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eCommerce Marketing

Sell your Story first. Then your Products.

Sell your Story first. Then your Products.

by John Larkin

John runs the blog here at eCommerceLift and is a verified Shopify Expert. Interested in an initial growth consultation? Click here

8 years ago

Sell your Story first. Then your Products.

There are many ways to run an online store. You can compete on price, but unless you’ve got massive economies of scale, then it’s pretty much a race to the bottom. You can compete on differentiation; by offering a product or combination of products that you can’t get anywhere else, but that’s a risky business plan – as soon as one of the low-price competitors get wind of the fact that this kind of market exists, then they can jump in and undercut you.

So... what is the best way to ensure you stay successful? What is the best way to reach customers, but most importantly, connect with them, and keep them coming back to your store? Well, it’s surprisingly simple. It’s not about marketing in the classic sense of the word – it’s about establishing a connection. 

Look at the world of sport. Every week games are packed to capacity across the world with passionate fans cheering on their team. Looked at objectively, there is little enough difference between say Manchester United and Liverpool. Both are based in broadly similar geographical areas, both play an attractive enough sort of football (in general, though this season Manchester United have, admittedly, been atrocious) with a smattering of world-class players combined with a collection of solid professionals. 

But say that to a fan of either side and you would be ridiculed. Fans would respond with stories about past victories and failures, about their experiences and about each club’s individual history. While the product offered by both sides is much the same, it’s the story that fans buy into.

In the ever-changing world of eCommerce, it is much the same scenario. Unless you are selling some patented, protected product; odds are that someone, somewhere, is selling a broadly similar product to the one you are. But the one thing you have that they don’t is your story. In simple eCommerce terms, one of the best ways you get this message across to the customers is via the "About Us" page on your site.

A strong "About Us" page is vital for any site, but for eCommerce retailers, it is absolutely key. Customers are always wary when shopping online, so your "About Us" page is a way to show that your company is genuine and credible. They want to know will they  receive the item they’ve purchased, so the more you tell them about the people who run your business, the better.

The always-interesting Shopify blog summed it up perfectly. "Customers want to know that they are doing business with another human being not with a computer."

Simon Simek gave one of TED’s top-rated commerce talks a few years ago. In it, he explained why customers buy the message every bit as much as they buy the product using Apple as his case study.

“If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this: ‘We make great computers. They're beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?’ That's how most marketing is done, that's how most sales are closed and that's how most of us communicate interpersonally. We say what we do, we say how we're different or how we're better and we expect some sort of a behaviour, a purchase, a vote, something like that. ‘Here's our new law firm: We have the best lawyers with the biggest clients, we always perform for our clients who do business with us.’ ‘Here's our new car: It gets great gas mileage, it has leather seats, buy our car.’ But it's uninspiring.

“Here's how Apple actually communicates. ‘Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?’

“This explains why every single person in this room is perfectly comfortable buying a computer from Apple. But we're also perfectly comfortable buying an MP3 player from Apple, or a phone from Apple, or a DVR from Apple. But, as I said before, Apple's just a computer company. There's nothing that distinguishes them structurally from any of their competitors.”

“Their competitors are all equally qualified to make all of these products. In fact, they tried. A few years ago, Gateway came out with flat screen TVs. They're eminently qualified to make flat screen TVs. They've been making flat screen monitors for years. Nobody bought one. Dell came out with MP3 players and PDAs, and they make great quality products, and they can make perfectly well-designed products - and nobody bought one. In fact, talking about it now, we can't even imagine buying an MP3 player from Dell. Why would you buy an MP3 player from a computer company? But we do it every day. 

“People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Simek’s last line might well be his most important. “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” eCommerce retailers should have this tattooed on their foreheads. This isn’t just marketing hyperbole. There is bona fide science behind it. Paul Zak is a scientist who explains it better than we ever could. Basically what he says is that Oxytocin is a chemical released in the brain when people connect with a story. Storytelling is one of the oldest crafts known to mankind and we have developed to release this chemical, Oxytocin, when we connect with a story. Long story short, the more people connect with your story, the more likely they are to spend money on your site.

So, what lessons should eCommerce retailers take into account when creating an effective “About Us” page?

Tell your story. This is the one thing that your company has that others don’t . Tell it in a creative and impactful way. Really think about what goes into it. Tell the story of how and why you created your site. 

Don’t fill the “About Us” page with meaningless corporate jargon. Don’t talk at the customer (“If you are looking for great value – you are in the right place”…). Instead, talk to the customer. Tell them about your team, your culture and what separates you from your competitors.

Back your story up with facts. Again, avoid the jargon-laden superlatives. Don’t waffle on about “excellence in customer service”. Instead, if you fulfil 99.8% of orders on time, then say that.

Don’t use it as a pitch to investors. That’s something separate altogether. The “About Us” page is your most important tool to connect with customers.  These are the people who will spread the word for you if you fulfil what they need.

Link to your company social media profiles. The “About Us” page is, like a good CV (or resume) best when it is short. If customers want to know more about your company and its culture, then they can get a greater flavour of this on your company’s social media profile.

The “About Us” page is not somewhere to stash your corporate governance policies and the like. 

Don’t try to be too clever when naming the page. An “About Us” link is just fine, or About [Your company name here] works too. The customer doesn’t want to think too hard when getting to know you. Be obvious and don’t make them look to hard to find out about you.

Get your company’s best storyteller to pitch in when creating the “About Us” page. It doesn’t necessarily have to be created by your marketing team, CEO or founder. Find the person in your organisation who tells the best stories, the one who other employees congregate around at staff parties. You want to tell the story of your company and your best storyteller could turn out to be your best asset.

See your “About Us” page as a work in progress. As your company grows, so too should your “About Us” page. If you land a major client, tell your other customers about it. If you are small, tell the customer how you can focus on them as individuals. If you are a market leader, highlight that fact.

Your “About Us” page is generally the second-most popular page on your site after the homepage. Recent studies have shown that customers who spend over 60 seconds on your “About Us” page spend 21% more money than customers who don’t read it at all. This is a massive increase. Think about it, if a company came to you and told you they could increase your sales by 21% you would bite their hand off?

A quick Google of “Best About Us” pages will lead you to lists upon lists of the most creative and innovate “About Us” pages on the web. Here at PropelAd, we don’t think there is much point in recommending the ideal “About Us” page because it’s your story. (If pushed, we might recommend something like Joe Payton’s “About Me” page). Ultimately though, it’s up to you.

You have to decide how to tell it to best showcase what your company is all about.


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