How Ten by Three Drove Sales by Using Storytelling in Their Email Marketing

How Ten by Three drove sales with storytelling

By turning traditional sales emails into storytelling messages, Ten by Three was able to increase their open rate by more than 2x, which led to 16 initial sales.

Here’s exactly how they did it.

Do you also have a fast marketing tactic that’s delivered great results? Share it with us here.

The goal: Sell products via email marketing

Non-profit Ten by Three wanted to sell more products directly to customers (DTC). 

They sent a first email to promote their product bundles for Mother’s Day. This was a typical promotional email, with images of the product, a “sale” message, and details of the offer. However, it didn’t lead to any purchases. 

The fast marketing tactic: Turn traditional sales emails into storytelling messages

Daniel Burstein created two more emails to promote the same Mother’s Day offer, but this time by communicating the value that the products bring through storytelling.

  • The first of these emails focused on the functional value, following the Jobs to Be Done framework. It helped customers picture how to use the product and how it can help them:

Subject line: ”Gifts worthy of mom.”

I’m sure you know many moms like this – too many things lying around the house. Legos and pennies, papers and keys.

They crave order… but have kids, grandkids, busy lives. Moms tell me our handcrafted bowls and baskets are a beautiful and practical gift that also supports a worthy cause.
Now keys, loose change, hair ties, clips, bobby pins, rings, bracelets, earrings, paperclips, thumbtacks, staples, everything has its place – by the front door, in the home office, on the coffee table. […]
I’m not sure it’s only the baskets these moms enjoy. I think it’s a bit of calm and order in a hectic world. […]
  • The second email highlighted an intangible value for the user: a story to tell. It helped the recipient understand the story of the product, so they had a story to tell themselves (to friends, family, or even when they look in the mirror):

Subject line: “Mom will brag about you at the farmer’s market, book club, the pool…”

But these baskets also carry a story – a story mom can tell about you. How you found a gift worthy of mom. ‘Oh Marilyn, this isn’t just any basket, let me tell you all about it…’ So let me tell the story you can tell mom. It was 2004 when Kwame called me. Calls from Ghana were $2 a minute then, so I knew it must be big. He knew of the perfect basket. […]

To lean further into the storytelling approach, Daniel recommended that the emails were written as a letter from the non-profit’s founder. He also changed the name of the product, from a generic “Mother’s Day Bundles,” to “Empowering Embrace Collection” and “Prosperous Love Collection.“

The result: More than 2x the open rate, which led to 16 initial sales

The emails were sent in May 2023. These were the results:

  • The initial promo email had an open rate of 4.3% (7.8% of whom unsubscribed), and did not lead to any sales.
  • The two storytelling emails had an open rate of between 8.3% and 9.3% (with 0 unsubscribes), and led to 16 bundle sales within 5 days.

Why does it work?

  • Newsletter images can be blocked by email providers. A text-based storytelling approach can be one way to overcome this challenge.
  • Painting a picture of what your products will help the buyer (or gift recipient) achieve, can help you sell more products.
    As Clayton Christensen explained in his Jobs to Be Done framework, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” (i.e., people buy products to get something done).
  • Giving people a story to tell, i.e., turning the product into a “conversation piece,” is another technique that can help drive sales. People don’t always buy or do things because they want it; they sometimes do it so they have a story to tell others.

How to implement this tactic yourself

  1. Understand your limited perspective. While you have a deep understanding of the value you offer, and you know the ins and outs of how your company operates, remember that this is not the case for your customers.
  2. Create a customer-first objective. Answer the following questions to help you overcome your limited perspective:
    • How will you help the customer? Here you can use the Jobs to Be Done framework to help you define your answer(s).
    • What will you give the customer? For example, Daniel gave customers a story to tell.
    • What will you ask for in return? This can be their attention, trust, information, and, ultimately, a purchase.
  3. Write emails as a person, to a person. Avoid marketing words and euphemisms. Instead, have your ideal customer in mind, and channel the real voice of another real human being. If you want to sharpen your skills, check out our email marketing course.

Meet the specialist behind this tactic

Daniel Burstein is a Senior Director of Content and Marketing at MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute. He also helps lead the AI Guild (of which Ten by Three is a member).

Follow Daniel on LinkedIn for more insights.

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How Ten by Three Drove Sales by Using Storytelling in Their Email Marketing