Retail Storytelling: Uniting Products Under a Theme

The Night Before Christmas, The Polar Express, The Gift of the Magi, Love & Latkes.

Who doesn’t love a excellent story? Through the holidays, everyone cuddles up with our favorite seasonal stories. Now, storytelling is extending into how you merchandise, not just during the holidays, but all year long.

The media, business schools, advertising professionals — are encouraging storytelling one of the very best retail marketing strategies to engage your customers. A recent article in Forbes highlighted storytelling as a way to organize your brand and your product offerings. Stories permit one to tap into feelings that traditional category displays just can’t foster. Let’s choose the colour pink. I just walked into my local Staples and there was an entire display of pink-themed things. . .in an office supply store! It made me stop and take another look (and pick a pink or two ). The colour made a story that I immediately responded to.

What does this mean for you, the merchant? You could focus on a product’s basic features — for example, the ultra-warm down coating that can withstand temperatures of below 20 degrees, with knit cuffs to prevent cold drafts and a hood to seal in warmth. It appeals to the mind, but does this appeal to the center?

When he was composing Julius Caesar back in 1599, Shakespeare knew that touching feelings could yield a more effective reaction than logic. So, down to this coat — let’s see how it can be a story. The ability to take your pup — or lover — on a long walk through the park on a brisk winter’s day, breathe in fresh air, and stay cozy when cradling a steaming coffee. Allow the elements be damned — you’re warm and toasty! One need only examine the accomplishment of Patagonia and its to-the-ends-of-the-world adventures to learn how successful stories can be.

HubSpot has practically built a complete content silo, from courses to infographics to blog posts, on retail storytelling. We like this one, which points to the success of Apple in using stories to inform its customers about what could be a rather intricate and ironic topic: technician. Apple could point out all of its nifty technology features (which are great if your audiences were composed solely of technology geeks) or it could tell stories about what those attributes permit you to do. I had been tempted to write to Apple about my mother-in-law who, at 80 years old, got her first Mac at Christmas and set it up by herself. By morning she was zipping along. Apple could say its products are easy to use or it may tell that story. Which do you think is more memorable and impactful?

A few months ago, Macy’s obtained STORY. Using its ever-changing, magazine-like and gallery-morphing approach to retail, STORY uses themes as the foundation of all displays. Its retail place experiences a top-to-bottom re-invention every four to eight weeks so that shoppers are constantly entertained, engaged and entranced. The model also provides plenty of fodder for collaboration and brand partnerships. Regardless of the deal weren’t revealed, it appears investors see significant possibility — Macy’s share price has trended considerably higher because the announcement.

With STORY, Macy’s is positioned to group products in countless combinations and tell compelling stories. STORY points to”created and America” and”wellness” as some of its most popular themes. Here are a Few Possible themes we’ve quickly jotted down that can apply across virtually any retail business, but you can let your imagination run rampant with possibilities:

  • Materials — soft, natural, fuzzy, furry, shiny, glittery, stainless, glass
  • Artisan or designer — comprise the artist or brand story
  • Sustainability — natural, organic, recycled, environmentally friendly
  • Give-back, community, nonprofit tie-in
  • Steps to doing something — how to make a look, how to do a DIY project
  • Any holiday — think beyond the usual suspects
  • Any year — the ski trip, the beach escape, staying warm, staying cool
  • Any emotion — love, joy, excitement, laughter
  • Made in America, made with love, made locally
  • A blueprint — black & white, stripes, polka dots, animal prints
  • A color
  • A fad
  • A shape
  • A picture, play, book or meme

The storytelling concept spans all demographics, geographies and economic strata. The concept is at once both globally and tailorable to your specific audience. While Macy’s is targeting the middle-to upper-price point shopper, Five Below is effectively using storytelling throughout its discount stores by dividing them into distinct and creatively themed narrative sections, providing remarkable and ever-evolving inspiration for its aspirational shopper.









The trick is to find stories that resonate with your audience. What flies in trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or in trendy Austin, Texas, may not have exactly the same connection with shoppers in Albany, New York, or in Mobile, Alabama. What appeals to the tech jockey may not correlate with the technophobe or the soul or the harried business exec. You can tell stories that capture each character.

And as Five Below has shown, you don’t need a mega budget — storytelling can be incredibly impactful yet economical. Yes, it’s all about the series, but it’s also about the inform. Create a theme with a”story” component, and it’s up to you if you let it with retail signage design across an entire wall, on a lightboard, or written on a chalkboard.

A million stories are waiting to be told. What’s yours?

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