Making brand stories work in the digital age

Some stories inspire action, while others fade into oblivion. So how can you ensure your brand’s story cuts through?

While the power of brand stories is proven, the ever-evolving digital age requires us to adapt our storytelling methods.

Increasing competition off- and online makes it harder to attract attention, let alone retain it. Producing a constant stream of content won’t necessarily deliver on your objectives. And as automation and AI are more widely adopted by marketers, the human act of storytelling may seem endangered, possibly even redundant. But the reality is quite the opposite: consumers still value authentic voices, with more and more favouring purpose-led brands that can build a powerful narrative around themselves.

In the context we’ve set, it’s worth asking yourself some questions on the way to ensuring your brand’s voice will stand out in the digital sphere.

What story should your brand tell in the first place?

Once you are clear on what your brand stands for, what its purpose is, you should be clear on what territory your stories should fall into. In order to ensure relevance within that territory, look to the consumer. Digital technology has vastly improved our ability to capture customer data, meaning we can better understand customer needs and behaviour patterns.

Data-led storytelling uses this information to inform brand stories, ensuring relevance.

Of course, it’s not about how much data you have; it’s about what you do with it. Data is valuable, but it can’t do without insight. Understanding why your customers are behaving in a certain way will govern what story you should tell.

While Carlsberg’s 2016 customer data revealed that their declining sales were due to the loss of 1.3m millennial customers, their data didn’t tell them why. Numbers don’t always equal narrative. However, combined with insights into drinking trends, it was revealed that younger consumers were favouring premium beers. Carlsberg was becoming increasingly irrelevant to this customer segment. In response, Carlsberg crafted a new brand story about quality and provenance, leveraging the positive associations of their Danish heritage and owning the ‘the Danish way’ of producing beer. Using a data-led story brought their purpose of a ‘constant pursuit of better’ back to a relevant territory.

How do you make your story engaging enough to last in the digital world?

Stories that elicit emotions are impactful. But brand stories are required to go further, in order to encourage recall and change behaviour. To do this, they create identification in the audience.

Contrary to traditional storytelling rules, brand stories don’t necessarily need an ending. If you offer closure, you risk being forgotten. Instead, leave your story open-ended, for customers to continue for themselves.
Digital channels and social media have made storytelling more of a two-way process. Consumers can converse with brands and even create their own content. However, the multitude of online channels can dilute brand stories if not managed properly.

Nike leverages many digital channels, yet the key to their success is a consistent brand story about overcoming adversity to achieve greatness: a timeless concept. Since the 80s, Nike’s communications have invited audiences to identify with the hero of their campaign, to place themselves in the same shoes (so to speak), and think ‘if they can do it, so can I’.

This brand story has endured because it encourages continuation and, more importantly, identification. The phenomenally successful Nike Run Club app allowed the brand to build the story into people’s lifestyles. Ultimately, Nike’s story runs like a thread throughout all of its offline and online content, reinforced by their infamous call to action ‘Just do it’.

How do you tell your story authentically in an automated world?

Automation and authenticity are fundamentally opposing ideas, and yet they are two of the most important trends within the marketing industry.

AI-generated ad content can respond and adapt to real-time trends, showing content that is highly relevant to a user, whilst entertainment platforms use algorithms to recommend relevant content based on users’ previous behaviour. Relevance saves consumers time, which is a key enabling benefit. But to achieve authenticity, automation activities need to be clearly linked to the enriching human value they create.

Tell a story about how you are using technology to deliver on your purpose and values, to highlight the humanity of your brand.

Spotify uses its vast listening data to make recommendations and suggestions, automating the process through AI. But they also use this data to tell compelling stories that remind people of the role that music plays in their lives. Spotify aims to reflect culture, and to some extent build it. The app itself is merely the platform that facilitates this; it's the people that use the app that matter.

The digital age is changing the mediums through which we exchange stories. To ensure your brand story inspires action, keep your brand purpose at the forefront of your storytelling efforts to remain authentic. Secondly, use data-led storytelling to make sure your content is relevant to your audience. Finally, tell a consistent story across all your channels, one that customers can identify with and live for themselves.

Automation is shaping the future of business, but brands that fail to communicate uniqueness will lose their audiences.

By Shaan Bains, Junior Strategist.

If you want to talk about creating a differentiating strategy for your brand, get in touch.