This past January, Shopify published a report on the future of online retail that got a lot of people buzzing, especially in marketing. According to their forecast, the most important factor determining a brand’s success in e-commerce is: you guessed it, storytelling. As consumers face more choices than ever before, what they purchase is increasingly influenced by their narrative experience. In short, storytelling is everything.
“Before the Internet, all the emphasis was on manufacturing, and we evaluated companies based solely on their products,” says Open Influence CEO Eric Dahan. “Now with so many products out there, the model has completely flipped. We evaluate products based on how they’re marketed to us, how brands make us feel, and whether or not we personally identify with their stories.”
Shopify’s findings validate what influencer marketers have been saying for a long time: namely, that successful brands are those who put people at the center of their image. But what do these predictions on the growing importance of narrative mean for the future of the industry?
Storytelling, influencers and customer acquisition
Customers aren’t necessarily closing deals on social media, but social platforms play a huge role in customer acquisition. Believe it or not, audiences don’t mind seeing brands in their social feeds. In some instances, such as Pinterest, users gladly welcome branded content and consider it useful – with one caveat. The content has to belong.
If there’s a guaranteed way to lose would-be customers, it’s by bombarding their feed with interruptive ads. By contrast, brands are at their best when giving audiences what they want: visually engaging, relatable content with human moments. In influencer marketing terms, this is called narrative-based advertising.
In a narrative-based approach, content isn’t designed to tout products – it’s about eliciting powerful emotions, joining cultural conversations and reinforcing a central narrative. Your content should feel at home next to family portraits and humorous skits. In other words, if you want to stand out, you have to be able to fit in. And what better way to fit seamlessly into social feeds than with the people who understand them best: influencers.
After all, it’s influencers who have shaped the language and aesthetic of platforms like Instagram and YouTube. Most brands dipping their toes into content often look to influencers for creative guidance. And while keeping up with trends is matter of good practice, why not cut right to the source and put your products in the hands of the people who shape online behavior? With influencer marketing, brands don’t just gain visibility – they gain social relevance.
Digital Native brands lead the storytelling charge
The explosion of Digitally Native brands such as Warby Parker, Casper, and Glossier speaks to storytelling’s growing centrality. As anyone with at least one social media handle can tell you, these brands are everywhere. One thing they have in common – aside from social ubiquity – is a reliance on influencers as part of their core strategy.
It’s easy to see why. Digitally native brands have to build their image from the ground up, often entirely through the Internet. Influencers are experienced in quickly cultivating audiences around specific, niche interests. Thus, companies can fast-track the introductory phase by aligning themselves with pre-established voices and communities.
Digitally native brands frequently use influencers to demonstrate their core values. Tinder’s Adopt a Shelter Pet Day campaign showcased everyday people in fun, flirty pictures with animals in need of homes. This a great example brands aligning with creators to show, not tell. Though the content was light and fun, Tinder’s key messages – openness, passion, kindness – shined through.
Influencers make the most of micro-moments
As we’ve discussed, storytelling sits at the heart of ecommerce. But on social media, stories are told and consumed in mere moments. Instead of a Titanic-length, thinking small can lead to big results.
Google calls these brief, everyday experiences micro-moments, and influencers have been using them to engage with audiences for years. The goal is not to bombard viewers with dense talking points, but use what little time you have to illicit surprise, joy, curiosity, and other lasting emotions.
Influencer marketing is a great way to leverage micro-moments. After all, Snapchat and Instagram stories are practically built around the concept! Audiences actively seek these tiny moments of excitement from their favorite creators, which is an excellent opportunity for brands to get in on the conversation.
The story goes on
Whether you’re an established e-commerce company or a up-and-coming challenger brand, storytelling needs to be top of mind. A strong central narrative humanizes your brand and allows customers to interact with your products on an emotional level. As storytelling grows in importance, influencers will become an even bigger part of how brands find and connect with new audiences.
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