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Let's tell a story; the influence of storytelling on purchase intention of a brand's products.

A literature review by:

Niek Bults

  VU University Amsterdam-  Academic Knowledge & Skills 2016

DRAFT

Introduction

As long as we know, people are telling stories. Stories have always been a culturally important way to keep history, to teach and to entertain (Gilliam et al. 2014). People has always been inspired and fascinated by stories and stories are easier to be memorized than facts. Storytelling engages and keeps together listeners (Lundqvist et al, 2013). This literature review sheds light on storytelling not as a cultural phenomenon but as a way to engage and influence customers by brands.

Well-told brand stories tend to have the potential to influence a customer's brand experience (Lundqvist, 2013). Brand experience is conceptualised as sensations, cognitions, feelings and behavioural responses stimulated by brand-related stimuli that is part of a brand's design, identity, packaging, communication, and environment (Brakus et al, 2009). Khan et al (2015) states that storytelling is one of 11 variables on brand experience. The storytelling variable has a direct influence on the brand experience, which has influence on the customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, describing storytelling as; “storytelling communicates the brand values to consumers and creates an emotional intensity”. Customers who are exposed to the brand's story, seems to talk more about the brand, and act more lively when they talk about the brand. The story caused high quality expectations of the brand (Lundqvist et al. 2013).

Much is written about the effects of storytelling on brand experience, customer experience and brand loyalty, but there is no evidence that good storytelling really have a positive influence on the purchase intention of the brands' products by customers. Therefore, the research question of this paper is described as:

Research question:

Does good storytelling enhance the purchase intention of a brand's product by customers?

This literature review is divided into sub questions. The sub questions are formulated as:

Sub questions:

Why should brands use storytelling?

How to define good storytelling?

What is purchase intention and how is it measured?

Why should brands use storytelling?

As long as history tells, people are telling stories. Stories play an important role in coffee talks to speeches from presidents (Gilliam et al. 2014). The memory of humans is story based. Information is indexed, stored and retrieved as stories. A story is useful because listeners or viewers can link many touch points of a story to their own lives or to others that cause unconditional or conditional awareness and emotional connection to in the minds or the viewers or listeners (Schank, 1999). It is in the nature of people that they love to believe in stories and myths. In the consumer's stories of life, brands also play a significant role. Stories help to create experiences that are appealing the customers dreams and emotions. They are stored in memory in various ways; emotionally, factually and visually. Hereby, it is with great certainty that consumers will remember the stories (Lundqvist et al, 2013).

Research in advertising revealed that advertisements which have storytelling in it, increase the positive emotions, and thereby people feel warm and upbeat. Storytelling helps a consumer understand what the brand's benefits are and ensures that consumers analyze less critical and have less negative thoughts then regular advertisements (Escalas, 2004). They catch the consumer's interests and convince them by narrative transportation. Also, stories are more easily to remember than facts (Lundqvist et al, 2013).  Storytelling provides a framework for human to map experiences and give those experiences meaning. (Shankar et al. 2001)

Good brand stories tend to have the potential to influence a customer's' brand experience (Lundqvist et al, 2013). Brand experience is conceptualised as sensations, cognitions, feelings and behavioural responses stimulated by brand-related stimuli that is part of a brand's design, identity, packaging, communication, and environment (Brakus et al, 2009). Storytelling creates expectations which influence the evaluations of a brand. Without being recognized as commercial, stories can transfuse positive features of services or goods (Lundqvist et al, 2013).

How to define good storytelling?

The best brands are story-based brands (Papadatos, 2006). But stories can be written in various ways. This leads me to the question; How to define good storytelling?

Paradatos (2006) tells that stories need to be comprised of a theme, the moral of the story, and a plot, which conveys the theme. The theme is comprised of three core elements; hardship, reciprocity and defining moments; ‘hardship', which is the journey to overcome obstacles which is necessary to the feeling of rewardance, ‘reciprocity', which is fair value exchange, and ‘defining moments', which refers to moments that change life, moments of truth.

A plot contains four core elements; anticipation, crisis, help along the way, and the achieved goal. Anticipation is defined as a start of the story with a sense of hope for the future. Crisis is defined as a conflict, rather an unexpected, life changing event. ‘Help along the way' is defined as help in the form of miracles both major and minor, and ‘the goal achieved' is defined as the end of the story, which ended properly and successful (Lundqvist et al. 2013).

Brand stories simulate narratives and classical fairy-tales and should answer the kind of questions as; when, where, what, with the help of what, who, how and why (Shankar et al. 2001). Stories often include action, a message, a conflict or a make a point which can be valued positively or negatively by the audience. A story does not need to be based on real-life events. As long as people can relate to, they enjoy fairytales and made-up stories. Often, someone has got a problem and by innovation and  persistence of a hero, as a company or person, a remedy is found what solves the problem. Brand stories need to be implemented well and credible to be a success. The people who are exposed to the story should be able to identify with the characters of the story and the story has to be positive about the brand. There should be only one message in a story and the story should be able to summarize in one or two sentences (Lundqvist et al. 2013).

Woodside et al. (2008) describes scale items of six proportions as a measuring degree for good storytelling. These items appear in quotes. A scale of 5 points applies on each of the six proportions, ranging it from 1, not at all, to 5, very much. The story is presenting a leading character who is engaging in actions to achieve goals:

“To what extent do these thoughts consist of actors engaged in actions to achieve goals” - The story tells about the thoughts, which are conscious or/and unconscious  of the leading character and other characters.

“To what extent do these thoughts let you know what a characters are thinking and feeling?” - The story tells how the life of the leading character changes or how the life of the leading character personal evolves.

“To what extent do these thoughts provide you with insight about the personal evolution or change in the life of a character?” - The story tells how events take place, where the leading character is involved.

“To what extent do these thoughts explain why things happen, that is, what caused things to happen?” - The story has an incident which is a crisis or a turning point where the leading character is involved. The story contains a beginning and a resolution.

“To what extent do these thoughts have a well-delineated beginning (initial event), middle (crisis or turning point), and ending (conclusion)?” - The story presents the leading character in a clear situation.

“To what extent do these thoughts focus on specific, particular events rather than generalizations or abstractions?”

These six proportions are in line with what Shankar et al. (2001) describes about how brand stories should answer the questions; when, where, what, with the help of what, who, how and why.

What is purchase intention and how is it measured?

Purchase intention is described by Spears et al. (2004) as “the conscious plan of an individual to endeavor to purchase a brand.”  Intentions are different as attitudes; intentions are an individual's conscious motivation to doing a specific behaviour, where attitudes are just summary evaluations. Purchase intention can be measured by first giving the instruction: “please describe your overall feelings about the advertisement you just saw”, and then asking with an item scale of  ‘definitely not buy it / definitely buy it'. More options in scale items are possible but the one mentioned above is the strongest (Spears et al. 2004).

Conclusions Literature Review

From the answer on the first sub question, we can conclude that storytelling enhances the degree in which people memorize the brand. It helps a consumer understand the brand and will increase the positive emotions with a the brand and enhances the brand experience of a consumer. Storytelling will also raise expectations of a brand.

From the information given at the second sub question, we can conclude that brand stories should answer questions as: when, where, what, with the help of what, who, how and why (Shankar et al. 2001). A story does not have to be based on a real event, as long as people can relate to the story. A good story can be measured in six proportions, formulated as questions. On each question a scale applies from 1 till 5, with 1 as ‘not at all' and 5 as ‘very much' (Woodside et al. 2008). These questions are in line with the theory of Shankar et al. (2001), as mentioned above.

According to Spears et al. (2004) purchase intention can be described as; “the conscious plan of an individual to endeavor to purchase a brand.” Purchase intention after advertising can be measured with a scale item of “definitely not buy it / definitely buy it”.

Further research

Although all the sub questions are answered, the main research question is still open. Further research has to be conducted to answer the research question. Based on the answers of the sub questions, a hypothesis can be composed:

H1: Good brand storytelling, scoring high on all the 6 proportions by Woodside et al. (2008) enhances the purchase intention of a brand's product.

To find out if the level of good-storytelling matters, research need to be conducted in stories to a lesser extent than with the all the 6 proportions. Research can be done with a story where only 3 of the 6 proportions has influence. For this research, the first 3 proportions were selected, calling it ‘Mediate storytelling'. Therefore two hypotheses can be composed:

H2a: Mediate storytelling, scoring high on the first 3 of the six proportions by Woodside et al. (2008), enhances the purchase intention of a brand's product.

H2b: Mediate storytelling, scoring high on the first 3 of the six proportions by Woodside et al. (2008), enhances the purchase intention of a brand's product less than good brand storytelling, scoring high on all the 6 proportions by Woodside et al. (2008).

To visualize these hypotheses, a model is been made. (fig. 1)

Fig. 1.

References

Brakus, J. J., Schmitt, B. H., & Zarantonello, L. (2009). Brand experience: what is it? How is it measured? Does it affect loyalty?. Journal of marketing,73(3), 52-68.

Chi, H. K., Yeh, H. R., & Yang, Y. T. (2009). The impact of brand awareness on consumer purchase intention: The mediating effect of perceived quality and brand loyalty. Journal of International Management Studies, 4(1), 135-144.

Escalas, J. E. (2004). Imagine yourself in the product: Mental simulation, narrative transportation, and persuasion. Journal of advertising, 33(2), 37-48.

Gilliam, D. A., Flaherty, K. E., & Rayburn, S. W. (2014). The dimensions of storytelling by retail salespeople. The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 24(2), 231-241.

Khan, I., & Rahman, Z. (2015). Brand experience anatomy in retailing: An interpretive structural modeling approach. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 24, 60-69.

Lundqvist, A., Liljander, V., Gummerus, J., & Van Riel, A. (2013). The impact of storytelling on the consumer brand experience: The case of a firm-originated story. The Journal of Brand Management, 20(4), 283-297.

Papadatos, C. (2006). The art of storytelling: how loyalty marketers can build emotional connections to their brands. Journal of Consumer Marketing,23(7), 382-384.

Schank, R. C. (1999). Dynamic memory revisited. Cambridge University Press.

Shankar, A., Elliott, R., & Goulding, C. (2001). Understanding consumption: Contributions from a narrative perspective. Journal of Marketing Management, 17(3-4), 429-453.

Spears, N., & Singh, S. N. (2004). Measuring attitude toward the brand and purchase intentions. Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising, 26(2), 53-66.

Woodside, A. G., Sood, S., & Miller, K. E. (2008). When consumers and brands talk: Storytelling theory and research in psychology and marketing.Psychology & Marketing, 25(2), 97-145.

Woodside, A. G. (2010). Brand‐consumer storytelling theory and research: Introduction to a Psychology & Marketing special issue. Psychology & Marketing, 27(6), 531-540.

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