Be Romantic To Make The Sale

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.

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  1. Nice point about the story. But it is just one of the ways to solicit emotional response from the visitors. Another is focus on the benefits, answer the hottest burning question of the customer and suggest solutions.

    Mind Valley managed to put into words what I’ve been thinking for a while:

  2. Absolutely Yuri. I’m not saying this is the only story the site could tell. It’s the story I would choose to tell, but there are certainly others.

    I agree you should focus on benefits, but I wouldn’t say benefits are the story. They’re part of the story and a part that will ideally help persuade visitors to convert, but I think the story is really larger than benefits your products and services offer. Benefits should be seen in the context of the story you are trying to tell.

    A different story would call for highlighting different benefits.

    Thanks for the links. There’s some really good information in them and I’d encourage everyone to take a look.

  3. Of course. A story and the benefits are two different ways of capturing the attention of the visitor. Sometimes, you can tie them together (if the situation from the story describes benefits, for example), but mostly, these are just two different ways to make a sale.

  4. Hi Steven,

    What a great idea. One of the first things that should be done before designing a website is creating “personas” to resemble the complex personality types of the site visitors. These persona are then used when designing the different elements of the site, general navigation, and copy.

    So, for a site that sells lingerie, some of the personas might be

    – John, 27 year old, hopeless romantic who is visiting the site to buy something for his girlfriend. John is not too familiar with different sizes of lingerie but he sure knows what looks good. So, he will need a little help in choosing the right item for his girlfriend.

    – Sarah is 37 year old mid level successful executive who is looking for something to make her sexy. She bought lingerie before, she is looking for something specific. She wants to see this years fashions and what is hip and hot.

    We usually develop between 3 to 7 personas for a site based on marketing data. The trick next is to develop stories, copy and design that will appeal to each of these personas.

  5. Wow, great post. I would add that writing skills need to be superb. The story needs to be tight – mix setting an environment with making the story progress. Every sentence has to engage the reader or else they’ll get bored.

    You could even experiment with video – create mini films to tell your story.

  6. Yuri, I think your story and benefits work together. I don’t think it’s an either or proposition. I’d see a story more like an overall strategy and listing benefits as a tactic within that overall strategy. The story you tell will let you know which benefits your visitors are interested in.

    Thanks Khalid and you’re exactly right about creating personas first. I think your personas would lead you into what story you should be telling. John and Sarah would want to be told two different stories within one overall story of romance.

    Funny you mention John needing help shopping. I was thinking the same thing while writing this post, but didn’t include some of my thoughts. I was thinking someone like John would appreciate an easy to use help and support system. Maybe even testimonials from Tom, Dick, and Harry about how easy the site made it to find the right size.

    Thanks Nathania. I agree this would take some expert writing skills. It’s why I thought you might hire a romance novelist for the blog. The sales pages would take some quality writing too. I think the idea of adding video would be great for something like. I’m wondering how mini films would work for the product shots.

    Of course everything I described in this post would be pretty complex and take quite some time to implement, but I think if there’s a good enough story to lead, you’d be able to little by little craft this kind of site.

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