Stories are one of the most effective content marketing techniques. People love stories. We need a narrative – a beginning, middle and end – to help us understand phenomena and find it plausible. People gravitate towards telling stories; we mould experiences into narratives to make them relatable and emotional. Brands know people react this way to storytelling, that’s why it’s such a successful sales tactic. Brands use emotive messaging, purpose, values and imagery to subtly persuade customers along the buyer journey, without customers feeling like they’ve been sold to. Clever right?
What is digital storytelling?
Digital storytelling is the use of digital tools and technology to create and tell stories online. In our digital world, the ability to tell stories has had to adapt. Storytelling doesn’t just take place in the form of literature, film and television. We see stories through images, animation, blog posts, guides, video, websites, social media, emails and podcasts. If brands know which channels and forms of content their audience enjoys consuming, they can share their story digitally in a way that gains engagement.
Digital storytelling gives brands the power to create connections with consumers. Through messaging and media that resonates with the audience, the consumer-brand relationship transcends transactional interactions. Rather than brands selling their products and services, brands can create a conversation loaded with emotion.
Why does digital storytelling work?
Digital storytelling is an effective way for brands to share their messages because there are very few boundaries. With information online, consumers across the globe can watch, read and join in the conversation. There isn’t time, monetary or geographical restrictions that prevent audiences from consuming stories, unlike physical experiences.
Take visual reality and artificial intelligence for example. Theatres and performance groups use this technology to create immersive theatrical experiences online. Despite theatre becoming more accessible to the public, younger audiences and audiences across the world can consume stories easily when they’re told digitally. Volumetric capture, 360-degree video, spatial capture and 3D painting are just a few of the technologies the National Theatre use to tell digital stories and capture new audiences. Writers, actors and directors can use digital storytelling to place the viewer directly in the centre of the action. Immersing them in the narrative, themes and characters make the viewer feel like they’re a participant rather than an onlooker.
Art galleries and museums use digital storytelling in a similar way. Museums and galleries host virtual exhibitions and tours using virtual reality, 360-degree videos and audio descriptions to bring the art and the artist’s story to life. Consumers can immerse themselves in the era, the experiences the artist was going through and the story behind the art or piece of history. By placing consumers in a time and place, they can gain a deeper understanding of history to create a new appreciation. With resonations and connections of this type, organisations can gain new consumers and nurture existing consumer relationships; curating an audience that values the stories the brand tells.
How do brands tell stories effectively?
Having the tools and technology to tell stories digitally is all well and good, but you must have an effective story to tell in the first place. Brands use a range of tactics to tell stories that generate emotion and inspire action.
Use authentic messaging
The story a brand tells needs to be relatable and authentic to be effective. If consumers cannot place themselves in the position of the characters, cannot relate to the narrative being told or cannot form a solution in their minds, it won’t be memorable. The story needs to speak the truth of the brand and the audience it’s communicating with. The digital world is full of misinformation and falsified facts so consumers are looking for brands that don’t sell them inaccurate stories. Authenticity is compelling, it encourages consumers to draw positive associations with brands that don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes. Audiences will engage with transparent brands, give them their time and custom to continue creating authentic stories they can relate to.
Less text and static imagery
Stories with an overwhelming amount of text and static imagery aren’t the most compelling. Consumers are likely to lose interest in reading and watching images, particularly if they’re moving at a slow pace. People like to consume stories in which they can place themselves at the centre. Life isn’t still, it’s forever moving and changing so storytelling needs to emulate that movement. Static imagery and text won’t achieve this; brands need to use audio, video, moving imagery, animation or illustration to add enticing elements that capture and maintain interest.
Draw on emotional complexes
Memories are built on emotions. The experiences that make people feel something are the ones they hold on to and tell friends and family. If brands can emote feelings of shock, awe, sympathy, empathy, humour or love through their digital stories, the audience will be drawn in from the beginning. They build emotional memories attached to the brand which they want to share with friends and family.
Take the classic example of the John Lewis Christmas adverts. Consumers wait in anticipation for the release of these adverts, forgetting that they’re used to increase the retailer’s seasonal sales. People wait for months to see which heartstrings the story twinges this year. John Lewis doesn’t show viewers its products in the adverts, it uses a complex narrative with conflict and resolution, relatable ‘human’ characters and questions they have to ask themselves. People leave the video feeling something and immediately draw powerful affinities with the brand and its purpose.
Get consumers thinking
Humans are natural problem solvers. People like to be challenged and embrace questions. Successful stories are the ones that make people really think. Storytellers that ask questions which encourage consumers to challenge their perceptions are the most memorable. This isn’t to say leaving every story element open to audience interpretation is the way to do it. People often become infuriated by ambiguous messaging, they want answers and need an ending to satisfy closure. By giving new insights, perspectives, themes and values, people will stop to think about what they’re consuming. Evoking emotion with thoughtful messaging and imagery will drive consumer behaviour and social change.
Digital storytelling is an effective way to create consumer connections. With powerful, emotive messaging, brands can form loyal consumers that value the content they provide and the feelings they evoke. Digital storytelling enables brands to share their stories across different channels and to different audiences without boundaries. Brands have the ability to create a compelling narrative with complex characters and an overarching message that provokes thought and challenges perceptions.