The rise of e-commerce has made the buying and selling of products and merchandise easier than ever, but the proliferation of choices in an increasingly crowded marketplace poses an immense challenge for companies. “Customers have a lot of distractions,” says Richelle Parham, the chief marketing officer of eBay North America. “… It’s important to build strong contact strategies.”
Stories, says Parham in this eye-opening film, are essential for establishing those contacts.
A recent literary and anthropological experiment called Significant Objects illustrates Parham’s point vividly. For the project, objects of little intrinsic value—a wood-handled whisk, a crudely carved figurine, a numbered ceramic tile—were offered for sale on eBay accompanied not by a conventional description of the merchandise, but by a fictional narrative centered around those objects, all of which leapt in value astronomically during the bidding process. Buyers, in essence, were paying not just for the object itself, but also for the story that accompanied it.
The 10-minute film was produced in association with a Future of Storytelling conference — and there are even “discussion questions” to go with it! You know you’ve made it when you inspire discussion question, right? So here you go:
What emerging technologies are most significantly influencing the way buyers and sellers interact online, and the way e-commerce companies observe and interpret those interactions?
Successful e-commerce marketing is as much about listening to customers’ stories—told through their buying and browsing habits, for example—as it is about conveying a company’s story to the customer. What are the most effective strategies for finding and listening to customers’ stories?
To what extent is character-driven narrative storytelling, literary or otherwise, becoming an integral part of e-commerce and product marketing?
Stories, things, and other matters relevant to the book and literary/economic online experiment, Significant Objects.
Significant Objects, a literary and anthropological experiment whose first two phases ran from July 2009 through October 2010, demonstrated that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively.
The project auctioned off thrift-store objects via eBay; for item descriptions, short stories purpose-written by over 200 contributing writers, including Meg Cabot, William Gibson, Ben Greenman, Sheila Heti, Neil LaBute, Jonathan Lethem, Tom McCarthy, Lydia Millet, Jenny Offill, Bruce Sterling, Scarlett Thomas, and Colson Whitehead, were substituted.
The objects, purchased for $1.25 apiece on average, sold for nearly $8,000.00 in total. (Proceeds were distributed to the contributors, and to nonprofit creative writing organizations.)
Most recently, a book collection of some of our finest stories has been published by Fantagraphics.