Tom Mitchell – Senior Content Executive
As much as they can become a bandwagon too often jumped on, awareness days/weeks/months still find their way into many a content planner’s calendar. At the time of writing, National Storytelling Week – an annual celebration of storytellers created by the Society for Storytelling – is on the horizon. Bam, content idea for a content marketer!
When you drill it down, storytelling is the foundation behind the idea, and success of, content. For those less familiar with the term in a marketing context, content is generally accepted as the creation of online or offline material such as videos, guides, social media posts etc that does not explicitly set out to sell, but is intended to stimulate engagement around the passions or problems of the brand’s audience. In incredibly-short, over time this content should help to build better, closer relationships with customers, leading to – yep – more sales.
Where has content come from?
Its effectiveness as a marketing tactic works in the same way stories have always worked – from childhood, people are curious in nature, and will be good listeners if your story is good enough. Stories build trust too – we tell them to our friends and family, and become closer with them by doing so.
As demonstrated by the Google Trends graph below, the popularity of the term ‘content marketing’ has shot up in the past five to ten years. In that time it’s been declared the new ‘king’ of marketing, but it’s been argued that the idea behind it has been around a lot, lot longer – it’s just the term itself that has been around for less.
Back at the turn of the 20th century, the brothers behind the now famous tyre brand Michelin found that what few motorists there were, weren’t using their cars enough – therefore not generating enough demand for new tyres. Rather than talking about how great their tyres were, they set out to inspire people about the trips they could take instead by producing a small guide including maps and a listing of places to stop off and eat. As the company grew, so did the guide, and in 1936 it was expanded to include a rating system of up to three stars, with three stars denoting a restaurant that was ‘worth a special journey’. Today, the Michelin star is sought after by aspiring chefs across the globe – but it started with tyres.
Things were a bit different back then however. While the importance of creativity and good storytelling in content are nothing new, we’re now in a time where more content is being produced than ever, yet it’s being shared and linked to less and less, as our Senior Account Manager Becci told us in her blog from 2018’s Brighton SEO conference.
Which brands are telling great stories through content today – and how?
In the same way then that National Storytelling Week sets out to champion our country’s storytellers, it seems a good time to pick out and praise a few brands that are consistently displaying their commitment to telling great stories through their content – with some tips along the way to help you tell yours.
The environmentally-focused outdoor clothing brand Patagonia has long been a company that has worn its story on its exceptionally-well-made sleeve.
If you visit its website at any one time, there’s a good chance you’ll be met with a full-width gorgeous image or video encouraging you to click through and find out more about the company’s latest endeavour. It puts its aim to save the planet centre-stage, and creates beautiful stories around it to support that mission better than a fleece ever could, no matter how great it feels on your skin. (Send me a fleece if you’re reading this Patagonia).
The word ‘story’ can be used to imply fiction, but the key lesson to take away here is that Patagonia’s content tells stories of things that the company has actually done. In recent times, the brand has helped to create its own national park, and grown its own wetsuit. They live their stories, stories which help to create a sense of trust and authenticity in the buyers of those same lovely fleeces.
While Patagonia is living its stories, the team behind the photo-editing app VSCO are investing in theirs.
Self-described as ‘by creators, for creators’, the VSCO app grants users a series of tools and filters with which to tweak and enhance their shots – but there’s plenty of other apps out there that do that. What makes VSCO different is its commitment to building a community around the aim of educating and inspiring budding creatives to take better photographs.
A 2019 example of this is VSCO Voices, a grant program designed to support creators who empower marginalised communities in the US and provide ‘a platform for untold stories’. While the project is currently ongoing, these stories have already begun to be distributed out via VSCO’s Instagram account, such as one photographer’s showcase of patriotism and pride in America’s South.
A story that is specific and personalised is more likely to evoke empathy in its audience than one that is abstract. By telling stories from the point of view of its members, VSCO is displaying a confidence and belief in a community in which many will be waiting for their big break – while simultaneously giving those engaging with its content tangible, normal people that they can easily identify and relate to.
National Geographic’s richness
So we’ve looked at a company telling stories we can relate to, but what about the stories that create a sense of wonder?
The content giant that is National Geographic has 91.1M Instagram followers on its main profile at the time of writing, and for good reason. Take a scroll down its feed, and you’ll see that they are masters of storytelling. The visuals are incredible – they’ve got an easy topic to photograph – but it’s the captions that work the hardest.
NatGeo’s posts often feature scenes or moments that most of us will never get the chance to experience, or even be able to comprehend. A short, dry caption would not help with that – but the long-form captions the publication uses provide such rich details of the image, why the photographer is there, descriptions of their surroundings and why the scene is significant, that nearly every post creates a sense of awe.
The key lesson to take away here is that to create a more immersive experience through your content, you shouldn’t be afraid to tell a story in full. Recent studies into their own platforms by LinkedIn and Instagram have both found that long-form articles and captions generate more engagement, and National Geographic’s Instagram following backs that up.
And finally, the stories that divide opinion.
Nike’s famous/infamous 2018 Just Do It campaign does not mention the brand’s products, instead telling the stories of the sacrifices made by the world’s greatest athletes. The campaign was widely distributed via digital channels.
Nike has made plenty of inspiring and fantastic-looking videos down the years, but not many will prove to be as memorable as this one. While the campaign does not explicitly reference politics, Nike’s decision to feature the controversial NFL star Colin Kaepernick is an inherently political one.
In 2016, Kaepernick chose to kneel for the American national anthem before a National Football League game rather than stand in protest against racial injustice and police brutality. His actions drew widespread praise from the likes of Amnesty International, but also heavy criticism from US President Donald Trump. By featuring Kaepernick, the brand takes its side, displaying its political beliefs while potentially alienating a large portion of its potential US audience.
I’m not here to wade in on political debate, but what the video must be commended for is its bravery. Nike could feature its athletes in anything and do fairly well out of it, but by taking a stand (or a knee), the brand stood out and deepened ties with its ideal audience. The video generated record engagement levels on social media, at a time when social media engagement in general is dropping.
You could be feeling like it’s difficult to relate to such big brands (with their admittedly easy content topics) – so let’s revisit the key themes and see how they can be applied to your content.
Authenticity: There’s no value to anyone in creating content for the sake of it. Patagonia’s stories carry weight because they’re in line with the brand’s mission and values, and they’re real. If you can weave your own brand’s purpose into your content, you’ll build trust in your product at the same time.
Specificity: By focusing on the stories of its members, VSCO’s content has a unique and personalised feel that helps its fans to feel valued. People do business with people, and from your customers to your team, by highlighting the people linked to your business, you’ll counter the faceless image many companies can give off – while saving resource on the content creation process too.
Richness: There is often an overwhelming urge in digital marketing, and marketing in general, to make every message as short and concise as possible. That can cut out a lot of the interesting detail however, and when it comes to content, longer-form copy often proves more popular – including National Geographic’s Instagram posts. If you’ve got more to say about the origins of your brand or interesting quirks in your latest project for example, don’t be afraid to say it!
Bravery: This is the scariest one, but as Nike has shown, it can often bring the biggest rewards. If your values and beliefs drive your business, and you’re confident that your audience will feel the same, then creating your content around them will help you stand out from your more mild-mannered competitors, win new fans, and strengthen your relationship with your existing ones. Just do it.
Need help telling your story? Let’s have a chat!