Whether you work in the marketing department or not, you’ve probably heard more industry experts and brands focused on storytelling.
Brand storytelling has been around for years and you probably have numerous companies in your mind right now that tell great stories that often reflect their mission or brand values.
However, digital storytelling is something marketing and organizations should be focused on more than ever before. The way buyers and audiences consume information has changed and people are cutting through the digital noise much faster.
Mostly due to social media, the bygone Mad Men days of advertising and traditional marketing have evolved drastically. And this digital shift can present some challenges for marketing and branding teams today.
But there is also a unique opportunity for companies in all industries to now connect with the world via a focus on digital storytelling.
- What Does Digital Storytelling Mean?
- Why Marketing Needs Digital Storytelling
- How to Build Great Digital Stories
What Does Digital Storytelling Mean?
If we want to go with the “traditional” and formal definition, digital storytelling is about how everyday people use digital tools to create and show a narrative of their workplace experience.
These digital stories combine various communications and marketing elements to create a compelling narrative.
This is the modern form of brand storytelling. Stories about your brand attract your target audience and get customers attention.
With brand storytelling you use specific narratives that make your brand more interesting, personable, and showcase what your brand values most. But digital sharing is the key and is the foundation to good storytelling.
Originally, digital storytelling was mostly in reference to film-making. However, this has evolved to represent marketing, advertising and promotion by companies and marketing teams.
You should value digital storytelling as a consistently impactful way to reach audiences via the internet whether through social media, digital ads, websites, video platforms, mobile, etc.
Why Marketing Needs Digital Storytelling
Branding and marketing should always have some purpose, mission, and story. That is certainly not a groundbreaking concept or at least it should not be surprising to anyone in those fields. However, marketing often neglects the power of storytelling beyond the brand aspect.
The power of storytelling is its ability to share a relatable human experience on social media and thus cut through all the noise of inauthentic advertisement.
Paid ads often convey some story, but seldom exhibit strong employee experience. Blog posts and other forms of content should be focused on storytelling as well.
While marketing teams will be active in all of these categories, it’s the content of that marketing material where storytelling plays a bigger role. Here’s why.
Marketing jargon doesn’t connect
The standard and obvious copywriting in marketing just doesn’t connect with audiences like it used to. When digital grew even further, people became inundated with information and ads. This has trained our brains to quickly breeze by and tune out what reads as bland and generic.
The mid-century Mad Men style slogan is still ubiquitous (and arguably necessary depending on the medium) but comes off as specious, faceless, and is never sufficient anymore.
And so being creative and sincere about a narrative by creating a story behind the content, and going beyond standard marketing will stick out and catch our attention as relevant.
Tell your target audience the story of the problem your product or services solves. While these values and mission can be global and vast (and at times abstract), they are often best communicated with a very specific subject and the story they have to share.
Empathy is winning in marketing
In the context of digital marketing, empathy means you are putting yourself in the shoes of your target audience and customers.
Rather than pushing for a direct sale in any marketing initiatives, you are creating value first by considering the needs of the audience.
Digital empathy recasts the golden rule: no longer can marketers say with confidence “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” rather as Dr. Helen Fischer puts it now: “Do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.”
When you create content with empathy and digital storytelling, audiences are more likely to consume and engage by sharing, more likely to respond, and become a customer.
Removes the hard sell
While aggressive selling, advertising, or marketing sometimes might be the right move (i.e. remarketing), generally that’s not the right first impression to go for.
Think about when you first meet someone, do you immediately start pitching a product or service? I’d hope not!
Instead, you ask them questions, and in turn tell your story, getting to know them on a personal level. That’s what digital storytelling brings to the marketing strategy!
Helps build brand trust
Digital storytelling can take on a few different narratives, depending on your goals and target audience. Building trust between your brand and the consumer helps a lot however.
With general marketing content, there is no such connection to the information. It reads like copywriting or feels like a sales pitch and that’s that.
Storytelling starts with empathy, hits the pain points, and shows you what the company, product, or service is about, and does not sound like a selfish pitch to make a direct sale.
People want to feel valued and that your product or service has their best interest and values in mind.
How to Build Great Digital Stories
Now that you know more about digital storytelling and why it matters so much for marketing, how can you build great marketing stories? There is no “one size fits all” template for your strategy, but there are some foundational pillars that will help guide your strategic narrative building.
Know your brand story
What does your organization stand for? What does the brand value? What is the purpose? This is usually developed in the early stages of the company, but marketing teams must know this definitively upfront.
With this information, marketing can weave consistent narratives that showcase those values.
Company values are what help guide marketing voice, style, and creativity. It can influence everything from writing style, design, advertising, product innovation, partnerships, and much more.
Additionally, to help create great digital stories, marketing should be also doing the following:
- Paying attention to customers, prospects, and employees about the company brand, products, and services. How do they feel about what they see?
- While copying your competition directly is not a good look, you still can monitor how they position their brand and where the marketplace is going.
Find your audience
Your digital storytelling won’t work in your company’s favor if you have no clue about the audience you’re targeting.
Things like what their pain points are, what interests them, where do they look for information online, how do they consume information, etc.
You want to generate a brand story with long-time value, so you want to focus on the consumer to the value your company brings to them beyond a quick solution.
While your values and mission are important to the story, you want to build trust and create fans — even if they aren’t purchasing your services or product immediately.
Create content that audiences can glean value from even if they have never used or purchased what you have to sell.
While “altruistic content” might be too bold of a term, providing upfront value without the prerequisite of brand loyalty is increasingly the new norm of digital storytelling.
Altruistic content shows that your company truly believes in its mission and brand ambassadors as humans, so much so that your actual logo may be invisible in your stories.
With these considerations, your marketing will start to create more brand loyalty and brand advocates: who talks about your brand and enjoys the content — even if they aren’t customers right away.
To provide an example, Drift did this well. Not only by creating a whole new category with conversational marketing, but how they told their story to marketing and sales folks.
Naturally, being creative on the digital front and saying that you do not need forms and that the standard follow up process is dead is slightly controversial.
Tactfully stepping out like this perks up the ears of marketing and sales leaders, even if they weren’t ready to buy. But factor in their storytelling, how they involved employees and company leaders, and customers in their digital story.
With these constituent parts in mind, you have a recipe for success.
Connect with customers more often
Your customers are paying for your product or service and hopefully are trusting your brand. But this gives you the perfect opportunity to learn what resonates with them most and where you might be missing the mark.
Of course, this feedback is great for product or service offers, customer success, and more — but it can be huge for your marketing and digital storytelling too.
Gather all the insights you can, whether good or bad, and use that to help amplify your storytelling efforts to attract more positive attention.
Certainly, everyone has unique tastes, but your customers found value in certain aspects that many others in similar positions may value too.
And work with customers to include them in your marketing efforts too. They are the perfect people to help tell personal narratives that others are more likely to relate with. Another win-win scenario!
Humanize your marketing
Brands that look outdated, communicate like a monotone top-down robot do not resonate with audiences as they might have in the pre-digital pre-social market.
Organizations have pivoted to humanize their marketing by casting the customer-user-prospect front and center as the protagonist of the company values.
In a sense, you could call this strategy “inductive branding” — starting with specific human experiences, and letting the audience infer the general principles of your brand.
Square has literally won awards for their inductive branding approach. But of course “deductive branding” is the other (older) side of the coin that is still relevant: maintaining a global value statement or mission that is validated by each and every specific instance of your digital storytelling.
End of the day, you need to have both inductive branding and deductive branding if you want to have a comprehensive digital storytelling strategy.
Weighting deductive branding is more 20th century style, whereas inductive branding is more contemporary (here in the 21st century!)
Besides having your marketing team write, create, and share more like a human being — it means getting customers, executives, and employees more involved too.
Who are the customers winning by using the product or services? Who are the people behind the brand? And who are the company leaders and what do they value?
If you haven’t connected the dots already: user-generated content is the new king, regardless of who produces or sponsors it.
Humanizing with employee advocacy
A great way to get employees involved is include them in company announcements, videos, social posts by utilizing an employee advocacy program and strategy.
Now your employees are creating and sharing their unique thoughts, engaging with their trusted social network of family and friends and thus reaching more audiences than most general brands might via company social profiles alone.
Employee advocacy is a great way to get your people more involved, humanize your marketing, and improve digital storytelling.
Focus on your narratives
The plurality of narratives is the key — not just one monolithic narrative.
While you will have a focused and overarching premise to your greater brand story, your marketing has different levels where the narrative offers various unique perspectives.
What you have is a standalone story about the company and mission, but your marketing should be able to branch off into various digital stories that bring a unique experience based on the target audience.
There are a few directions your company could go, but it’s entirely unique to your company, values, and target audience.
For example, you could have a different narrative for each buyer persona so the marketing they receive is more personal. However, all these stories should be interwoven and connected to the overall brand story.
Showing beats telling
While your company, product or services have important qualities, it’s time to avoid vague insights or conceding to rote pitches in the hope of generating a sale.
Telling does not have the same effect as actually showing someone why your brand is valuable.
People are accustomed to the advertising jargon, bragging about how “great our product/service is.”
This is how your marketing gets ignored or completely tuned out 99% of the time. It’s not relatable, doesn’t connect, and can feel like spam that adds to the unwanted digital noise.
Creating random marketing content and hoping it sticks just doesn’t cut it. But digital stories help you build a narrative and a connection that is meaningful to the viewer.
Show individuals what makes your company, content, product or service something that they already see themselves in, and they will pay attention.