This was originally published on the Limelight Networks Blog as part of my day-to-day responsibilities as the Sr. Director of Marketing Strategy.
Storytelling is the future of digital marketing, plain and simple. If you aren’t on board yet, you are living in the past and each day you are “advertising” your products instead of “storytelling” about your business is another day your competitors are getting ahead of you. But before we jump into some ideas about what makes a good story, let’s look at the evolving digital marketer.
Yesterday’s Digital Marketer
You’ve all met this person. Heck, this terrible stereotype may even be you. But yesterday’s digital marketer is all about checkboxes. They have a list of channels: web, Facebook, Twitter, mobile app. They see these channels are just another mechanism through which to broadcast their message. Even though digital channels include technologies to enable engagement, they are still practicing old school marketing methods. They are still advertising. They focus on trying to sell a product which is like driving through mud: just when the think they have traction (and customers get the messaging), they have to start again (with a new product) or change it up (to keep from getting stale) and before they know it, they are spinning their wheels again in a new puddle. Maybe it’s a perfect strategy to justify a cushy existence.
But as digital marketing (and the customer) continue to evolve, it’s clear that this is a dying approach.
Today’s Digital Marketer (aka, God of Engagement)
These people are still hard to find but when you do, you know it almost immediately. They don’t have checklists. They have numbers that tell them the effectiveness of their efforts, numbers that speak about depth of engagement, metrics that illustrate the impact of their marketing effort. And they aren’t telling customers about their product. They are using different channels to create an emotional connection between customers and their brand so that when they need to launch a new product or change its messaging, it’s not like trying to roll that rock uphill because they’ve already done the REALLY hard work: creating the connection between the customer and what’s really important.
How do they do this? Through storytelling.
What is Storytelling?
We aren’t talking about War and Peace. We are talking about the kinds of stories that businesses are beginning to tell, the kinds of stories that engage with customers and create real, emotional connection, the kinds of stories through which businesses engage with customers as they move through the narrative arc. Look at Coca-Cola’s new website: Coca-Cola Journeys (we will be examining this story in-depth in a future post of this series). Their story is about stories of people using their products, or impacted by Coca-Cola’s brand, or affected by some other aspect of the company. Coca-cola is telling their customers that they are a facilitator, an enabler. They are crafting stories with narration across channels.
Digital storytelling isn’t reading Dr. Seuss to your customers. And although it may be, it’s not necessarily about characters and plots. But it is about a situation in which someone uses the product to cause some result. That’s a narrative arc:
- Exposition/Set-up. Where the action is going to take place.
- Rising Action. Characters in the story finding the product and putting it to use to solve a problem.
- Climax. Solving the problem with the product.
- Falling Action. Mopping up the action. Everything calming down.
- Denouement. The result of the climax. What happened to the characters now that they solved the problem using the product?
So What Makes Good Storytelling?
First, this isn’t a critique on narrative conventions or stage directions. The points below are salient action items for today’s digital marketer to ensure a visceral, emotional connection between customer and company. Second, there’s probably a lot of discussion to be had about this list. We may have left off items that seem obvious (or about which you believe strongly). We may have included items that you think are frivolous. Regardless, let’s just agree that there is a general list and agree-to-disagree that ours might not be the gospel.
- Narrative arc. In order to create emotional connection, the story has to have an arc. That arc could be split across channels. It could be split across campaigns. Doesn’t matter. But research is showing that the brain responds chemically (i.e., generates emotional connection) when the story follows a traditional arc.
- About company, not product. It is far more effective (long-term) for stories to somehow relate the company position and its ethos rather than focus on a product. Not only does this differentiate (customers are becoming increasingly jaded to product-level messaging) but it also allows products to be interchanged without compromising the emotional connection made between customer and company.
- Multi-channel (with purpose). Good stories cross channels. They make use of web, mobile, social, and others. But these stories aren’t just repeated across channels. The story is tailored and tweaked to take advantage of the channel, both from a technology and engagement perspective. Customers in different channels have different expectations of the story/content. Good stories appeal to and acknowledge that.
- Emotional. Flat stories suck. These are stories that just seem to “go through the motions.” Really good stories pull heart strings, make us laugh, make the reader rise to action. This is in addition to the emotional connection that the reader may make with “actors” (i.e., characters, events, places, etc.) within the story. It magnifies that connection.
- Rich media. Let’s face it, people don’t like to read a lot of text. If you mistake storytelling with writing, you will be sorely disappointed. Good stories in the digital world leverage all sorts of different media type: videos, audio, slideshows, images, graphics. Not only does rich media promote interaction, it creates variety. It creates that emotional engagement on a variety of different levels using several different senses.
- Engagement. All good digital stories provide for engagement. This may be simply for customers to share with other customers (you might be surprised about the power of simply enabling customers to talk about how they feel about your story) and it may be a planned event. Regardless, successful stories will look for multiple opportunities to engage directly with customers as they form these emotional connections with the story. And if done right, this will strengthen the bond between customer and company (a company that “cares” to hear what its customers have to say).
- Mechanics. You may take it for granted, but your users don’t: performance matters. Research in web and video engagement point to customers abandoning your story when it’s slow or under performing. And being able to reach everywhere your customers might be is of equal importance. The last thing you want to do is have a weak story in one region (because only one channel is available) where a competitor might not.
Originally posted 2012-11-26 15:23:12.