Storytelling has been around since the dawn of man. The foundations of cultures, countries and tribes are built on stories, passed down from generation to generation.
Given its inherently human roots, it is surprising that storytelling is only just becoming a marketing engagement tactic, and a buzzword across the content marketing landscape.
Content conveyor belt
Brands and agencies are churning out content at a faster rate than ever before. Content should be at the heart of a digital strategy, but saying and executing that idea are two very different things.
Brands usually have a roster of agencies working in collaboration with an in-house team. Often, communication between those parties is disconnected, meaning the content created does not perform to an optimum return on investment (ROI) nor effectively enhance the performance of the core digital channels.
As marketers, we need to get better at working towards common goals and key performance indicators, ensuring all parties understand how content works in synergy with each digital channel, and drives revenue and ROI. Only when we begin successfully measuring content, and its effect on the bottom line, can we say we have cracked content marketing.
What makes great content?
We asked this question at a conference in Dublin earlier this year. The answers were varied, from ‘unique’ and ‘engaging’ to ‘funny’ and ‘interesting’. A head of marketing may answer the question with ‘great content drives revenue’ while a creative director may say ‘award winning’. Ultimately, it depends on the opinion of the individual you ask.
And that, fellow marketers, is exactly the point. Great content is only great to the people with whom it strikes a chord.
From a brand perspective, any content needs to be on brand. It should follow brand guidelines and a certain tone of voice. But it needs to be quality content that resonates with your target audience.
If executed correctly, storytelling makes the bridge between content and audience engagement through emotional connections.
Great content should not only strike a chord with your target audience, it should go a step further and evoke emotion and cause a reaction. That reaction could be a like, share, sign up, donation, or purchase.
By weaving brand stories through content that is created or repurposed, brands are giving themselves an advantage for better engagement.
Stories are best told and communicated from human to human. One of the first steps to engaging with your target audience, and the best way to achieve that is to use the people behind your brand. More often than not, people engage with people, not brands.
Showing the people and faces behind the brand permits trust and credibility. Those are the foundations for which digital storytelling by brands should be built.
Technology and transmedia
Where stories were once told around campfires through the medium of words, song and dance, the evolution of technology put that fire out. Initially. Nowadays we spend more time looking at our phones and tablets than we do communicating face to face. But that itself is simply human evolution.
Where technology once quashed storytelling, in the same breath we can also say it reignited the flame. Videos, moving imagery, blogs, apps, games, social media, superfast broadband and WiFi: all the modern technology we know and love has created an incredibly unique platform from which we can tell stories like never before.
Stories can be told online and offline, across one device or multiple devices, or even across two devices simultaneously. Others can join in the story on social platforms, and users can even be part of the story, through interactivity.
Learning the principles of storytelling
Through its new iWonder series, the BBC has taken giant strides towards creating great, interactive content. It has combined both newly-commissioned and archive content that is rich with video, audio, text and graphics, and each story is presented by a historian.
The BBC’s example of immersion (how deep the story goes, and how many senses it stimulates) is just one of the principles of digital storytelling. Integration (with other devices and platforms) and impact (does the story inspire a reaction) are two others.
In our opinion, the most important storytelling principle is interactivity. How can you put the audience in the story, make them craft the story, or the direction it takes? Can the audience interact with the characters?
When weaving a brand story through content, these are the principles that will enable better engagement.
Applying the principles
If content is at the heart of digital marketing, and audiences are at the centre of storytelling, sewing the two together is the modern marketer’s holy grail.
The best ways to construct good story content are to let your audience shape the story, be involved in the story, immerse them both online and offline, and create a platform for actions.
Even simple videos that tell a story about your product or brand can help create authenticity and emotion, and much stronger engagement than other branded content.
Positive emotion drives positive sentiment
A regular stream of storytelling content that is seeded across the right channels, to the right audience, at the right time and on the right devices will help create positive sentiment towards a brand. Continue building those stories and a library of content, and in turn brands can help generate loyalty and brand affinity because of the emotional pulling power of the content.
Storytelling content should be immersive, interactive, integrated and impactful. This will help build higher levels of engagement. If that content ties back to your core digital channels and you can track revenue, ROI and lifetime customer value, then the first steps to conquering content marketing have been accomplished.
Storytelling has evolved since the days of the campfire, but stories are still one of the ways humans connect and converse, which makes them an invaluable tool for modern day marketing.
8 Million Stories is based in London and Edinburgh. Clients include Farfetch, lastminute.com and BBC Global News.
Marketing director & co-founder
8 Million Stories
15 Queen Street