The best marketing transcends corporate messaging, and becomes stories about people and characters which beg to be shared. Aflac's duck has been telling their company's story for around 13 years now, and has increased their company's recognition from 13% to 90% of consumers along the way. While content and social media best practices may change, few marketing tactics have more staying power than brand storytelling.
Storytelling isn't just for brands who can claim over a century of history, like General Electric, or IBM. It's for any company with the savvy to create a consistent customer experience online. As Debbie Williams of SPROUT Content puts it, your story is made up of "all that you are, and all that you do." Brand storytelling isn't about creating the perfect hero on your first try, it's about finding ways to integrate your company's history, goals, values, and audience into every component of your content marketing strategy. Here are seven of the most effective ways to turn your acts of content into a comprehensive, narrative strategy:
1. Create a Character
Forbes' Susan Gurnelius writes that characters your online audience can root for (or against) are a hallmark of a brand story online. Think of AllState's Mayhem or Isaiah Mustafah's Old Spice man, characters so compelling they've become memes. Creating a character which embodies the ideals your company stands for, or what you're out to prevent, can allow you to present a consistent narrative across platforms.
2. Integrate Brand Values
Only 13% of consumers cite interactions with a company as the reason for developing a relationship. Research by the Harvard Business Review has found that brand values are an effective tool for starting conversations that turn into connections. Integrate your company's values whenever possible, potentially taking a note from Ben & Jerry's, who managed to integrate their company's mission seamlessly into Facebook biography:
3. Utilize Facebook's Timeline Functionality
Whether or not your company's history is older than Facebook pages for business, use the social network's timeline feature in the way it was originally intended: to tell a comprehensive story. Even if your brand isn't more than a decade old, digging out your original logo or website design can make for compelling social media content. Change is an integral part of the narrative, and developing social content that's mapped to how your company has grown can draw your audience in.
The New York Times has done a particularly remarkable job of publishing their image archives to Facebook's Timeline, mapped to the point at which they originally occurred, as is seen in the following photo from 1948:
4. Take People Behind-the-Scenes
People don't really want to buy from corporations, they want to buy from people. Your CEO may not be the best messenger of what you stand for. Increase your human element by making your employee's stories a component of your social and blog content. Many major brands are doing a remarkable job of showcasing their employees at all levels of operations, notably WalMart and IBM:
While the "I'm an IMBer" campaign was primarily a recruitment technique, it's certainly worth spotlighting because it was so incredibly effective. Stories of IBM's employees lent an innovative human face to the enormous tech giant. Scott Steinberg writes that behind-the-scenes looks can communicate "that your employees share similar interests, trials, and triumphs as...consumers." Let your employees provide social proof of your values by sharing videos, images, and quotations throughout your content strategy.
5. Recount Your Origins
Every narrative has a beginning, middle, and an end. Provide more context for your tale by letting people know how and where you started. One enterprise brand that's done a remarkable job of publicizing their humble origins in a garage is Apple:
Few of us know the beginnings of Microsoft in such an intimate light. While this tactic can make corporations more sympathetic, it's also an important component of any brand's story online. Whether you're a small business or enormous company, people want to know how you started. Let them know how far you've come.
6. Be Honest
While your CEO may not appreciate you putting too much attention on a recent failure, honesty makes for some pretty compelling stories. Gurnelius is a firm believer that honesty is critical to effective brand storytelling, because failing to adhere to the three critical components of brand building can breed distrust:
- Consistency: If consumers have inconsistent messaging from your company online, they'll struggle to reconcile their confusion.
- Persistence: Legendary marketing and heroes rarely emerge overnight.
- Restraint: Unless your storytelling aim is hyperbole, avoid crafting any parables with unlikely outcomes. Your audience is probably smart enough to catch on.
Effective brand storytelling online today is a matter of reconciling the remarkable with reality. Don't oversell, or overpromise, but cast your company in the best light possible.
7. Dissect Amazing Tales
You don't need to be the author behind a story to dissect its brilliance. Incorporate existing characters into your content marketing strategy. Dissecting existing tales and create comparisons around beloved characters. Is your team of developers working with the same tireless focus as the Justice league? Does your CEO's ability to strategize resemble the prowess of Wonder Woman? Effective narrative requires context, and leveraging beloved characters can allow you to better engage your audience.
Brand storytelling doesn't need to be elaborate, and involve fictitious characters with mass appeal. The process is really just a matter of leveraging elements of the narrative to create content people love. Place your company in a historic context by telling the beginning of your story and other events along the way, and integrate your values to allow your consumers to draw connections between how you do business, and their own beliefs. Finally, leverage people and characters to show how your company fits into the context of real life. We may not be marketing with blogs in a few decades, but stories are undoubtedly here to stay.
How has your brand leveraged storytelling in your content marketing strategy?