The reason all successful marketers tell stories is that consumers insist on it. Consumers are used to telling stories to themselves and telling stories to each other, and it’s just natural to buy stuff from someone who’s telling us a story.
-Seth Godin from “All Marketers Are Liars“
Last week while trying to help someone with their site in a thread on Webmaster-Talk I started thinking about how telling a good story, the right story, leads to more sales. The site in question sells lingerie and as myself, the thread starter, and several other members of the forum began the usual back and forth I began to think what I would do if the site were mine. And what I would do is sell a story about romance.
The thread starter was actually looking for answers as to why the majority of their pages were in Google’s supplemental index. I think the main reason is that there are too few links into the site for the number of pages the site has. While the discussion was going on I happened to bring up the topic of duplicate content as the site’s product pages are very thin on content hoping a single image of the product will lead to the sale.
Other members mentioned how the site itself could stand some improvement and it might be best to work on the site before worrying about the links and many of the posts began focusing on how to improve the site, particularly the content. Over the next few days I looked at a few other sites selling lingerie (I swear it was just for the research) and was left rather unimpressed with the handful of sites I visited.
Most sites seemed to be built on top of a shopping cart program. Everything was laid out in a grid, typically with a long list of menu items in the left sidebar. You click and dig deeper into the site until you wind up on a product page with the standard image of a model wearing lingerie. The content if any was present was simply product descriptions (yawn) and maybe the usual drop down options for size and color and quantity. Very standard shopping cart template and very boring.
If you can make an image of a beautiful model wearing a black teddy boring you must be doing something wrong. So how to do it right?
Sell A Story Of Romance
What I’d do is sell the story of romance. I’m sure there are a few other stories you could easily tell, but that’s the one I’m going with. You do everything you can to set a romantic mood from the moment a visitor enters the site. Soft, passionate colors. Dim the lights. No white backgrounds. Instead a smoky gray mixed with warm shades of purple or red. Make people think the site is lit with candles. Set an atmosphere of romance on every page.
Normally I’d advise against sounds playing automatically on a site, but I can hear a saxophone playing a slow, bluesy, jazz very low in the background. Maybe it’s not automatic, but there’s a button asking if you’d like to listen to the sounds of Miles Davis while you look around. Click the button and “Kind of Blue” plays off in the distance.
The writing on the site would be seductive, maybe some French or Italian dropped in here and there for effect. Lines of poetry would flow in and out everywhere. The copy would be written to appeal to the senses with language evoking taste, and touch, and scent. There would be heavy use of metaphor to create irresistible romantic imagery. Instead of being boxy the layout for the site would be caressed by curves that gracefully lead your eye from one side of the page to the other. Calls to action would tease you into visiting the next page.
The product pages would show romantic scenes, perhaps our lingerie model leading her man away from the remnants of a candlelit dinner and towards imagination. Maybe he’s reading to her from her favorite novel or they’re embracing on the couch watching a movie. The lingerie is on display in every shot and these romantic scenes could be accompanied by more standard product shots with the selection of size and color options, but the romantic imagery reigns over the page.
I’d also have a blog on the site. The blog might even be the home page and I’d hire a romance novelist to write it. Every day there would be a few pages that read like a Harlequin novel. A chapter a week and the story would continue all year and beyond. I’d promote the blog more than the store. And where appropriate within the day’s story I’d link to the lingerie for sale. Images and buttons leading to the lingerie would always be nearby, but the blog would never mention any product specifically.
I’d also have articles on the site with ideas to spark romance in relationships. Ideas to spice up a marriage that has hit a lull. Howtos on creating scented candles or the best way to draw a bath. I might even push it with articles on how to give a better massage or even what makes for the best lover.
I think a site like that would sell a lot of lingerie. You’d still make it usable and give it an easy checkout process. There would be the usual upselling and email follow ups and everything else you’ve ever learned about how run a successful retail site. But the focus of the site would be setting the atmosphere and telling a story of romance and love. Immerse every visitor to the site in that story and you’ll put them in the mood to want, or better yet desire, your product. Find a way to persuade every potential customer that your lingerie is that story and back up the story by having the lingerie deliver on the story. In buying your lingerie and interacting with your site and advice your customers would find more romance in their relationships.
The same thing will work with your site. Not necessarily that same story, but with some story that defines your services and products. Don’t base your story on a better mousetrap. Base your story on some emotional response in your target market and build every aspect of your site so it reinforces and sells that story. And most importantly don’t just make a story to make the sale. Make sure your services and products back up that story. All marketers may be liars to some degree, but make sure your in the end your services and products are telling the truth about their story.