We love the term ‘brand storytelling.’ It perfectly represents our passion and we see it as a critical strategy for every brand that wants to successfully market itself to new customers, find investors, recruit talent, and succeed in a crowded market.
We define brand storytelling as using narrative tools to connect with customers to communicate a brand’s identity. It is especially powerful to help audiences connect with a brand’s values and personality on an emotional level. Many customers make purchase decisions based on a brands’ compatibility with their values. And a story is the perfect device to bring your values to life for a large audience.
Successful brand stories are not about the brand itself but instead feature narrative arcs that represent what the brand stands for. The most popular tools for brands to use these days are video, podcasts, and text-based content. Social media, interactive content, VR, live experiences, and any other channels can also be utilized to tell engaging brand stories.
We were excited to attend this year’s Brand Storytelling conference in person, which was cancelled due to the usual reason. We couldn’t wait to engage with our friends in the industry and learn how our colleagues are thinking about where brand storytelling will go this year.
Since we were not able to connect in person, I caught up with some of our friends individually and remotely. I still wanted to find out what brand storytellers are thinking and talking about this year, especially if they are taking on new creative projects and campaigns.
Five themes emerged from my conversations with these industry leaders.
Storytelling has a job to do
Storytelling can deliver very specific outcomes for a brand but it won’t solve every problem a business might face. The challenge for marketers is to figure out where brand storytelling fits and how it functions within their overall marketing ecosystem.
For someone like Adam Palmer, Director of Creative Production Ops at GoDaddy, telling an exceptional story is a way to draw in an audience and form a connection. He believes that the opportunity to engage audiences this way is “incredible for a brand because your messaging thrives on cutting through the clutter.”
GoDaddy’s “cutting through the clutter” way of thinking shines in their Made In America campaign which tells the stories of minority-owned small business owners across the US.
Storytelling also has the power for brands to find audiences through “specificity and distinction,” as Brad Young, VP, Digital Content and Creative at Prudential puts it. If you are telling a story, you can focus on one objective. And avoid, as Brad says, ‘trying to vaguely ‘do it all.’” And, perhaps an even more important feature of storytelling for brands is the ability to be distinct. “Distinction,” as Brad keenly observes is “your brand’s ability to tell that particular story in a way that makes it unique to you.”
What I’ve come to know is that when you tell a story and put it out in the world for an audience to enjoy, the meaning of the story is in part created by the person taking it in. It’s the fun thing about storytelling — a co-creation between the author and the recipient.
My friend, Christine Dela Rosa, Brand Lead, Ways of Working at Atlassian, reminds me of this when she tells me that “companies don’t get to dictate the meaning of a brand. Customers are the ones who react and they alone are the ones who can tell you how they feel.”
What does that mean for creators? She explains that a story needs to be evocative. “If storytelling doesn’t express emotion — doesn’t change the way audiences think, feel compelled to act or respond to situations, then the stories don’t do anything for the brand.”
Christine is part of the team that creates the Teamistry podcast in which emotion plays an important role. It talks about teams and how they work together but tells the untold stories of teams behind the scenes who joined together to do what could never be done alone.
Storytelling is replacing other ways to connect with audiences
The world of advertising continues to evolve and many marketers are catching up and realizing that the interruptive advertising model might be broken. Many consumers choose to consume content that does not feature any ad interruptions even if there’s a cost associated. This means brands have to identify how they can reach consumers at scale in the future. Storytelling will play a big part in that.
Christine agrees with me. She thinks audiences are past commercials. But, they are still willing to connect with brands. Christine points out, “We’re moving towards a future where the 30-second spot isn’t doing the heavy burden of telling your story.”
This way of thinking is indicative of a trend happening in the world of marketing: brands are more and more becoming their own media companies. This is not a new development: brands have used digital tools to directly connect with their audience since those emerged. But the emphasis on storytelling is going to be a new chapter in brands connecting with audiences directly.
This new attitude rings true for Mark Battaglia Co-Founder at Story + Strategy. He tells me that in a fractured media space, companies see value in the ‘brand as media company mindset.’ In his words, “Companies see the value in not only developing content that taps into the culture and makes meaningful connections with consumers but also in building and growing their audience.”
That last part is key. Brands that build audiences for their original content, instead of renting audiences are the future of marketing. Mark points out another feature of the ‘brand as media company mindset’: distribution. “As forward-thinking brands expand their sights to podcasts, films and editorial, they’re also getting more sophisticated in the distribution strategies they deploy.”
And, this is just the beginning. According to Mark, “This trend will only continue to grow as audiences seek out commercial-free platforms.”
Creativity Will Drive Content
Audiences are becoming increasingly aware of the value of their attention. This attention is what marketers are fighting for. In my experience algorithms might help target the right audience but only engaging and powerful storytelling can ensure that the attention is being held over a long period. Which, in turn, will lead to a deeper engagement with the brand. Great storytelling is the one true and tested way to earn and hold someone’s attention.
And thankfully, Mark backs me up on this point. He says it best:
“Over the past few years, creativity has taken a backseat to algorithms — filling a sea of content that most humans aren’t watching much less connecting with. But it’s starting to feel like what’s old is new again, with creativity getting a prime seat at the table.”
Defining the Measurements that Matter
Many brands struggle to identify what success means in brand storytelling. In a world of marketers obsessed with KPIs and metrics, we have not yet identified the right lexicon on what it means to create a successful brand storytelling campaign.
Adam from GoDaddy explains this best. If you are getting into the brand storytelling space, you should know, “Direct conversion of new customers from storytelling initiatives is likely not going to be the performance indicator to shoot for in developing and executing the vision for great storytelling.”
This is a point worth repeating. Direct and instant conversion of new customers is not the job of brand storytelling. And, not a ‘brand as media company mindset.’
How does Adam measure success in brand storytelling? Brand Affinity. “By targeting positive association and reputation as the baseline, great storytelling can be created with a clear and direct performance metric for brands.”
More and more tools will emerge over the next year or two to help us measure the effectiveness of any brand storytelling initiative. Measurement tools will help legitimize storytelling initiatives for decision-makers within large organizations.
Storytelling is about human connection and we have missed out on many of those in 2020 and 2021. Everyone we speak to agrees that we need more of that again.
Here are some insightful final thoughts:
“I hope we are on the verge of a time where we can feel relatively unencumbered when we want to capture the story of a place or an experience or a family and have it feel authentic to its actual dynamics instead of the version of itself that it has been for the last two years,” says Brad.
Adam adds: “The most exciting prospect for storytelling in my eyes is being able (fingers triple-crossed here) to attend screenings or public gatherings where some of our content shows up. Honest and real-time reactions to the storytelling content is a great learning experience and are irreplaceable in getting valuable takeaways.”
The creation of stories is a collaborative process. (Even the act of experiencing stories can be collaborative.) Being able to easily work together again in person will not only be more fun for the creators but should also lead to more exciting work over the next few years. We’ve developed a lot of tools and processes that enable remote collaboration between creators but the creative process is often better served with in-person interactions.
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