Once upon a time, advertising must have seemed quite easy. Mid-20th Century, a simple product shot on a poster or press ad was often enough to spark sales growth in an uncluttered market.
But then the business of branding needed to evolve to keep pace with the commercial opportunities of TV. The Mad Men era had begun and ads were imbued with creative flair as brands followed psychological theory by provoking emotional response to their product messages.
Fast forward to today and reaching consumers can be infinitely more confusing. They weave between channels like a motorbike in a traffic jam. We believe the answer to that is to be everywhere they are, and most of all to be consistent.
To do that, brands need to remember a marketing strategy that too often gets overlooked: storytelling. It would be wrong to call telling stories a lost art. However, it’s too easy to nullify narrative and concentrate on channel - the seduction of social media, the talismanic appeal of TV.
With that in mind, here are our top five tips to make the most of storytelling opportunities. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
Beginning, Middle, End
This is the story structure we learn when we’re still in nappies. The formula stays with us in all walks of life, from films and fiction, to obituaries and our own love stories. Of course, whatever tale your brand tells must include your messaging. Instead of slapping a strapline on your product, however, create interest with narrative. Wrap it around that classic structure, from impactful intro to call-to-action conclusion that leaves people wanting to find out more. Without making people act, even if it’s just a case of someone visiting the brand’s website to find out more, storytelling is a blunt instrument.
Authentic Brand Communication
Otherwise known as the ABC of storytelling, this is our plea to remember that whatever story you want to tell, it had better ring true with your brand image and values. Today’s savvy consumers can twig false claims a mile off. So, if you’re an oil company it might not be the best idea to discuss your contribution to environmental efforts during the past century. But if you’re a master butcher, it’s wise to tell the back story of your product, from provenance to proven craft, to ensure your customers get a taste for the reasons behind your success and want to try it for themselves. Your story also needs to be relevant, and that means getting to know your target market inside-out; through data and analytics, customer feedback and research. What makes them tick? Let that drive your communications. The more real and relevant a campaign is, the more customers will connect.
Traditionally, stories have been all about the printed word. Today, we’re surrounded by vision. According to Business Insider, approaching 2 billion people watch YouTube regularly, with the channel being responsible for almost a third of internet viewing activity globally. If you make a brand video or stream an ad, it’d better be based on a good story that makes perfect sense. But just because a channel exists doesn’t mean you should use it, of course. Consider the number of unnecessary Facebook pages set up by businesses and quickly abandoned. And that leads us nicely on to our next tip.
Tell a joined-up tale
Narrative crosses channels, and that also means disciplines can learn from each other. Digital brand managers have a lot to learn from specialists putting together TV ads, for example. The two platforms share much of the same structure: set out the problem, explore it and provide a solution. Whereas TV must do this in 60 seconds or less, digital can take its time, but the guiding principles remain the same. Meanwhile, your story must be joined up across media, whether you choose Instagram, radio or good old long-copy poster or print. Johnnie Walker’s storytelling ads are a great example of this.
Create from the inside out
In other words, narrative begins at home. Before telling your story to the world at large, your brand needs to make sure staff throughout the organisation are singing from the same story book. Without doing so, you leave your employees to interpret the messaging themselves. If the workforce is immersed in your brand’s backstory and up-to-date character then they are much more likely to talk consistently about it, no matter where they come into contact with your customers and prospects. The strength of this internal voice can become the foundation for conversations where your market already knows what to expect from your brand and its ambassadors. Consider creating a ‘brand bible’ to house the entire brand narrative. That way everyone can be sure of the script making a happy ending more achievable.