Editor’s note: Updated September 2018.

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:

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 Coca-Cola. The brand’s story is more than selling a refreshing drink. Instead, opening a bottle of Coke is a way to share happiness and love. The iconic 1971 “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” spot originally got the world’s attention by creating a caring, welcoming and united community of Coke drinkers.

 

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. For museums, aquariums and zoos, the Guru app is one of the storytelling tools that brings the writing to life.

Today’s museumgoers are hooked to their phones, and with endless information at their fingertips, they aren’t easily engaged by a traditional guided tour. Guru comes in to pick up the slack and immerse viewers in an enhanced museum experience. Augmented reality allows viewers to literally jump into paintings, feeling as if they’re inside of them. Now that’s some impressive mobile storytelling.

 

Combine that with audio, video and virtual reality elements and museums can engage visitors in a new, refreshing way. Along with a deeper understanding of the artwork, the audience forms a new connection with the museum.

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. Consumers admire and trust Dyson because we know he invented his iconic bagless vacuum after becoming frustrated with the inefficiency of his own traditional vacuum cleaner.

Via dyson.com

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 Guru markets its technology to museums as a visual storytelling tool to engage a new, digitally savvy generation of visitors.

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.

Lyft tells two stories, one to its drivers and another to its riders. In these thank-you notes to drivers and a split-screen commercial, Lyft expressed a commitment to its employees, while also painting themselves as the caring brand that riders will want to support.

Via adweek.com

 

 

With the out-of-home posters, Lyft reached their audience where they knew they would be: behind the wheel. The commercial carries the story into the digital world where their drivers are connected when they’re not working.

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.

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.

In the business of telling the world’s most important stories, The New York Times takes advantage of various storytelling tools, including these multimedia elements. Both the newspaper and magazine frequently embed imagery, audio and video elements for interactive articles that keep audiences engaged.

Plus, the Times airs a daily podcast and sends daily briefing emails, providing readers with various avenues for consuming the news. By utilizing several storytelling techniques and digital media tools, the publication has a greater chance of telling a story that reaches a wider audience.

Two effective digital storytelling examples:

1. Is this a Tide ad?

Take digital storytelling inspiration from the laundry hero Tide. The insanely clever, hilarious and self aware “Every Ad is Tide Ad” campaign introduced the storyline with this commercial:

 

They followed up with the punchline in four additional commercials, driving home the point that if you’re seeing clean clothes, the commercial could be a Tide ad. The quirky idea was enough to engage viewers, selling the product in a totally refreshing way.

For seamless transmedia storytelling, Tide also engaged on social media with poignant tweets.

Viewers of all ages loved the campaign, waiting no time to get #TideAd trending.

2. Making glasses cool

For insightful product story and social media presence inspiration, look to Warby Parker.

Founded by two students, the company’s story starts with a simple concept: Glasses are too expensive.

Via warbyparker.com

The company sticks to these core values, providing consumers with trendy glasses at a reasonable price.

Warby reflects its modern, trendy product in a savvy social media presence. Along with aesthetically pleasing images, the brand posts short clips, experimenting with several types of video, including time lapse, boomerang and .gifs. It’s the mobile storytelling consumers want to see as they scroll – especially because it seamlessly flows into the other feeds they already follow.

The trendy-yet-affordable glasses brand further caters the videos to the nature of each platform, posting shorter clips on their Instagram account and longer videos on their Facebook page.

 

Aligning the brand as a funny, social media guru gives Warby Parker more credibility as a trend-setting, hipster company with consumers and as a tactful digital storyteller among marketers.

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.