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Chris Ashby
August 17, 2021

How to increase e-commerce conversion through storytelling

The conversion increasing power of aligning each step in your e-commerce customer journey with the hero's journey story structure.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

The Hero’s Journey is arguably the most well-known story structure used today in movies, television, fiction, and even presentations and speeches.

It speaks deeply to how we make decisions as human beings, and it translates lessons, life skills, and new experiences to us in a way that we can understand without having to experience them ourselves.

Simply put, the Hero’s Journey, mirrors the human experience, and as it does, we see ourselves mirrored through it.

So how can something so… fluffy, and ephemeral, help us to improve the conversion rate on our e-commerce website?

Simple.

Our experiences are stories as we live them. Our decisions follow the steps of a Hero’s Journey, no matter how difficult or trivial they are.

So therefore it follows, that the experience of purchasing something on your website would also follow the same pattern.

And guess what.

Through my 10 years of web design & optimisation experience I can tell you this… it does.

So how can we use this structure in practice?

Breaking down each step of your customer journey as a story

Let’s first look at each step of your e-commerce customer journey. This may not be exactly the same as yours, but for most businesses, this aligns very closely to the experience of their customers:

  • Your customer — Your ideal customer before they know you
  • Your digital marketing — The first time they see your brand or business
  • Your re-marketing or organic traffic — How you re-engage them with your product or offer
  • Your product page — Where they logically and emotionally weigh the decision of purchase
  • Your basket & checkout — Where they make the final choice to continue or abandon their purchase
  • Your product experience — The product that is delivered to your customer
  • Your post-purchase experience — How you re-engage them after their purchase, incentivise them to share, and encourage future orders

Now, let’s take each of the steps within the Hero’s Journey framework, and map them directly to each step in the customer journey:

  • Your customer — The ordinary world
  • Your digital marketing — The call to adventure & refusal of the call
  • Your re-marketing or organic traffic — Raising the stakes & stepping into the unknown world
  • Your product page — Trials, tests, and meeting the mentor
  • Your basket & checkout — Entering the innermost cave & the ordeal
  • Your product experience — The reward
  • Your post-purchase experience — Resurrection & return with the elixir

For those not familiar with the Hero’s Journey, you may not know what these mean yet, and that’s ok, because I’m going to break down each step so you know exactly how each of these works.

Along with how best to optimise each step based on the Hero’s Journey.

Step 1 — Your customer

The ordinary world

This is the first step in your customer journey, before you have even done anything, and before your customer even knows who you are.

The importance of this step is in helping us to understand who your customer is, what problem they need to be solved, and why your brand would pique their interest in the first place.

This is the most crucial point of the story, as to be able to tell a story that resonates well with our customer, we need to know what story they want to tell.

You can answer a few questions here to start to build a picture of who your customer is, and what story you can help them tell.

  • What do your ideal customers believe in?
  • What are your ideal customers looking for?
  • What problems do your ideal customers need to solve?
  • Why are you best placed to solve it? (this might give insight to some ideas you can implement further on in the story)

Remember: your customer is the hero, not you

Step 2— Your digital marketing

The call to adventure & refusal

This is the point that your customer first sees you.

For cold audiences, a lot of the time this is just about brand awareness or engagement. How can you get a cold prospect to engage with some content, or to create a visual connection with your brand in a way that aligns with something that they believe in.

Take what you know about your customer from step 1, and think about how your digital marketing can present something to your customer in a way that:

  • Aligns with a strongly held belief they have
  • Addresses a problem they are looking to solve
  • Amplifies the problem in order to prompt action

Now, I want to talk about that last step a little bit here.

You may be wondering how you can increase the conversion of your digital marketing efforts, and amplifying the pain caused by the problem can be an effective way to do that.

The thing is, there will always be people who don’t act. In fact, the vast majority will continue in denial, refusing to accept that you may be able to solve their problem.

This is ok. It is an inherently human behaviour, and an important part of the customer’s story.

The main thing you need to take from this is what you do next…

Step 3— Your re-marketing & organic traffic

Raising the stakes & stepping into the unknown world

The next part of the customer’s story is re-marketing & organic traffic.

There are 2 things your initial marketing efforts will enable you to do:

  • Remarket to those who you have captured interest from (clicks from your ad or email signups)
  • Drive more organic traffic through awareness (people searching for you at a later date)

So here’s how you do this effectively.

Take the same offer or message you used in your initial marketing, and do these things:

  • Raise the stakes of your prospect not solving the problem NOW
  • Reduce the friction of what you are offering, ie: a free trial, discount on first purchase, first month free, etc
  • Create additional value, ie: something that happens when the user purchases that they weren’t aware about

Hopefully, with that all going well, you’ve captured your prospective customers interest, made the problem seem worse for them, aligned yourself with their believes, reduced the friction for them to act, AND created additional value.

How could your prospect NOT act!

We’re not quite there yet though.

Step 4— Your product page

Trials, tests, and meeting the mentor

When your prospective customer clicks through to your website, you’ll be sending them to a product or landing page of some kind.

This is when the work really begins on the customers side. They need to make a decision if this is something that is right for them, or if they don’t need it after all.

At this point, you become the mentor for your customer as the hero. You need to be there to:

  • Answer all of their questions
  • Be clear about how exactly this solves their problems
  • Reveal any other problems this will also solve for them
  • Remove any friction that might be stopping them from taking action
  • Clearly show them the easiest and best way forward

There is a variety of ways you can achieve these on a product page or landing page including but not limited to:

  • Frequently asked questions
  • Clearly identifying delivery time and cost
  • Clearly identifying any discounts or offers that are available
  • Clearly demonstrating the benefits and details about the product through video, imagery, iconography, photography, testimonials, etc
  • Keeping the next action button front of mind at all times with a sticky button in a different colour from all other buttons
  • Keeping to 1 clear next action throughout the page

This step is about guiding your hero, the prospective customer, to making an easy decision, to purchase your product.

Think about what questions they might have, and answer them. Watch them browsing the page with tools like Full Story, and then make adjustments to improve.

Step 5— Your basket & checkout

Entering the innermost cave & the ordeal

Once your customer has added the product to their basket you then have one final hurdle to overcome.

This is the point where lots of potential customer drop out, their last chance to turn back and return to their familiar world, the place they started.

You have just three jobs here, and three jobs alone:

  • Make decision making as easy and seamless as possible by reducing cognitive load
  • Don’t raise any new objections
  • Re-iterate all of the most important information the user has seen so far, and make it ultra clear exactly what will happen once they checkout

In the Hero’s Journey this is where the mentor leaves, and the hero must overcome their biggest fear alone, at it is no different here.

You don’t need to convince them any more, you just need to get out of their way.

Show your hero lead the way, and let them lead.

Step 6— Your product experience

The reward

Congratulations! Your customer has now made their purchase, but for the story to be satisfying, and for the hero to feel empowered through their experience, they now need to return home having claimed their reward, and having changed as a person.

What this means is that your product experience MUST deliver, or even better overdeliver, on their expectations.

Make the experience with the product better than they could ever have hoped for.

There are some ways you can do this:

  • The way you update the customer before they get the product
  • How you help your customer enjoy their product
  • The experience you give your customer as they first enjoy the product
  • Any additional value you can give your customer when they receive their order

A great example of how you might do this using the example of a craft beer company might be this:

  • Regular updates about their deliver along with options to reschedule or change your delivery options
  • A printed beer tasting guide as added value in the box when your customer opens their order
  • A free bottle opener for orders over a certain value

Once you’ve cracked this, your customer will be well on their way to becoming a loyal brand advocate.

Step 7— Your post-purchase experience

Resurrection & return with the elixir

After a while, the memory of you will fade from your customer’s mind, but it doesn’t have to be this way!

The resurrection of your customer is often one of the most overlooked and crucial parts of your e-commerce customer experience which very few get right.

The aim with the resurrection and elixir is simple. You now want your customer to:

  • Become a loyal and passionate brand advocate who tells people about you
  • Return to your brand and purchase not only once more, but regularly

To this end you want to think about how you can engage your customers after they have made their purchase, in a regular and ongoing fashion that constantly adds value to their life.

Think about how you can do things like:

  • Deliver information or content to them related to the product or service they bought
  • Enable them to benefit when they tell others about you (referrals for example)
  • Give them access to events and communities where they feel part of something bigger than themselves

These things, done right, will not only keep your customer around, but increase their lifetime value, and empower them to spread the word for you.

Your customer experience as a Hero’s Journey

The customer experience of an e-commerce website couldn’t be more similar to the Hero’s Journey.

Hopefully you can see how optimising your experience for the story you want your customers to tell, can have a huge impact on your website conversion, brand advocacy, and so much more.

We exist in story, and we live our lives through stories. So it only follows that to optimise our businesses we need to create a powerful and resonant story as well.

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