Editor’s note: Updated August 2020.

If you want to get consumers’ attention, try telling a story. If you want to reach them where they’re already engaged, tell your story online.

As digital storytellers, brands can utilize technology and computer-based tools to share their messages. This practice spans endless digital storytelling tools and narratives, including text, images, video, audio, social media, website, mobile app and interactive elements.

Marketers unite: It’s story time! Here’s what you need to know about digital storytelling. Plus, we’ve sprinkled our 7 favorite examples of brand storytelling throughout:

  1. Apple.
  2. Manchester City.
  3. Tableau.
  4. Dove.
  5. The Washington Post.
  6. McDonald’s.
  7. LEGO.

Why tell a story?

As humans, we absorb stories more readily than facts and figures. We pay attention to them. We connect with them. Most importantly, we remember them. That’s the art of storytelling.

With the right narrative, brands can speak to their consumers in a way that resonates. Stories create a conversation with the audience, rather than brands simply talking at their customers.

Not only do people understand stories, they also like them. Telling a story allows brands to successfully present concepts to their audience and form a connection that goes beyond products or services.

Think about Apple. A brand that’s well-known for its advertising, Apple offered up a masterpiece in digital storytelling with an ad released in early April 2020, not long after COVID-19 gripped the nation and the world. Rather than focus on selling Apple products, the ad showcased how we can still connect, communicate and create even if stuck at home — albeit with the help of Apple technology. The main thrust of the ad, however, is a uniting vision of humankind finding new ways to express themselves and show support for one another amid challenging times.

That being said, the value of storytelling for reaching consumers isn’t news – but the storytelling techniques and computer-based tools that brands use to tell these stories are constantly changing.

Storytelling in the digital era

Enter the 21st century and you have a multitude of digital media – from the internet to social media to smartphones. With advanced channels of online communication, several distinctive platforms and increased access to information, brands must take their stories online.

This goes well beyond About Us pages or Instagram accounts.

Bring technological advancements like artificial intelligence and virtual reality into the conversation and brands have enormous opportunity to tell compelling stories. If you’re a soccer fan, you’ve likely heard of Manchester City. The English team is among the most popular in the world, and now has a next-gen stadium tour to back up its brand prestige.

To honor the club’s 125th birthday, Manchester City announced a tour of its Etihad Stadium that uses 3-D holographic content, augmented reality and a 360-degree cinema screen to immerse guests in the experience.

Features include a short movie of City’s history, an audio-visual show of the dressing room before a match and the chance to sit next to a virtual coach — talk about a high-quality digital storytelling experience.

The club also launched a virtual reality experience for fans to take in the sounds and excitement of matchday from the comfort of their home.

More than one story

Brands can practice telling stories in four distinct ways:

1. Personal

Your personal story is the “why” behind the brand – the passion, interests and experiences that led to the company’s creation. Tableau makes software for interactive data visualization and analytics — so it makes sense their mission statement also features interactive elements. Website visitors can navigate through pages with information on the company’s philosophy and impact for an engaging experience.

2. Business

The business story is an elevated bio, focusing on what the company does for consumers. You won’t engage audiences with self-centered praise for your company. Instead, tell consumers how your brand can positively influence their lives. That way, they’re learning about your brand through the context of how it relates to them..

3. Product

Talk about how your company provides solutions in the product story, building trust and credibility for the services you offer. Think about how Tableau visualizes its products in action, helping to solve real challenges.

4. Consumer

While every story should relate back to the audience, the consumer narrative allows you to truly address how your brand fulfills customer needs and preferences. This is also the kind of story that communicates the brand’s genuine appreciation for their customers.

Dove is a leader in promoting personal well-being and body positivity, taking on a brand activist role in many ways. It’s also done a great job in tapping its user base for real-world experiences, thought leadership and emotional stories that lift its brand and also inspire others.

The brand’s Beauty Portraits series is a great example of this type of emotional content that resonates with consumers and provides them value beyond utility of the product or service.

In the right place at the right time

Much like how Lyft took advantage of multiple platforms to share one message, successful transmedia storytelling allows brands to tell a story across several platforms.

With consumers engaged on various communication channels, this multiplatform storytelling is necessary for brands to reach the people who matter.

As such, the art of storytelling is in the writing – but also in the delivery. Cater your storytelling to the platforms that suit your audience. If the data shows that your audience frequents Facebook and Instagram, roll out a campaign of social media videos. Visual storytelling through images and video can be especially engaging on these platforms.

It’s what you say and how you say it

Do you remember your English lessons? Good narratives have a solid beginning and end, typically introducing tensions or problems that are resolved by the end of the story. Hint: Your brand’s product or service is the hero that’s here to solve the problem!

Tell a story that appeals to emotion and feels relatable to your consumer.

Always tell the truth – your audience will smell fake news from a mile away, turning them off immediately. Genuine, authentic stories are the ones that really hit home on a personal level.

Once the narrative is in place, build out your story with visual storytelling elements. Dense writing will scare away viewers, while simple copy broken up with aesthetically pleasing visuals will keep their attention.

Digital storytelling examples get consumers' attention.

Mix up the media. If you can tell the story with video or moving images – go for it. Viewers are more likely to stay engaged with your content when it’s varied and well-executed.

As one of America’s leading papers, the Washington Post utilizes a variety of storytelling tools to engage audiences, enrich the experience and increase comprehension. The Post has award-winning interactive journalism, a TikTok account, a library of podcasts and a dedicated photography section.

By leveraging transmedia platforms to share and tell stories, The Post can more effectively reach readers and content consumers where they most prefer, whether that’s reading a long-form article or binging morsels of social media.

More effective digital storytelling examples:

Is that Logan Roy talking about a hamburger?

Just about the entire world is familiar with the McDonald’s quarter pounder — even if they call it a royale with cheese. But you probably haven’t heard Brian Cox waxing poetically about sesame seed buns.

Brand storytelling is about keeping things fresh and relevant. So how does McDonald’s generate excitement over a sandwich billions of people have had? By getting famed actor Brian Cox — whose widely respected career includes roles in Succession, Braveheart, The Bourne Identity trilogy and even Super Troopers — to narrate its commercials.

The actor even puts his own spin on the familiar “ba da ba ba ba” jingle to craft an impressive 15-second story.

Feats of engineering with LEGO

LEGO is all about creating. Sure you can follow the directions included with every set, but building a pirate spaceship is much cooler.

The innovation and creativity of LEGO users around the globe provide a wealth of stories for the brand to share. One of those stories is about David Aguilar, who built an arm prosthetic with LEGOs, an amazing feat of ingenuity and engineering.

Aguilar was able to do his first push-up with the prosthetic, and sharing his story is certain to help inspire and motivate others to achieve as he did. It’s also a testament to the empowerment that LEGO can afford its users, who can do anything they want with the brand’s product. Their wildest dreams aren’t so far away when they can see others make working prosthetics and other functional creations with a few plastic bricks.

 

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How a genius engineering student built a working prosthetic arm. @handsolo99 #RebuildTheWorld

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Elements of success

Follow the lead of the examples we mentioned, utilizing the storytelling techniques that work for your message and audience. Keep these essential elements in mind for effective digital storytelling:

  • Top-notch copywriting.
  • Multimedia elements, such as images and video.
  • Connected narratives across several digital media platforms.
  • Strong, detailed and clear verbiage – that means avoid passive voice!
  • Consumer-focused narrative.

With that, we’ll leave you to start crafting your story as the savvy digital storyteller you’re destined to be.

Stevie Snow is a writer at Brafton. Yes, she is named after Stevie Nicks. She’s a believer in "to life, to life, l’chaim!" because life is what brings us the Obamas, a really smooth vodka tonic and that moment on the dance floor when your favorite banger plays.