Inspirational stories refer to stories with inspirational themes, which can convey the spirit of being positive and enterprising even when facing difficulties. Compared with general stories, inspirational stories are more likely to arouse the emotional resonance of consumers. Therefore, enterprises widely use inspirational consumer stories and inspirational brand biographies to shape and spread the brand image. However, the existing research does not pay enough attention to the content dimension of inspirational stories, nor does it distinguish the differences of product types. Among the different types of inspirational stories, process inspirational stories is more common in practice. Therefore, this paper focuses on inspirational stories that emphasize the process of counter attack. It is believed that, compared with non-process inspirational stories, process inspirational stories will increase the immersion experience of consumers, making them carry out process psychological simulation spontaneously, and contrast with self-contact, strengthening their motive of self-improvement, and ultimately prompting them to prefer utilitarian products. This effect only works under a low level of cognitive load.
This paper puts forward five progressive field experiments and consumer self-report experiments to verify the above hypotheses. Study 1 carried out a real-choice field experiment in a campus. After reading inspirational stories, consumers’ choice of experimental gifts (hedonic products vs. utilitarian products) was recorded, which initially confirmed the promotion effect of process inspirational stories on utilitarian product preference. Study 2 manipulated the utilitarian features and hedonic features of the same product in a more rigorous laboratory environment, and added the baseline product as the control group, which once again confirmed that process inspirational stories prompted consumers to prefer utilitarian products. Study 3 used cross-category product selection as the dependent variable, which proved that process inspirational stories motivated consumers to prefer utilitarian products by stimulating their process psychological simulation and self-improvement motive. Study 4 used two products with different appearance and function advantages to manipulate utilitarian products and hedonic products. In the marketing scenario, it repeated the process of the influence and mechanism of inspirational stories on utilitarian product preference. Finally, study 5 manipulated the level of cognitive load, which proved that the effect of process inspirational stories on promoting utilitarian product preference was only valid under a low level of cognitive load.
The contributions of this paper are that: On the theoretical level, it distinguishes the content dimensions of inspirational stories, and relates them to utilitarian vs hedonic product preference, which promotes the theoretical research of inspirational effect and the research of antecedents of product type preference. At the same time, it discusses the mechanism of process inspirational stories affecting utilitarian product preference, which provides a new explanation perspective for how inspiration affects consumers’ product preference, and enriches the related research on existing psychological simulation theories. On the practical level, it provides strategic suggestions for enterprises to accurately use inspirational narrative marketing to enhance brand competitiveness, and also provides reference implication for shaping public social values.