The Art of Storytelling in Digital Marketing
There once was a girl, who met a boy. She really liked this boy and things were getting serious between them. This girl also had a dog though, and he was pretty mean to the boy. It put strain on their relationship. Also, they got around in a Subaru. Who wants one?
The above is the stripped down plot of a 2018 Subaru Crosstrek commercial. While being incredibly simple at its core, this story evokes powerful feelings around both humans and their relationships with each other, as well as their animal friends. And like many stories, the feelings come through in the details.
You feel the eagerness of a partner wanting to connect with this furry figure as he talks to him desperately in ‘dog voice’. You laugh as the dog sits still, refusing to chase a ball thrown by the outsider. You see hesitancy in the eyes of a girl, who doubts whether the two will ever get along. This roller coaster of relatable emotions culminates to a point of resolution at the end when duo becomes trio. It’s storytelling at its simplest and storytelling at its finest.
A method of communication as old as man itself, storytelling is alive, well, and needed more than ever among digital marketers. Faster and more numerous methods for communication among audiences has led to a resurgence in the power of stories to connect and persuade. And unsurprisingly so considering how regularly feeds are filled with recipe video remakes and memes.
There’s a lot of clutter from brands marketing to audiences nonstop—60% of marketers report creating at least one piece of content every day in fact. This results in competition but also opportunity for developing meaningful content that’ll break through the noise.
A story can be told in any number of ways and brands should consider how the online world has impacted information consumption in order to better shape content effectiveness. Consider a more traditional story arc, for example, that moves from inciting incident through rising action, climax to falling action and finally resolution. Stories translated for digital are up against short attention spans and the aforementioned competition. They don’t always have time—whether through video or link preview—to fully develop past three seconds.
Storyline development also becomes dependent upon the channel through which your brand is telling a story, because how a person interacts with video content on YouTube may be different than how they interact with it on Instagram. You have multiple formats to consider with varying times to develop your hook and sinker.
What’s important is not to fall into the trap of assuming that with less time to work with, less time should be devoted to substance. The desire for intelligent content among your audience is out there more than the desire for poor content masked in channel ‘best practices’.
Regardless of what channel a story takes shape on, the elements behind what makes it impactful remain the same. At their core, stories give people something to remember. Subaru could’ve saved themselves some time and simply told audiences, “Your car will be there along the way as you build your family, whatever it may look like. Make sure it’s a Subaru.” That message isn’t as powerful, however, without all of the feelings that came about in watching relationships unfold during road trip adventures. Packaging imagery around a car with relatable scenarios people can tie back to their own lives is what builds an acknowledgement of Subaru as more than just a company selling cars.
The building blocks of any good story come down to the emotions and tangibility evoked by them. And in building content around those characteristics from the ground up, you’re more likely to establish genuine relationships with viewers and see long term success from your content efforts.
Humor truly is infectious, which can also translate to shareable in the digital world. It distracts, it makes people feel good, and can bring life to companies selling for even the dullest of subject matters. Take State Farm for instance. They conveyed the idea of quality insurance service at any hour of the day through the lens of a wife suspecting her husband of cheating. The ‘Jake from State Farm’ content was again a simple idea made memorable through comedy and character.
Establishing a sense of heart through strength and determination are surefire ways to connect with audiences. After all, feelings of inadequacy, of the odds being stacked against you are all too common. Embracing those and letting them play out to produce messages of hope and resilience remain with viewers long after a piece of content has finished.
This piece, called The Dancer, is a perfect example of a brand using story as the driver behind establishing themselves as more than just the product or service they sell.
Some of the most effective digital stories told by brands are the ones that make you think. They make you change the way you had felt about something, about what you once thought to be true without maybe even knowing it. Always built their content for ‘Like a Girl’ around the idea that using seemingly harmless phrases in passing can be detrimental to how a young woman grows up to perceive herself.
Storytelling through digital channels is a transformation of timeless methods for modern marketing efforts. It’s a way of digging deep into what a brand stands for and connecting as humans to what truly motivates an audience beyond sales goals alone. Using emotions as fuel, brands can generate better quality content that is sure to deliver greater results if they take the time to watch, learn, and listen.
Kevin Bugielski is the Marketing Manager for Victory Lap, a purpose-driven startup changing the sales game. Avid Snapchatter, SoulCycle lover, newfound runner, but ultimately, a foodie.