Content has become the core of most brands’ digital marketing efforts in recent years, and storytelling is at the heart of content. But it’s still not completely clear to many businesses what storytelling actually involves: what exactly is a brand story, what tales should brands tell and what narratives do consumers want to hear?
Looking at the first question, there’s no consistent definition of what ‘brand storytelling’ actually is, although most would agree that it’s used when brands want to present themselves as more human or more relevant to their stakeholders by creating advertising or content that tells stories; and that it works better for branding (i.e. awareness or positioning) rather than direct response objectives.
In addition to meeting branding objectives, this activity should increase reach as people love to share entertaining stories that resonate. With a beginning, middle and end, these stories are designed to provide the audience with entertainment value. They spark attention and inspire empathy.
Although the visibility of the brand’s products or services in the story can be dialled up or down, the brand’s purpose or its product benefits are always a key element of the story. It can either be told within one discreet piece of content or through a campaign, using multiple pieces of content. A story told through a campaign can be episodic or adopt a transmedia approach.
But consistent definitions across the marketing industry remain unclear--and many brands still don’t know what stories to tell and how to tell them. That’s why we recently carried out an extensive study into brand storytelling, asking more than 2,000 consumers in the UK about it. From the results we’ve been able to make some predictions about what the future holds for this often misunderstood but incredibly exciting medium.
1. Brands Will Have To Tell Stories To Target Millennials
Younger audiences value storytelling above any other form of content. Our research found that although discounts and special offers were the type of content that consumers most want to see overall, it actually only ranked second among the UK’s Millennials (18-24 and 25-34-year-olds). Both these groups actually ranked ‘humorous, dramatic or inspirational stories’ top of the list.
There’s a lesson here for brands and we expect to see them changing how they create content in the future--we might all love a bargain, but those key younger audiences love stories even more.
2. More Stories About The Man On The Street
People want to read and hear from ‘people like them’. The research shows that peers matter more than CEOs or celebrities--two-thirds of those surveyed want to hear the stories of regular people. There’s still a place for celebrity endorsement, but we predict a rebalancing as brands move towards employing more stories about everyday people--often living their everyday lives.
3. More Real People And Events
But it’s not just hearing about regular, everyday people--it’s real regular, everyday people. People trust previous customers in particular--just look at the likes of TripAdvisor. In fact, reviews and ratings are seeping into the product experience so that in many cases the very proposition includes peer reviews as the norm--Airbnb being a prime example.
However, brands have been slow to catch up. Most currently focus heavily on fictional characters in their storytelling--but our research actually found that more than half (57%) think real people and events make for better stories, as with Airbnb making us shed a tear or the new AA ad campaign based on real breakdown stories. Yes, there’s still a place for breakthrough fictional characters like the Meerkats, but we predict a rebalancing to take advantage of the current trend for peer recommendation. Ideally, it seems, people want to hear stories about other, real-life customer advocates.
That means brands are going to have to be more systematic and strategic about how they curate and use advocacy, whether among their customers or those for whom they’re simply an enabler.
4. Less Reliance On Humour
Traditionally brands have seen humour as the default choice for online content, and our research ranked it as still the top story genre that UK consumers want to see, with 42% of the vote. But among younger audiences, especially those aged 18-24, the gap between it and other genres was far less pronounced (28% chose humorous versus 26% each for dramatic and inspirational).
Inspirational content, for example, can be more than a profound quote on a photo of a sunset. We have video now, which our survey showed was the number one choice for delivering stories online, and so brands will be looking to give us stories that offer drama or soul, rather than just assuming comedy is king. Inspiration and drama (and five million YouTube views!) can even come from something as simple as a man shaving off his beard.
CMOs and agencies that embrace brand storytelling are, it seems, best placed to engage with modern consumer audiences. We’ve had enough of ads telling us how great a product or service is--now we want to go online and see and hear about how other people, people like us, have actually used that product in a way that genuinely enriched their lives.