Growing up in China, Shauna Mei's father often traveled the world for his government job. After each trip, he would bring her home a gift—and tell her the exciting story behind the purchase.
Today, she's the founder of AHAlife, a website that sources and curates products from around the world.
“For me shopping has always been inspiring, fun and about discovery,” says Mei. “A beautiful leather bag made by a family with generations of tradition from a little town in Italy drives me, versus the bag manufactured in a factory in China where they are copying the work of a designer. I like to know about what I am purchasing and cherish that information. It’s empowering to then share that story and witness how far-reaching the implications of that story can be.”
I spoke with Mei about how to sell not only a product or service, but a story behind what you're offering. Here are her tips.
Reveal the inspiration behind the work
Why did you decide to create the product? Is there a void in the market it fills? What was the "aha!" moment? Tell the consumer what sparked your passion for the product or service.
“It’s very important to hear where someone gets their start from and where the inspiration started,” says Mei. “Every time a designer comes in I ask where they are from and where they studied. It’s not just about their product. It’s what got you to the product too.”
Expose the process
If this is a labor of love, you want the consumer to love it as much as you do. Share the process of how the product was made. Take pictures and document all the processes from inspiration and creating to manufacturing, packaging and selling. Documenting the process through blogging using images and text are a great way to show the “making of” process.
“You might not think this is interesting, but people who buy for quality really care about the process,” say Mei. “Our customers care about a certain workmanship and quality with their purchases.”
Because angel investors and venture capitalists are driven by a good story (media too!), Mei quickly realized that AHAlife products with the best story sold best. The success of a rare yak scarf and shawl that sells for $1,100 on AHAlife illustrates this. It's easier to digest a higher price for an item when you understand the skill and time dedicated to creating the product or service.
“If you just saw the picture of the blankets you might not find it of interest and worth the money,” says Mei. “But if you know the story and see their age-old process [in] our audio and designs slideshow...then it becomes a product on a totally different level.”
Share what makes it exceptional
This is your chance to explain the relationship the consumer can have with the product. Why and how does the product help make the life of the consumer better? Thoroughly learn and understand the story and be prepared to share it when asked.
“These are questions the conscious consumer should already be asking,” says Mei. “This is how we have been purchasing for many generations around the world long before our economy fell into this pattern of consumption for consumption's sake. More than being environmentally and socially aware, it’s about being conscious overall."
Mei believes strongly that the packaging is just as important as the product or service itself. It was part of the thrill in receiving something from her dad after each business trip. Consider that how you present an item—from box and wrapping, to fonts and colors—contributes to the overall picture.
“You want the end consumer to feel like they are receiving a gift,” says Mei. “You want intrigue that goes beyond the product.”
Use social media to disseminate the story
Competition is steep in the online consumer-curating world. Rather than join the likes of other sites like Fab.com, RueLaLa.com, and Gilt.com, AHAlife sticks to what it does best: storytelling.
“We have gotten a tremendous amount of traction and have grown 600 percent this year while staying true to who we are,” says Mei. “We get e-mails and tweets saying that they love the story behind our products, especially our 'good karma' products because they are tied to a good cause. Then they share our stories through their social media streams."
Mei says that our culture is beginning to consume differently—and that retailers need to respond to this
“I see [AHALife] as a new media company with a 'buy' button,” says Mei. “We don’t have one-way dialogues. This is an ongoing conversation we’re having with the consumer and our readers."
Image credit: Thinkretail via flickr