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Digital Storytelling Done Right

  |  August 9, 2012   |  Comments

The mark of a successful story is that it draws the reader in, and that applies as much to a digital campaign as to a novel or film.

Stories are a critical part of the human experience. Scientists believe that storytelling can help societies communicate, create, and sustain an understanding of the world, and uphold social and cultural order.

The importance of stories is so engrained in our culture that consumers are apt to notice them wherever they appear, and even actively watch for them wherever they go. It's for this reason that brands have embraced the idea of incorporating stories into their marketing campaigns. I'm not talking about the morsels of life that we find crammed into :30 TV spots, but stories that educate and inform in much the same way that cultural myths and legends do. The difference is that while those stories are about lessons and principles and survival, ours are about products.

Just how does one go about telling a compelling product story online? Advertisers are forever trying to balance products with entertainment, information with a call-to-action. A marketing story must feature all of these things and be relevant, too, whether by incorporating an event that matters to the customer or by highlighting an industry trend. The mark of a successful story is that it draws the reader in, and that applies as much to a digital campaign as to a novel or film.

The Land of Nod: Corporate Musings

Like most retailers with a strong online business, children's furniture and accessory company The Land of Nod maintains an email newsletter for opt-in subscribers. While sales and specials feature prominently in its content, so too do "musings" from its staff. A recent message invited customers to take a closer look at the company's rugs through the eyes of one of its executives. In a single email message, the brand managed to convey tips for decorating with throw rugs in keeping with current trends, feature individual designs currently available in stores, and perhaps most importantly, tell the story of how its rugs come to exist.

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"Until I travelled to India, I didn't truly appreciate the artistry with which our rugs are made," wrote Michelle Kohanzo, The Land of Nod managing director and mother of four, of her relationship with the company's products. She went on to describe a manufacturing process that includes looms and needle punches, dying, and shearing.

Every customer wants to know that they're getting their money's worth, and giving them a deeper understanding of the quality of the products and the effort involved in making them goes a long way toward building brand affinity and trust. The Land of Nod's use of a corporate executive as its designated storyteller also humanizes the brand - something that should be top of mind for every business with long-term loyalty in mind.

Patagonia: Origins and Adventures

Apparel brand Patagonia is known for its environmental activism, and such philanthropy can provide endless fodder for marketing content. It was the company's namesake geographic region, however, that it chose to profile in a recent email and website feature. In them, the company told of how a mountain skyline inspired its logo, and how the region of Patagonia reflects and represents its point of view. "Our connection to Patagonia is not a storybook idea but very real," the copy read.

How better to inspire customers than by informing them about the brand's roots? The origin of a brand's name may not be something that consumers would ever think to ponder, but loyal customers will love to hear about it. Would-be buyers, meanwhile, stand to be charmed by this little piece of history.

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More charming still are the videos Patagonia features in its online gallery. In its most recent post the company invites fans of the brand to follow a real-life newlywed couple on a climbing road trip. It's an engaging story in and of itself, but the video serves a purpose beyond entertainment: its adventurous stars (and the people featured in all of its video clips) personify the brand's key characteristics…while wearing Patagonia clothing, of course.

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Telling a story to current and potential customers online is as simple as identifying that thing that sets your products and people apart, and describing it through a medium that your target audience is apt to use: your brand site, opt-in email, videos, display ads, or social media. Get creative to provide a "human experience" all your own.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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