There’s no law of marketing that says a brand has to tell stories. If it’s truly opposed to narrative structures, it can stick to dishing out bullet-point lists of product features, half-baked context-free social media witticisms, and isolated factual accounts of recent company activity. “Last week, we sold 122 shoes. We have no further comments on this event.”
Any given brand can forgo storytelling, just as it can shoot itself in the foot, before shooting itself in the other foot, before taking a cartoon-style mallet and relentlessly hammering both feet until they can no longer support its weight. It can do it. It definitely shouldn’t, though.
Instead, it should take the easy foot-preserving route of yielding to expectation and just telling some stories. Stories bind us — they help us get along, exchange ideas, and learn from each other. They’re powerful and attention-grabbing, even in the rough environment of the internet. Especially in that environment, because something bright shines more prominently in the ocean of inky blackness that is the dark world of digital content.
But what story types should brands be assembling and distributing? Which tales cut through the fog and resonate with consumers most strongly? Which are the simplest to write and create content for? Here’s what I think:
Customer-led stories driven by UGC
UGC – or user-generated content – is one of the best byproducts of the rise of social media activity. Now that brands and their followers have ways of directly communicating, it’s possible for the former to accept (and even encourage the production of) relevant content from the latter. Think about reviews, testimonials, endorsements, product showcases, etc.
There are two big reasons why UGC is so valuable for brands: firstly, it allows the collection, curation, and distribution of suitable content without much in-house effort, and secondly, it’s a powerful part of earning trust. When you make a claim about your product, it invites doubt. When one of your customers makes a comparable claim, it’s much easier to believe.
And UGC is great for storytelling because it provides the meat of the story and only requires you to tie the pieces together. Here’s an example: let’s say you’re running an e-commerce business and you’ve just released a new product that you want to promote. You can say that it’s great, but, as noted, people will be skeptical. Instead, you can let your customers sell it.
Get in touch with a set of customers who’ve left positive reviews, and ask each of them to tell you about how they’ve used the product and what it means to their life. You can then assemble those comments into a broader story about your product helping people — you have the main argument, and a set of supporting events to back it up. It’s an effective tactic.
Immersive experiential stories
Technological development continues to provide new ways for brands to tell interesting stories, with VR hardware and 360-degree video leading to a surge in the creation of immersive content (content intended to give the consumer something of an idea about what it’s like to be somewhere or take part in an event, whether real or invented).
Depending on the brand, this can be highly valuable. For example, a brand that organizes an outdoor adventure (let’s say a jungle trip) can drum up interest by creating an immersive video from the POV of a participant — likely using a GoPro or similar camera. In lieu of being able to briefly try it out, it can give enough of a glimpse at the experience to lead someone to commit.
Imagine a travel company trying to sell trips to a spectacular mountain. What do you think will prove more convincing: setting out a range of glossy staged photos, or allowing an expert guide to tell a VR story about what it’s actually like to navigate that mountain?
It’s also a fantastic recruitment tool. If a brand is leading a huge recruitment drive and attending various career and trade shows, running VR day-on-the-job footage on provided headsets makes for an attention-grabbing gimmick and a conversational prompt (getting viewers to ask about what they saw in the footage).
Data-driven case studies
Emotive content doesn’t always work. If a B2B brand is trying to promote something, or a B2C brand is offering up something very expensive and business-oriented, prospective buyers will be on the lookout for facts and figures. They’ll need to justify their decisions to upper management, and something along the lines of “They told a very touching story!” won’t cut it.
To cater to this demand, brands should invest in data-driven case studies of how their products and/or services have helped clients, not just customers. Instead of relying on anecdotal comments, they should work in figures and expert testimony from relevant client staff members.
Imagine that you were offering some sort of business growth consultancy, claiming that you could help any startup get off the ground and achieve greater success. That’s a lofty claim, and it wouldn’t be enough to have someone say “Yes, it’s true, they really helped me”, because that’s a vague statement. Helped in what way specifically?
If you could create a case study telling the story of how the client business came to be, why they needed help, why they chose you, and how exactly you helped them (based on trackable performance using clearly-defined metrics), then you’d have a compelling resource to demonstrate the value of your brand to anyone interested.
— Prominic.NET (@prominic) April 12, 2019
Inspirational stories (factual or fictional)
Brands don’t always need to tell stories that directly involve their products, or even themselves. Today, it’s more important than ever before for a brand to have other characteristics — to feel like a group of dedicated individuals as opposed to a faceless corporate entity.
Authenticity is absolutely essential. To that end, putting out stories that cover inspirations — events that gave rise to the business, or people you admire — can do a lot for your image.
This is particularly important in the B2B world, where business relationships can last for years and see huge sums of money exchanged. If you’re going to invest in a long-term business partner, it isn’t only important that they can provide what you’re paying them for: you also want them to share your general beliefs and commitments, because a breakdown in communication can ruin a business relationship that’s otherwise the most logical arrangement.
Note that an inspirational story doesn’t necessarily concern a real person, set of people, business, or event. You can actually make something up — not to talk about your inspirations, but to create an inspirational character that represents your hopes for the world in general. This can also be a great way to advance your expectations for the future of your industry.
Here’s an example: if you worked in smart security using IoT devices, something that’s still relatively-scarcely adopted, you could create a story about someone living a decade from now.
In this story, you could show what you expect life to be like when people no longer need to worry about locks. Knowing roughly what you’re anticipating would help people invest in your business for the long haul (whether financially or emotionally).
Cause-centric philanthropic stories
As cynical as it may feel to explicitly acknowledge it, philanthropy is a powerful marketing tool.
Not that it ultimately matters, admittedly: whether a company is charitable out of a sense of moral obligation or a determination to bolster its reputation, the results are just as worthwhile. And telling stories about your brand’s participation in charitable efforts is great for PR.
Just one documentary piece about your involvement in a philanthropic drive can have various positive effects on how you’re perceived and how you operate:
– It can indicate that you’re doing well. Businesses struggling to make ends meet don’t have the time to commit to getting involved with charity movements. If someone sees that you’re spending reasonable amounts of time trying to help people, it will get across that your business is doing reasonably well, making you seem a safer bet.
– It can allude to your positive intentions. As noted, working with a charity doesn’t inherently make a company well-intentioned, but it is a good sign. After all, the least you can do is nothing at all, and no one will attack you for it. Even if it’s self-serving to some extent, actually doing something charitable is still laudable.
– It can build links to other organizations. In creating a story for charity work, you have great cause to reach out to other companies and organizations for comment and support. This is excellent for networking. The more you collaborate on this type of content, the more likely you’ll be to collaborate on regular business content in the future.
What’s better than sci fi games? Sci fi games for charity! Join us and a bunch of other games and streamers on May 3rd for the 24 hour SPACE DAY CHARITY STREAM, and help us raise funds for Save the Children! Read more here: https://t.co/pgoAexLHxM pic.twitter.com/uovhd0AMwi
— BATTLETECH Game (@BATTLETECH_Game) April 15, 2019
There are many more story types that could be told, but these ones, in particular, are consistently useful for modern brands looking to take advantage of the many opportunities of the online world. Of course, you still need to tick these boxes when it comes to practicality:
– Make sure your site has a blog. Mostly every all-purpose CMS will have this option, but not every e-commerce platform will so ensure you’re using something suitable like WooCommerce or Shopify (here’s a comparison). Your blog will serve as your content hub, so make sure it’s attractively presented.
– Plan a social media strategy. Spinning off from your long-form content, you can work storytelling elements into ongoing social media posts (using Planable to arrange them) by linking to stories with alluring straplines, sharing short-form narrative piecemeal, or using broad-media story features such as Instagram Stories.
– Keep an eye on competitors. Originality isn’t everything, but it’s a bad look when you start telling a story that’s similar to something a competitor is doing. Closely observe what’s going on in your industry, and find ways to be different. AdEspresso, for example, can help you spy on the competition’s Facebook ads.
Create the right stories, tell them well, and you’ll see your brand rise to new heights. It’s far from easy, but if you keep at it and keep learning, you’ll get there. Good luck!