Basic Principles to Get You Started
If you’re tackling digital storytelling for your brand, then it probably feels like you’re being asked to boil the ocean.
No wonder the task seems daunting—we just passed 1 billion websites according to Internet Live Stat’s count. And by the end of 2014, the UN’s International Telecommunication Union expects that we’ll hit nearly 3 billion Internet users.
Every second on the Internet equals:
- 7,840 tweets
- 1,390 photos uploaded to Instagram
- 45, 905 Google searches
- 89,924 videos viewed on YouTube
- 34M emails
The sheer scope and velocity of communication in the digital space is compounded by the platform itself; in fact, digital comprises multiple formats and channels—you could easily spend your time specializing in a single area from websites, email, video, social media and games to apps.
So where do you start?
I think a few basic principles can ground day-to-day content planning and creation, making the task manageable and your output more effective.
1. Online or analog, storytelling is the same.
Digital is still often referred to as “new media”; in fact, news headlines since 2004 show virtually equal preference for the two terms. The connected web has fundamentally changed how we list, buy and sell products and services—disrupting industries from banking and travel to education.
But the types of stories we tell online follow age-old patterns we’ve inherited from oral narrative through to stage plays, radio, TV, movies and advertising.
In the end, you still need to tell a good story with compelling characters and conflict—but in this context your brand, product or service should help fulfill the central protagonist’s need. One of my favourite examples is the Webby award-winning Milwaukee Police Department’s website, which highlights how the community’s desire for safety is fulfilled by dedicated officers—not the usual lionizing of might and authority.
2. Your customer is the hero.
Storytelling may bridge both analog and digital—but our cast of characters has changed irrevocably with the democratization of online publishing and social networks. Your customer’s now squarely center stage as the most valuable player in the narrative.
Not a terrible stretch in an era of widespread #selfies, eh? (Cool fact: selfies make up almost one-third of all photos taken by people aged 18-24.)
For marketers, that means that the specs of any product or service are secondary to how that purchase makes life for the customer better.
GoPro’s tagline is literally “be a hero” and its dedicated channel includes snapshots and videos created by customers using its action cameras. User-generated content gives customers the creative control to tell their own story.
Alternatively, Lowe’s is creating a series of six-second Vine videos that highlight quick fixes around the home rather than fixating on the features of individual tools or parts. Do-it-yourselfers are making a home into a sanctuary and Lowe’s wants to be part of that experience—not just sell widgets.
3. Online complements offline.
Customers expect a seamless experience when they move back and forth from clicks to bricks; a Forrester study reveals that 71% of customers expect to view your in-store inventory online. And 50% of customers further expect to buy online and pick up in-store.
Often, however, organizations can’t deliver an integrated customer experience because of how they’re structured. For example, a recent study by Forbes Insight and Wipro of 125 global executives in consumer goods highlights how internal fragmentation is holding back some companies:
- 37% still treat digital marketing as a separate function
- 39% operate e-commerce in a silo
- 50% reported that their digital marketing failed to integrate with essential back-end processes in one or more instances
While it’s tempting to stick to digital platforms when you’ve been put in a corner to muck around on your own, the end results will be better if you can marry online and offline efforts. Plus, the demand for greater integration doesn’t apply just to selling and fulfilling orders—it’s the same for storytelling too.
Event organizers have been doing it for a while by live streaming attendees’ tweets, photos and videos. Likewise, digital signage at brick-and-mortar locations have been widely used to reinforce key messages from in-flyer promotions and direct mail campaigns. And political activists routinely employ online petitions and rallies in real-life to advocate for change.
And even though “Weight Watchers has an online app, it continues to host weekly, in-person meetings as well,” points out innovation broker Katherine Bierce.
4. All content should reflect your voice and tone.
Even the lowly “Page not found” is a chance for you to connect with your audience. In fact, some brands and agencies have taken up the challenge and produced some really creative versions of the staple 404 page.
My personal favourite is the one for SpaghettiOs—a simple but clever reference to the famous “Uh-oh SpaghettiOs” jingle created when the brand launched in 1965 that still acknowledges the visitor’s disappointment after stumbling on a broken link.
These are some of the basics rolling around in my head that make the daunting task of telling digital stories more achievable. What are yours?