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Leadership

How To Sell A $1 Snow Globe For $59: The Real ROI Of Brand Storytelling

"Storytelling" is a hot topic in marketing these days, but can you put an actual price on a compelling brand story? The surprising tale of what happens to the value of everyday objects when you imbue them with backstory.

For over a decade, I've made a career as a marketer by leveraging the processes and techniques I learned as a filmmaker and fiction writer—the processes and techniques of narrative storytelling. I've met with executives to sell them on the idea of putting money behind brand storytelling, or the practice of capitalizing on proven narrative strategies in a business context. This includes not only consumer-facing communications, but also corporate communications. Speechwriting, public appearances, strategic partnerships, public relations, internal communications, and thought-leadership are all enhanced by good storytelling.

Mere common sense is usually all it takes to convince an executive that controlling public image—controlling the corporate story—has business advantages. And with corporate and brand storytelling as hot topics in marketing circles lately, I've found myself having to do less and less convincing. But the other day, an executive I met threw me a curveball. Going into the meeting, she already was not keen on putting money against media that wasn't directly part of a concurrent marketing campaign.

"OK. You've got my heart," she said, referring to my emotional argument for investing in storytelling. "But what about my head? Can you show me the numbers?"

The numbers? How do you measure the value of a good story? I mean, asking me to quantify an ROI on a good brand story is like asking someone to quantify the dollar value of a beautiful sunset.

"Let me work on it," I said. And here's some of the proof I came up with.

The Product-Level Value Of Story
The founders of the website Significantobjects.com, a site devoted to quantifying the bottom-line power of story at a product level, say, "Stories are such a powerful driver…that their effect on any given [product's] subjective value can be measured objectively." The website is home to an experiment that goes like this: the founders buy thrift store, garage sale, and flea market products, always cheap, no more than a couple dollars at most. Then, they hire a writer to compose a fictional story about the product, imbuing it with heritage, history, and ostensibly, value. The once-valueless products, accompanied by their new stories, are then sold auction-style on eBay. The difference between the original purchase price and story price is recorded as the objective value of that story.

The takeaway results for the first 100 products bought, storied, and then resold on eBay are poignant and telling. On average, the original product price was $1.29. But the average resale price after a story was added grew to a staggering $36.12. All in all, the experiment shows that even at a micro level, story can increase product value by a whopping 2,706 percent (or more, in the case of this snow globe).

The Brand-Level Value Of Story
Nothing makes an executive or corporate stakeholder happier than skyrocketing stock prices, and many case studies suggest that a strong brand story effort can not only increase the value of individual products and services, but also the value of companies and brands themselves. Consider the following:

On June 1, 2011, Tiffany & Co. stock closed around $72 a share. Later that month, the brand launched its "What Makes Love True" brand story effort. The microsite—where users could check in, leave a love message for their significant other, and the message and a heart would appear on a Tiffany geo-location map—was not designed to sell jewelry, per se, and didn’t feature any Tiffany products. Rather, it was created and deployed with one, specific purpose in mind: to give Tiffany & Co. "ownership" of the story of true love. Tiffany wanted to solidify true love as its brand story, and through the What Makes Love True brand storytelling effort, it succeeded. In less than a month, its stock prices were closing more than $10 higher at around $83 a share.

On an even larger scale, consider the champion of interactive brand storytelling, Burberry. Since 2008, when Burberry began to shun traditional campaign-specific tactics for brand-level, story-driven digital ones, its stock prices have risen more than 750%.

Of course, marketing isn't the only force at play when it comes to stock prices. But the effect on revenue and brand equity of conjuring consumer emotion through powerful brand stories cannot be denied. The business case is solid. All that remains is for you to tell your brand’s story.

—Duke Greenhill is an award-winning creative marketer, filmmaker and writer. He is the founder of Greenhill+Partners, a New York City boutique consultancy specializing in marketing and corporate communications strategies.

[Image: Flickr user Mark Turner]