THE BLOG

Go Beyond Advertising and into Storytelling

01/29/2014 05:21 pm ET | Updated Mar 31, 2014
  • Jim Yu Founder and CEO, BrightEdge

It's not breaking news that the relationship between marketers and consumers has shifted in favor of consumers. Today, consumers are better informed than ever, and a recent Nielsen study suggests that they prefer to gather information from their peers rather than from marketing materials. As a result, brands need to be less like marketing machines and more like 'friends', telling stories and sharing experiences..

Content marketing needs to be rooted in brand storytelling -- the most authentic way to create and sustain longer lasting engagement with customers. Creative storytelling can evoke emotions and generate strong personal connections to a brand, its mission, and ultimately, its products. Brands differentiate themselves from their competitors by broadening their efforts beyond presenting things like infographics, lists, and how-to's, and instead creating branded content that appeals to human nature. The massive growth in social media and content marketing testify to the fact that consumers are searching for brand communications that are "more genuine" and human - storytelling is a means to that end.

Brands will deliver impact and increase customer loyalty by building every piece of content on the foundation of the company's values and mission statement, while keeping the target audience in mind. When considering the audience, marketers must make sure they tell stories that resonate with human nature and at the same time relate back to the brand and reflect company values.

Reveal Humanity

Not all stories are inherently emotional, but engaging human emotions is a surefire way to connect with customers on a deeper level and get results. Google is a stellar -- and seemingly unlikely -- example of achieving positive engagement through a human story. In 2011, Google released its "Dear Sophie" commercial. The ad features a man writing letters, showing pictures and sharing videos to create a virtual scrapbook for his daughter, Sophie, with the Google Chrome browser. It garnered 9.9 million views. In another 2013 commercial entitled "Reunion," two Google users are able to reunite two old friends (their grandfathers) who were separated during the partition of India and Pakistan. Audiences are able to dive into these characters' lives and draw parallels with their own lives. If you're a daughter, a father, a grandchild, or have friends you haven't seen in a while, these commercials resonate with you, crossing boundaries of nations and cultures. With these commercials, Google positions itself not only as cutting-edge software, but also as a facilitator of love and reunion. The commercials elevate the brand beyond a service provider by sharing emotions and experiences. This serves to not only make the brand more relatable; it also vastly improves engagement by encouraging people to share the story with others. Google garnered more than 11 million YouTube views and a staggering 665,000 Facebook shares and 11,400 tweets for the "Reunion" video alone. Not bad for a giant search engine, right?

Use Stories to Reflect Company Values

Stories can and should be used as a vehicle to reflect and publicize company values. They are a great way to give consumers insight into the core of your company. Chipotle's short film "The Scarecrow" is a masterfully crafted example. The film follows a central character, the scarecrow, through a typical day at his job in the food industry. Displeased with the processes in place, the scarecrow breaks free from protocol to establish his own farm and opens a restaurant where he can sell the food that he has cultivated. The film helps to visualize and solidify Chipotle's decade-plus commitment to using sustainably farmed, local produce and hormone-free livestock raised under humane conditions. "The Scarecrow" is essentially a parable for Chipotle, whose mission is to break the fast food industry status quo and serve "Food with Integrity." While not every brand has quite so grand a mission, each brand should strive to tell its story in a way that is just as sincere. Once the audience connects with your core values, they're much more likely to become loyal customers!

Tie the Story Back to the Brand

Note that the previous two examples contain no explicit call to use the company products. While refraining from using marketing language is an integral part to authentic storytelling, there are ways to simultaneously tell stories and explicitly push a product. One of the best integrations of storytelling and traditional advertisements comes from Duracell. The company's "Trust the Power Within" commercial features a narrator -- the NFL's first and only deaf athlete -- recalling the hardship and setbacks of being a deaf athlete. The segment concludes with the narrator, in uniform, running into a crowded NFL stadium to play and the words "Trust the Power Within," a Duracell slogan, and the image of a Duracell battery appear on screen. Similar to the Google ads, an emotional connection is forged between the audience and subjects. Duracell takes the connection a step further by concluding with a company slogan. Note that this is an extremely difficult balance to maintain! Marketers should always ensure that the integrity and sincerity of the story remains intact before they even consider adding in brand specific language. Considering that the video has more than 10 million views on YouTube, it's safe to say that Duracell has found a way to do this successfully.

Story-driven ads illustrate a form of communication that traditional marketing does not achieve. Storytelling is a natural part of the human experience and brands that can recreate this kind of communication in their marketing will evoke strong emotions among their audiences and develop personal connections with their consumers. Regardless of the vehicle, great storytellers will distinguish themselves above their competitors.