plant-based milk alternatives to outrageous attempts of the EU to ban the milk-like packaging and descriptions for plant-based alternatives, it’s always full of good vibes and unapologetic fun. They try to embrace any feedback they get, discuss it generously online, and even print some not-so-pleasant comments on their packages.

Within its Je Ne Sais Quoi of the Month grant project, Oatly shares exciting stories where it celebrates amazing initiatives by professionals who are trying to make a contribution to protecting their local communities and the world—everything from tiny sustainable houses to socks that celebrate Nigerian and African culture. 

What’s your story?

While we all live during unprecedented times, retailers are among those who felt it the most. They had already been struggling before but the pandemic made them completely change their ways. While technologies help retailers connect with their customers, storytelling can make brands’ voice heard among thousands of other shops, inviting customers to follow.