How inspiring content can spark sales

Why did people donate to help a kid who made a cardboard game arcade? How did a game show boost the sales of IBM? Andrew Davis explains how great storytelling boosts ROI.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses.

A kid named Caine Monroy spent a summer assembling a cardboard game arcade in his dad’s used auto parts store in East Los Angeles. But nobody ever wanted to play.

One day filmmaker Nirvan Mullick dropped by to buy a car door handle, and he became so interested in the creative kid, he made a 10-minute documentary about him—and it inspired a movement.

This story, related by Tippingpoint Labs Chief Strategy Officer Andrew Davis, demonstrates the power of content. “Caine’s Arcade” had no call to action, but viewers wanted to help the boy go to college, something his family couldn’t afford. They chipped in $170,000 over 10 days, inspiring Mullick to create an Imagination Foundation to foster creativity and entrepreneurship in kids.

Organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, are telling powerful stories that drive revenue, Davis says in the Ragan Training video “Inspired PR: Howdigital storytellers move their audiences to take action.”

The key is to inspire people. Yes, even boring old businesses that nobody wants to talk about can do it, too.

“Understanding those moments of inspiration will lead to the revenue,” Davis says, adding that those are the kinds of stories journalists want to tell.

This video clip is taken from the Ragan Training session, “Inspired PR: How digital storytellers move their audiences to take action.”

Want to create content that does just that? Here are some tips from Davis:

1. Great stories drive demand.

Everybody’s fretting about what the ideal length is for a YouTube video. Thirty seconds? A minute and a half? But Davis says, “If the content is inspiring, people will watch all of it”—even movie-length videos.

He points out examples of long-form content that has created demand for products and services or inspires people to donate to nonprofits.

Consider this: Because of the show “Mad Men,” sales of Lucky Strike have spiked by 44 percent since 2007, with 10 billion cigarettes sold. That’s five times faster than the industry. After 17 years of declining sales, Canadian Club whiskey has seen a 4.3 percent growth each year during the same period.

“Every episode—70 episodes, on and on and on—has inspired people to buy crappy whiskey and terrible cigarettes that can kill us,” Davis says. “That’s amazing.”

2. Build suspense.

Suspense is anxiety about what might happen, Davis says. He cites Arnold Palmer Hospital’s video “The Tin Man,” about an infant who required open-heart surgery. “I want to know if the kid lives or dies,” he says.

If you create suspense that inspires action, you can maximize the path to purchases. If you can’t build suspense, “you probably don’t have a story that’s going to inspire demand,” Davis says.

3. Foster aspiration.

Can you create content that helps people aspire to be or do something? Sure. Even if you’re at a business-to-business organization, your target audience still has aspirations. Create content that helps people achieve those aspirations, Davis says.

Distribution centers may sound like the most boring topic possible. But AGiLE Business Media, which publishes industry magazines, created a film called “Move It!” about “how the stuff you use every day gets to you,” the movie description says.

The film is sponsored by industry partners who make fast conveyor belts and other products. It has reached a target audience of logistics types who dream about shaving minutes off distribution, saving money, and becoming the heroes of their organization, Davis says. It tells how organizations such as Amway and Amazon move their goods.

Though the movie may not thrill those who don’t work in distribution centers, it was interesting enough to be shown on Japan’s NHK television network. “People are asking ‘How do I get Amazon-type distribution over here,” Davis says.

4. Drive empathy.

In 2011, IBM wanted to become known as a service provider rather than a manufacturer, Davis says. So the people there programmed a computer to compete and win on the game show “Jeopardy!”

The subject was so interesting, PBS’s “Nova” featured it in a documentary called “The Smartest Machine on Earth.” The result was a 20 percent increase in revenue in one quarter.

IBM succeeded in part by building sympathy for the computer, which it named Watson. You marvel when the computer gets a question right, or you feel bad when it goofs up, Davis says.

“Can you empathize with the characters in your story, even if it’s a computer or a stupid medical device that no one seems to understand except for you and the guy who designed it?” he says.

5. Harness emotion.

The Danish TV show “Arvingerne,” or “The Legacy,” is about the heirs of a late artist who are feuding over her estate, Davis says.

“This content is so emotional that every Monday morning after the show airs, all of a sudden lawyers start getting calls,” he says. “It is tied so closely to emotion that consumers can relate to that they say, ‘Holy crap, I don’t want that to happen to my family.'”

At one law firm the flood of calls was so great that it had to hire more lawyers.

You can do it, too, Davis says. Ask yourself which emotion relates to the product or service you provide, and then create stories that foster that emotion.

Sign up for Ragan Training for this and other video education on cutting-edge strategies and tactics.


COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.