Feb 16, 2018

How Digital Marketers Can Tell Better Stories

by Digital Marketing Institute

Digital marketing is a multifaceted industry and while everything in the digital marketing funnel is focused on the end sale, a lot of the initial work, like content creation and social media, is really about customer engagement, customer experience, and brand awareness.

The same principles apply to digital storytelling as with traditional marketing: you want to find something that is meaningful to your audience and incorporate this into your strategy. In this blog, we look at the techniques you can use to improve your digital storytelling to increase sales.

What is a story?

Every great story is comprised of the same simple structure: a beginning, middle, and end. This is called a story arc. In the world of digital media, you have the chance to tell many stories about your brand on a daily basis in the form of Facebook posts, blogs, and through ephemeral content like Instagram Stories. But unlike an epic novel, you only have a split second to hook a reader on the story your business is trying to tell.

One of the keys to doing this, as any copywriter will be able to tell you, is to speak to a person’s “pain point” or vulnerability – you need to pique their interest early, often by striking an emotional chord which you then resolve. This is also something that you can think of as conflict or tension, and it’s evident in any great story or ad.

Once you demonstrate how you can resolve your audience’s problem or conflict, then they may proceed to liking your page, sharing your post or heading to your website to purchase a product.

This general formula works in any kind of storytelling, but the trick with digital media is that you just have less time to “catch” them.

Ads that Speak to Emotion

It’s true in most cases that the best kinds of stories make you react: they make you think deeply, they make you feel, they move you to action. Here are a few examples of recent ads or ad campaigns that use emotional storytelling successfully.

This P&G ad, “My Black is Beautiful,” shows scenes of black families discussing what it’s like to grow up with bias because of the color of a person’s skin with the hashtag #TalkAboutBias.

Burger King put out an anti-bullying campaign commercial called “Bullying Jr.” during National Bullying Prevention Month in which they featured a storyline of what kids “being bullied” really heard and felt, as well as acted out scenes in a Burger King with hidden cameras and the reactions from bystanders.

Honey Nut Cheerios put out an emotional plea for bee conservation via a video that highlighted the sorrow of climate change.

These are just a few of many examples of how marketers are using visual advertising to appeal to emotions through storytelling that touches on universal social problems, not just their product or brand.

Show Don’t Tell

If you’ve taken a writing class, you’ve probably heard this piece of advice: show don’t tell. It’s great advice that stands the test of truth no matter what area of storytelling you’re in.

With writing, it’s important to develop characters, set the scene and use techniques like metaphors to convey the deeper meaning of a story to the reader in a unique way. They want to think, they want to feel, they want to interpret. In advertising, it’s best to keep things simple and direct, but because the digital world is so heavily reliant on actual visuals, this creates endless opportunities to literally show as part of your telling.

Use Narrative Devices

Narrative devices can work wonders for getting people’s attention, stirring up emotions and generally just standing out, especially in an ad space. Incorporating fear or suspense into “live” settings (think, The Blair Witch Project) is one way to create a memorable story. Generating curiosity by creating something intriguing yet vague is another way of getting them to take a step further into your brand.

The most famous fairy tales and legends in the world are simple and are often based on the hero’s journey; a narrative device made famous by Joseph Campbell. The journey is based on a “normal” person stepping out into the unknown, facing a conflict and solving a problem that saves the world, or at least a few people in it (think, Lord of the Rings or pretty much any Marvel Comic character).

Advertisers can use the hero’s journey in the context of creating effective stories if they position the customer as someone that can relate to the “hero,” thus bestowing certain virtues on them as a result of taking action. Other aspects of this approach include mentioning an antagonist to have your customers “side” with you, as well as a specific moral of the story that they would like to support.

Simplicity Counts

There may be a lot of information that you want to pack into one ad or social story, but often it’s the most simple and direct ones that get the attention. This isn’t always as easy as it looks, however; sometimes you need to go through a storyline many times before finding the most direct approach.

Hemingway is best known for his stripped-down style: he tells it like it is, no fluff, all grit, and clear as day. He did this through careful word choice but also excellent editing. This type of brevity can count for a lot, especially in the digital sphere where you really only have a few seconds to catch someone’s attention.

Getting Up Close & Personal

Telling a story with digital marketing does require some gumption and a willingness to get close with your audience – the closer you are, the better chance you have of establishing a personal connection with them to build what will hopefully be an ongoing relationship. While some products work better than others for this in a direct sense, one very innovative social media trend that’s set to stick around is influencer marketing, which involves partnering with celebrities and other influential people who can then also help you promote your brand.

Strategies like influencer marketing can help your brand or product feel relatable. One example of a perfect influencer campaign is DJ Khaled on Snapchat. DJ Khaled has one of the biggest followings on the platform and regularly works with major brands to essentially talk about the product as much as he wants.

Another example of influencer marketing is the Loeffler Randall accessory brand, which is popular among creatives. It includes a selection of brand ambassadors and includes them in their campaign strategies, featuring them modeling accessories and shoes.

Meaning Making

When developing a brand or campaign story, the main thing is that you build a connection with your desired audience. So, you must first figure out the things that matter to them. Once you figure this out, you can tap into an emotional state that you want to create, and build a story that evokes those emotions. Ensuring authenticity through this process is becoming more and more important as consumer empowerment comes to the forefront: if it looks fake, they probably won’t buy in.

This is why social media apps like Instagram (especially their stories feature) can have such a profound effect: they offer intimate and fleeting glimpses into another world which can be embellished with cool effects like drawing and writing. They are also “discoverable,” which means that they are available to people beyond your core following.

The End (is not the End)

So, here’s the kicker about creating a great story in the shape of an ad campaign: it doesn’t have to end. By creating a series of ads that incorporates a set of mini-stories – sort of like a Netflix series – you can keep customers coming back because they want more. Of course, each “episode” has to have a different message that appeals to both new and returning visitors, but the idea is that your brand story is never really “done.” It’s your brand, and it’s evolving, and you have to evolve your strategy to keep telling this story to ensure the longevity of your business.

In this sense, digital storytelling should follow the customer journey well beyond the initial contact or purchase.That’s going to be your brand storyline, and it should be thought out in advance. Instagram/Snapchat Stories and Facebook live are perfect examples of tools anyone can use to foster trust and appreciation on a highly personal level with their customers, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Crafting a story that delights buyers requires research and focus.

Effective storytelling in digital marketing requires a certain delicacy: you need to get your message out there while being aware that people have plenty of choice about whether to “listen” to you or not, and that’s all the more reason to make it a fantastic experience for them.

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