Want Better Marketing Performance? Try Better Storytelling
If you wanted a single word to describe today’s media landscape, “cluttered” is putting it mildly. There are close to 200 million active websites competing for attention. Six out of 10 people prefer online video platforms over live TV. On average, around 30 minutes of TV is watched on a mobile device a day, which is expected to increase to over 46 minutes by 2019. One billion hours of video is viewed daily on YouTube. Storytelling is a way for brands to cut through this clutter, but it needs to be consistent across multiple channels and media, or it risks fragmenting and further confusing customers.
Why do stories have that power to attract and hold attention much more than traditional advertising? Because stories appeal to emotion as much as they appeal to reason. This emotive quality of storytelling binds customers to a brand, and it keeps them engaged on a wide variety of devices and platforms. Brand stories drive word of mouth, the most powerful touchpoint of all.
While many marketers understand the importance of storytelling, they often misunderstand what really matters when it comes to actually telling stories. And digital tools can be more effective in not only tailoring those stories, but delivering them in a way that your customer most appreciates. Some firms have even started developing algorithms and analytics solutions to determine what makes a good story for a given audience. While that “sci-fi” scenario is still a little way off, it highlights increasingly how important the use of data and analytics can be in improving storytelling.
Here are some of our top tips for building storytelling that can drive improved marketing performance:
- Be Relevant. Find out what consumers care about and give them opportunities to become part of the stories you tell about your brand. For a story to register as relevant on our cognitive radar, we have to see the connection between the narrative and our lives. In the context of content marketing, this means that the target audience has to be able to relate to the message. Understanding what’s relevant has to be based on a clear understanding of the customer through a combination of analytics and qualitative analysis. As personalization powered by advanced analytics becomes ever more sophisticated, these stories can also be better targeted to the consumer. Targeted communications that are relevant can create lasting customer loyalty and drive revenue growth of 10 to 30 percent.
- Be Consistent. Pick a theme that carries across different stories to hold the attention of your target group over an extended period of time. Our values and attitudes are shaped by repeated exposure to similar stimuli. So, a great way to hold the attention of consumers is to make sure the stories you tell are consistent. As a brand owner, you should find a theme that carries across all stories you tell about your brand. The challenge today in the digital world is that customers expect those stories to be consistent, no matter what channel they use — from TV to mobile. This requires collaboration between different parts of the business, such as store operations, event managers, PR, digital marketing and analytics. If done effectively, communications that seamlessly straddle both online and offline experiences — and provide real value — can make a customer feel a retailer really knows them.
- Be Differentiated. Go where no other brand has gone before. Nobody likes a copycat, and generic stories run a high risk of being attributed to the wrong brand. Differentiated storytelling helps you stand out from the noise in your marketplace, and makes it easier for consumers to make the connection between the story and your brand. You don’t want to waste your budget on a story that the audience does not associate with your brand, or one that is erroneously attributed to another. Nothing is quite as frustrating as spending money to promote your competitor.
- Be Credible. Look for topics, testimonials and platforms that will strike users as believable extensions of your brand into the world they live in. To be perceived as credible, start with a genuine message that is true to your brand and honest about the benefits it provides. Research has shown consumers are more likely to trust peer recommendations and reviews, so focus on how to activate those networks and then use advanced social media marketing programs to propagate the message.
- Be Motivating. Link the stories you tell to your brand and its products. Include explicit calls to action for consumers. You want consumers to make the connection between the story and the brand, and you want them to buy your products. To fully satisfy the content fit requirement, stories need to drive the performance of your brand in the consumer’s decision-making process. Visual and emotional cues, such as a specific design or a specific set of values, help the audience make that connection, and they also act as potential purchase triggers. Traditional examples of such cues include the shape of the classic Coca-Cola bottle and Apple’s white earphones.
- Be Original. Come up with unique stories that capture the spirit of the moment. Move fast to claim breaking news and hot topics for your brand. Perhaps the best-known example is the space jump Red Bull helped daredevil Felix Baumgartner prepare and execute, something nobody had done before. Records were broken both in terms of the actual jump and the attention it generated.
- Be Inventive. Take every precaution for your stories to go viral. And once they do, give people more of what they like by investing in serial production. Apple pulled this off with style with the now legendary “Get a Mac” campaign. Featuring actors John Hodgman as the boring PC and Justin Long as the hip Mac, the series comprises more than 60 episodes and ran for over three years.
- Be Emotional. Appeal to consumers’ feelings to drive likeability and trigger purchase decisions. The challenge for branded stories is to get past the brain’s screening mechanisms and trigger a positive reaction. You want your audience to want to see your story again. But how do you do that? By appealing to emotion. Emotional campaigns are often particularly successful, both in terms of likeability and in terms of purchase generation.
At the heart of good storytelling is knowing your audience and what will excite and engage them. Get this wrong, and with the best will in the world the ideas above are not going to drive improved marketing performance. Get it right, and your brand value and revenues can reach new heights.
Related story: Data-Driven Storytelling Can Lead to Success