You will be hard-pressed to read a blog about marketing trends that doesn't include a mention of storytelling. We know that in the world of digital marketing, there are endless blogs, guides, tip sheets, and more, so here's a straightforward resource that will help you start implementing digital storytelling in your marketing mix today.
Before you dive in, it's important to make sure that you have a baseline understanding of digital storytelling and how it can be used in a corporate setting.
What is Digital Storytelling?
While storytelling in its traditional form has been around since the beginning of time, digital storytelling is the practice of taking the best elements of storytelling and bringing them to life online. Digital stories can take many forms, but the most common types include video, interactive websites, online games, and podcasts.
The Elements of Digital Storytelling
The Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) developed a list of the important elements of digital storytelling, if you aren't sure where to get started, use this list to help guide you:
- Point of View: What is the main takeaway and perspective of the story?
- A Dramatic Question: What is the key question that will hold the viewer's attention throughout the story?
- Emotional Content: What are the serious issues that connect the audience with your story and make it come alive?
- The Gift of Voice: How can you personify the story to help the audience better understand the context?
- The Power of the Soundtrack: How can you support or embellish on the story with music or other sounds?
- Economy: How can you effectively use the best content with the most value without overloading the viewer?
- Pacing: How can you change the rhythm of the story to affect the way viewers react to the content?
Now that you understand the basics, here are some examples of how you can start implementing digital storytelling as part of your content marketing strategy today.
1. Mine for Your Real, Interesting Stories
(Hint: They probably won't be from your C-Suite)
We've all seen them, the "about us" videos with 5-minutes of executives in suits, talking about why Company X is superior to all other companies out there. These videos have been the go-to "stories" for companies to tell over the last several years and there is nothing inherently wrong with them, but most of them aren't particularly compelling either.
Done well, digital storytelling allows us to connect with our audience on an emotional level, to create stories that are inspiring, memorable, and captivating.
Take this video below as an example — watch the story of Jim Chalmers. Jim is an amazing man, who has done inspirational work for both The Special Olympics and at his job, working as a janitor at Red Wing Shoe Company.
As marketers, it's important that we take a step back and remember that the most interesting stories are not the elusive, brilliant marketing campaign, but the stories of real people that are right in front of us every day.
2. Change the World
As consumers, we are fed up with companies who exist solely to keep growing and make more money. We realize that each organization has a chance to make an impact on the world and a lot of companies are doing that every single day, but many of them fail to tell that story, to invite their customers to share in that process with them and give buyers a chance to join in with a cause that's bigger than themselves.
While there are endless examples of companies that give back, think about ways that your company can foster community, grow your brand, AND give back. Here are some examples:
Create a video with awareness of a specific need or cause, and donate a dollar to a charity for every like, share, or comment on the video.
Create a give-back program: Ask customers to submit ideas of families in need of your product or service and select an individual or family to win.
Take a group of workers from your organization and volunteer at a homeless shelter, doing community service projects or supporting a local charity and invite your customers and prospects to serve with you.
Get creative! What is your company's unique take on how to give back to your community?
3. Tell Lots of Small Stories
Companies often feel like their story is too hard to tell. If you offer a variety of products and services, distilling down your message into digestible bites can seem like a daunting task. So start small. What's one thing you do really well? Can you tell that story?
Take this Apple commercial for example. When you think of Apple and iPhone, there are many features they could feature in a 30-second commercial. Something that Apple decided to focus on in this ad was the camera and the beauty that it can capture. Not only is this commercial visually appealing but it’s visually appealing because it was shot on an iPhone. Another reason why this is impactful is because camera quality and creative features are important to customers and something that Apple is prioritizing, therefore highlighting it in this ad. What do you think?
4. Simplify Your Story
Something that we hear a lot when doing video production for companies is "my story is too complicated, people won't understand what we do if we create a short video story." You're right, they probably won't understand every nuance of your company or every piece of the process, but our goal with stories is not for your clients and prospects to understand the Board Meeting Quarterly Report version of what your company does.
Digital storytelling is a great way for your customers and community to understand pieces and parts of what drives your company or organization, to engage with them enough that you motivate them to take the next action step. Try to focus on one key message. For example, look at how The Aim Higher Foundation shares its mission by highlighting one family.
5. Align Your Stories with the Buyer Journey
Understanding the buyer journey (the steps your customers take from discovery to research to final sale) is essential, but companies don't often think about how to align stories with the buyer journey.
Imagine you are looking to buy a product for your company, you are looking through the website and see lots of information about pricing, specs, ease of use, etc. However, you are left wondering: "That's all great, but I wonder how real companies are using this for their business?"
And just like that, you scroll down and find a video titled "See How Acme Company Uses This Product to Save Money." Not only is this story going to answer a lot of questions and negate pushback, but it shows that you understand what pain points and questions your customers have.
6. Skip the Promotion, Appeal to Emotions
As marketers, we excel at promotion, but we often miss opportunities to appeal to emotions. In 2016, we worked with Catholic Charities to create an awareness campaign for their need to build a new shelter. Promoting the need for a new shelter is easy, we can send emails, host fundraisers, plan galas, send fliers, and schedule social posts until we are blue in the face. Those things won't help donors see the people behind the need.
We helped Catholic Charities create a series of three stories that paints a comprehensive picture and reinforces that anybody can fall into the pitfalls of poverty. To watch all three videos in the series, check out this blog post.
7. Tell the Stories of Your Customers
Your customers are the real heroes of your company story. They are the ones who make your business come to life. Without them, there would be no need for your product or service to exist. Think about ways that you can leverage the stories of your customers. Have they overcome great pain? Have they had great success?
Their stories will be more authentic and genuine than any stories your advertising department could dream up. Just watch The Goodman Group's story of Ron and Connie's transition to senior living, and how they made the decision to embrace a new chapter.
8. Leverage Long-Form Social Posts
If you have been on social media in the last few years you may have noticed the long-form social posts that are sweeping both LinkedIn and Twitter. Social media has taken a large swing towards native engagement rather than links to external websites.
Leverage this trend by posting company stories as long-form social posts. Encourage engagement by asking readers to share their stories, videos, and photos as well.
Storytelling is an important part of being human, we love to share our experiences, share our pains, joys, loves, and losses. We love to feel the emotions of others around us, to laugh and cry with the people around us. When we as marketers allow ourselves a chance to step back from all the promotion, tactics, and statements, we can start harnessing the power of digital storytelling to connect with our customers and prospects on a deeper level.
(Editor's Note: This blog was written in 2018 and updated in 2022.)