An E-Lesson From Hans Christian Andersen

The link between my fellow Dane Hans Christian Andersen and the Internet might be difficult to see at first, so let me explain the parallel between his work and e-commerce.

The works of the world-renowned author, who died over 125 years ago, exemplify the keys that need to click to create an e-commerce fairy tale today. Yet the basic principles of communication practiced as a matter of course by such classic storytellers are usually ignored by today’s dot-com builders. Consequently, the conclusion to many a dot-com’s tale of struggle has been tragic.

It’s time to close the book on those unhappy endings. So let’s examine how to redirect your endeavors and achieve the happy version of fairy-tale endings.

Hans Christian Andersen’s more than 150 fairy tales featured three elements that are necessary for successful communication: consistency, access to intuition, and added value.


Consistency develops brand literacy in the minds of your customers. Define and develop your brand’s image and communication formula, and air it consistently. Your brand’s identity is dependent on how recognizable it is, so make sure the verbal and visual languages through which it communicates are firmly controlled by the image formula you develop.

Let’s think about good old Hans. You’d never be in doubt about the authorship of his fairy tales: His linguistic style is often obscured by translation, but I’m sure you’d agree with me that the plots and the characters and the moral premises that drive the tales are recognizable to you as Hans-Christian-Andersenesque.

Your exposure to such tales builds within you a literacy that allows you to recognize a fairy tale as such. Even though his fairy tales are different from one another, the ingredients that constitute them are the same, so you can identify them intuitively.

We could say that Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales stand as superb examples of consistent branding.


I’ve already alluded to this invaluable brand-building ingredient. It’s up to brand-builders to harness this human trait, and the way to do it is through consistency.

Once your brand’s identity is recognizable to the consumer, you’re on your way to enjoying the benefits of that consumer’s intuitive understanding of where your products fit into his or her life. Customers don’t need instruction manuals to comprehend your brand’s message, just as they intuitively understand Andersen’s fairy tales because they are tuned into and shaped by their culture’s universal conditioning.

This access to collective response, which transcends class, economic, and educational distinctions, is available to brand-builders. In today’s e-commerce, we call this “intuitive navigation,” a concept that most e-commerce sites have never embraced.

Added Value

Every Hans Christian Andersen story offers a well-crafted moral message. The story’s entertaining plot and familiar character types are the glue that holds fast the reader’s attention to the page. The added value is in the message, cleverly wrought within an identifiable formula.

In e-commerce terms, the capacity to intrigue and compel the reader is called “stickiness.” Your brand’s site needs stickiness — content that compels, holds the reader’s attention, and wins it back during repeat visits.

Give your readers something to take home every time they visit. Most e-commerce sites could learn a lot from this principle. They often seem to forget that the consumer invests both time and money in surfing the Web, mostly with little or no gain in return.

So, has your brand’s strategy achieved intuitive understanding among consumers? And what does the consumer gain from visiting your site? Not many sites have really got what it takes to be as sticky as one of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.

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