Ever heard of the Significant Objects project?
It was a social experiment that took place a few years back. A group of writers got together to answer a simple question.
“Can an interesting story about a simple object make it more valuable?”
Being writers, their belief was YES. That any old object could be made more valuable by giving it a story.
But they were more than writers — they were scientists. At least, they wanted to answer this question scientifically.
So, they conducted a little experiment.
100 writers came together to participate.
The people running the experiment went to thrift stores and garage sales. They picked up strange or unique objects — they spent a couple bucks max per item.
Each participating writer got an object.
They then wrote a fictional story about that object. They choose the style, they choose the voice. They just write about the object.
Then — and here’s the fun part — they put the object for sale in an eBay auction.
Instead of the normal factual description, they put the story in the listing. They actually made sure that the listing makes it clear that the story is fictional — made up. Down to the detail that they included the author’s byline with the story.
They weren’t trying to trick people. They were simply putting the made-up story about this object next to the object.
Whoever won the auction got the object — plus a printout of the object’s fictional story.
The writer got any net proceeds from the auction.
I’ll include some examples below, but first, I want to talk about the BIG results of the study.
They turned $128.74 worth of thrift store junk into $3,612.51 in eBay auction revenue!
That’s more than $28 back for every $1 they spent on buying these objects.
All as a result of tying a story to the object.
These weren’t even copywriters. They weren’t even necessarily trying to SELL the object. They were simply making up stories about the objects.
What did they discover?
By giving the objects “significance” through story, they had significantly boosted the value attached to the object.
The same objects, in a thrift store or garage sale setting, were worth $128.74.
Tied to a unique and interesting story, they were worth $3,612.51.
Of course, they weren’t the first to discover it…
— A while back I wrote about the Trader Joe’s catalog. About how I actually really enjoy reading it — sitting down and reading through a grocery catalog. About how their STORIES will actually compel me to drive across town and buy something that I could get an equivalent of, for a comparable price, at the closest grocery store a mile or two away.
— If you’re a student of direct marketing at all, you also know J. Peterman. He built a catalog business by making up interesting stories about unique clothing, accessories, and other items. For example, you can go to his website today and see “The Counterfeit Mailbag,” a bag inspired by one he supposedly got from a retired mailman, who “was kind enough to test it out on the tree-lined streets of small towns everywhere.”
— And that leather bag reminded me of the Saddleback Leather Company — run by another master storyteller. Stories about leather, making leather items, and using leather items in all sorts of unique places pack the website. I spent hours reading, out of interest, long before I was a customer. Now, their $49 Bifold Wallet Small is the last I’ll ever own. It even has a “Story” tab on the product page. Even their guarantee is a story: “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”
— And of course there’s Joe Sugarman, who found a simple (and very cheap) pair of sunglasses with a story attached to them, and proceeded to sell over 20 million pairs by mail order… As one of many in a string of direct marketing success driven by story.
— What about Woot? Ever heard of it? They started with one deal, every day, on some kind of merchandise they’d bought a lot of from some manufacturer who’d been trying to get rid of it. What made them unique — and so successful — is that every day’s sale had a snarky short story that was obviously made up attached to the item. I’ve often visited their site just to read the stories. And what’s that worth? Well, they sold for $110 million to Amazon in 2010, and have only grown since then.
What made the Significant Objects project so interesting is how they scientifically documented the power of using stories to sell…
They bought objects, and tracked the prices they had to pay with no story. Then, they created the story, and sold the same object again.
And made $28 bucks with the stories, for every $1 spent without.
— How about the tiny jar of mayonnaise, originally gotten FREE, that was sold for $51 on eBay? All with a crazy story about running into somebody who might be a little off on a subway ride, on 1 hour of sleep.
— And then there’s the monkey puppet — nothing but a monkey puppet — but the story says it was Franz Kafka’s, inspired a story that was never published — and that turned a $2.99 monkey puppet into a $47.20 treasure.
Don’t click any of those links unless you’re prepared to be consumed as you browse around the site. You may discover…
— The baseball-designed Grandpa mug, bought for $1, sold for $15.50…
— The $1 ugly jar of marbles, sold for $50…
— The 99-cent Utah snow globe that sold for $59…
— The $1.99 piggy bank, sold for $15.50…
— The $1 meat tenderizer that fetched $29 at auction…
And so on. On and on. Strange, simple objects. “Junk.” Made fascinating — and valuable — by the stories that came with them.
There was one big “flaw” in this test, but it’s really not that much of a flaw at all…
From what I can tell, there was one important aspect of this project that might make you question the results.
They were doing this experiment “in public.”
Which means that as the auction was running, I believe they were also posting updates to the website.
This created followers. This created fans. This put extra attention on the auctions, that they may not have gotten if posted blind.
While that may disprove the value of any one item, I’d argue that it actually bolsters the case for the power of story.
Why were people interested?
Why were people following the project?
Why did people go back, day after day, to check what new auction they’d launched, with what item and what story?
Simple: the Significant Objects project itself was a story…
It was a story the reader was involved in.
Not only was the value of the objects themselves boosted by the story told in the eBay auction listing… It was further increased by the fact that the Significant Objects project had an interesting “brand” story (for lack of a better term).
The folks running the Significant Objects project created a narrative that attracted folks to what they were doing.
Plus, each product had a narrative in itself — fictional, of course, but a narrative nonetheless.
Together, these created a situation so many who’ve succeeded with story selling know well — an ever-growing group of followers who are willing to pay premium prices for whatever it is you’re offering to them.
Monday I’ll be making an important announcement about my upcoming Story Selling Master Class.
Reading this, you’ve seen how injecting story into an object can make it worth 28X as much — if not a whole lot more.
Obviously story is a powerful selling tool.
But do you know how to use story intentionally, in the best possible way, to get the most out of every selling situation?
There are actually 3 pillars of highly effective story selling.
There are a dozen specific story types and templates that can be used in selling.
There are principles and strategies behind great story selling, that you will never get when you learn about story telling.
I’m going to be doing a ton of FREE content leading up to the launch of this, above and beyond these daily emails.
But… You MUST sign up for the Story Selling Master Class wait list here to get the extra content.
Do it before Monday, because I have an important announcement that will only go to the wait list!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,