What is digital storytelling? Is it just a new phrase for branding, or is it a totally new way of working within marketing? If you’re creating your content or marketing strategy, you should absolutely be thinking about digital storytelling, but we wanted to offer some ideas for marketers.
Some of marketers might not know the reason why digital storytelling matters, how to get started with a digital strategy, and take a look at some great examples of real-life digital storytelling.
What is digital storytelling?
Digital storytelling is the sophisticated method of explaining the ‘core principles’ of your brand in a way that’s creative, engaging and memorable. In every marketing strategy and plan, you’ll have listed out your core selling points, your business objectives and your tone of voice, ideal customer persona, and an idea of where your customers reside when they are online.
Digital storytelling takes all of these threads and ties them together, requiring marketers to work like advertisers, coming up with digital stories with a real narrative that helps prospective customers see all of these ‘features’ of your brand in a way that feels natural and likeable. It’s absolutely a tall order, but brands that get it right reap the benefits.
Instead of listing products and brands with benefits, marketers are being tasked with making brands seem almost human – with their own personalities and clear markers of what they stand for.
What is a good brand story?
A great brand will be digital storytelling and make it look easy. The hard part of any branding exercise is cutting through the noise of any competitor with a brand story. Some brands do it perfectly, and whilst you might think it’s just about longevity, there are plenty of different angles.
TOMS shoes, for example, sell their story based on their charitable principles.
Partnerships bring automotive brands like Mercedes into fashion week, and partnerships between MAC and YouTube beauty vloggers saw limited edition lipsticks selling out in days with customers raving about the story of their favourite personalities designing their own lipstick, fitting in perfectly with MAC’s ethos of ‘all ages, all races, all sexes’.
Super Bowl ads are renowned in America for being a peak time for adverts that capture the imagination, and when you think of Guinness, most of us will think of some of the iconic adverts we’ve seen in years gone by.
According to the Drum survey, Hovis has been identified as the UK’s most authentic brand polling just under 50% of the votes (47%). In 1973 the ‘Boy on the bike’ ad directed by Ridley Scott became a much-loved campaign and the brand has remained a trusted, UK favourite.
Your brand will be the protagonist, and your story has to have your company representing a positive influence or resolution.
You need to draw some kind of emotion from your audience. Whether its sympathy, humour, envy, sadness – the aim is to create emotional memories about your product. However, it’s not as simple as claiming that your company cares about a cause.
Authenticity is absolutely key and the story you tell needs to speak a truth to the brand it is representing and the audience it’s speaking to. If you are hunting for a charitable angle, but your reason for being in business is profit’s for shareholders, it might not stick.
Great brand storytelling doesn’t have to be virtuous. You could talk about heritage, your audience and experiences or how you make people feel.
Is digital story telling limited by platform?
A story can be told in many ways, through images, words, video, audio – so digital storytelling from a brand perspective could be anywhere and everywhere.
Smart brands will be using pod-casts to reach out to customers, whilst engaging with influencers and paid partnerships on social channels, whilst adverts, billboards and product design all continue to tell the story.
Example: Kenco Coffee Gangs
Kenco Coffee vs Gangs is an online documentary series following the people at the heart of a 12- month project by Kenco helping to develop coffee farming in Honduras, the murder capital of the world, known to be rife with gang crime, murder & illegal drugs.
The programme aims to develop the next-generation of farmers through training, tools and business schools.
Authenticity is a key part of digital storytelling. The Coffee vs. Gangs project is part of the ‘Coffee Made Happy’ programme, which will see a $200 million investment in 1 million coffee farming entrepreneurs by 2020. Kenco was also the first coffee brand to gain accreditation from the Rainforest Alliance.
Kenco launched with a website https://www.coffeevsgangs.com/ and a TV campaign that featured edgy imagery not associated with the typical ‘coffee stories’ out there.
They had associated imagery on banner adverts, social media and sponsored content in The Telegraph. Their packaging also explained the story and the premise, whilst digital banners were used across partnership sites such as Coffee Supplies Direct – informing views that they believe great quality comes from caring about the people that care for the bean.
Why is digital storytelling better than a marketing campaign?
Digital storytelling can be and should be part of a wider campaign –but the phrasing of digital storytelling is key to use when you sell in the concept into your organisation.
Instead of a one of campaign – you want to be honing in on the real reason your brand exists and to start creating and expressing stories that help people see what our brand is all about.
Stories work better than facts because they are proven to work on a scientific level to attract attention. Research indicates that the human brain responds to the descriptive power of stories in deeply affecting ways, influencing both the sensory and motor cortex with something that is called neural coupling.
Do people have an interest in digital storytelling?
The Brand Storytelling Report 2015, commissioned by content marketing agency Headstream, revealed that while the call for storytelling is strong, 85 per cent of the 2,000 adults surveyed couldn’t give an example of a memorable story told by a brand.
More than half (53 per cent) would be perfectly happy to read or view a brand-sponsored story and 30 per cent will do so even though they prefer un-sponsored stories. Only one in twelve (8 per cent) refuse to read sponsored stories.
Steve Sponder, managing director of Headstream, said: “Sponsored content through channels such as paid social and native advertising has been a massive growth area in recent years.’’
What are the challenges around digital storytelling?
The challenges of digital story telling lay in the ability to cut through the noise and also capture people’s attention.
Smart marketers will be looking at ways to use striking images and video to speak to people with urgency. The average human processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and video marketing trends have seen changes to ‘mini content’ and mini ads that play before people can skip to the main event.
What brands are great at digital story telling?
According to The Drum M&S, is top of the supermarket charts when it comes to storytelling, with a new partnership that’s put it up 14 places in a recent survey as to the most popular brands. By using Paddington Bear to front its Christmas campaign has been identified as a brand that 20% of UK consumers have an emotional response to – more than Cancer Research (17%) and Oxfam (16%).
In this year’s brand storytelling survey from The Drum, it was also interesting to note that consumers aged 65+ have voted, arguably, the most interesting (and certainly most eclectic) top 10.
Uber in fourth rubs shoulders with Dyson in third and National Trust in fifth while Help for Heroes takes the top spot taking almost half of the votes (49%). The BBC, Jack Daniels, BMW, Macmillan, Labour and the British Heart Foundation complete the line-up.
The brands are not all heart wrenching, funny, charitable or even known for their ethics! However, they have certainly told stories.
Jack Daniels looks to their heritage to calmly, coolly sell their whisky, whilst the BBC’s unique and diverse Christmas adverts captured the hearts of audiences across social media. Dyson meanwhile is known for telling the story of innovation and simplicity – something that fellows in the top 10, BMW do the opposite of, with a strategy of telling a story that their vehicles bring adventure and performance.
How to use storytelling in your online content marketing strategy to engage prospective customers
If you’re ready to undertake digital storytelling, then start to build a brand strategy that positions your business in a way that can live in the public social consciousness- and once you have your angle, tell the story across all media, using PR, social, influencers, affiliates and all digital channels to put together a tone of voice, imagery and ‘nods’ to the story.
When it comes to media partnerships, influencer work and celebrity collaborations, pick the people and places where your story can thrive. When Porsche had a new vehicle, it turned to The Economist as a partner.
Whilst The Guardian might have had a similar wealth demographic, the brand alignment would have been off kilter. Survey your target audience before you make any quick moves.
In summary, digital storytelling is the ideal way to build long-lasting, successful gains for your brand and discovering the core, fundamental elements of your brand and what stories this could reveal should be on any marketer’s agenda.