How To Transform Ordinary Things Into Valuable Objects By Telling Stories

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Some years ago an anthropologist and a writer teamed up on the Significant Objects project. They visited local thrift stores, buying 129 objects, each valued no more than $2.

They invited professional fiction writers to create short fictional stories about each object. For example, author Mimi Lipson wrote about a mug with the word “Halston” on the lower edge:

Halston was having a birthday party for the Dupont twins, so I glued myself together and cabbed to the Pierre to pick up Bianca ($5). She’s still mad at Victor about the sweater, but I think it’s really because she found out that he went to Mick and Jerry’s black-and-white party at Mr. Chow’s. Bianca’s [posterior] is really getting too wide to wear Halston.

Armed with stories, the experimenters sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51. The mug, bought for thirty-nine cents, went for $31.00.

Photo by Kevin Maillefer on Unsplash

Of course, the stories were revealed as fictional. Buyers received the object they purchased, along with a copy of the story.

The authors cataloged the results in detail on the website.

These stories perform alchemy. They transform whatever’s being sold into a valuable, unique object that is highly desirable — and equally hard to get.

Businesses can use stories to transform their products, services, and programs.

Unlike these writers, business owners and marketers can’t invent histories and stories about what they sell. But you can let your imagination roam freely as you focus on creating a story behind whatever you’re selling.

One man wanted to sell a pair of leather trousers on eBay. His listing went viral:

You are bidding on a mistake. I can explain these pants and why they are in my possession. I bought them many, many years ago under the spell of a woman whom I believed to have taste. She suggested I try them on. I did. She said they looked good. I wanted to have a relationship of sorts with her. I’m stupid and prone to impulsive decisions. I bought the pants.”

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Many people feel emotional about their coffee (I sure do), so you could say something like this:

“This coffee was made for meeting your friends for intimate conversations. The hearty flavor encourages you to linger over a second cup as you bond even more deeply…”

Real estate pros tell stories that allow prospective buyers to imagine themselves in the home:

“Imagine having breakfast in this sunny area near the window …and then going to your home office in this lovely room overlooking the garden, where your enthusiasm will lead you to write brilliant stories and design one-of-a-kind programs…”

I’ve even seen copy for a VIP day with a star mentor:

“You get picked up in a limo and you go to my office with a magnificent view. For lunch, we can order something special or go to one of the delightful cafes where we can sit outside all year round…”

What are the characteristics of stories that transform?

These stories aren’t just randomly put together. They’re not stories of hardship and struggle. They’re not always personal.

They inspire a certain emotion in the reader: desire, wistfulness, and even a little healthy envy.

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Photo by léa b on Unsplash

Transformational stories will get the reader to say, “I want what they’re having.”

In the case of the thrift shop objects, the reader says, “I want that unique, one-of-a-kind experience I can get. I want to hold this story in the palm of my hand.”

Once you become aware of these stories, you’ll notice them everywhere …and you can create your own, for your own products, services and programs.

Start with these 17 ways to use storytelling for your business — click here.

Originally published at on April 30, 2020.

Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time.

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