What do all great stories have in common? OK — aside from having a beginning, a middle and end?

They all have that special “something” that makes the reader care.

As a marketer, you’re a digital storyteller. It’s all up to you to weave a tale that attracts your target audience and gets them to truly care about your brand’s message. And, when you do it right, you can avoid creating just another marketing campaign. Instead, you’ll build a genuine, long-lasting connection with your customers.

Read on to learn about 5 best-in-class digital storytelling campaigns from the past year and start writing your brand’s own happily ever after.

What is Digital Storytelling?

Like any good story, we’ll start from the beginning: What do we actually mean when we say “digital storytelling?”

At its most basic, the digital storytelling process involves using a mixture of content and digital media to bring a narrative to life. These campaigns combine audio, images, animated clips and more all to tell a single story.

As described by Forbes, 3 of the most widely used digital storytelling techniques include:

  • Customer-generated stories: This category is basically word-of-mouth marketing to the max. Here, you give your existing customers a platform to speak about their experience with your brand in an effort to connect with and educate potential prospects.
  • Data-focused campaigns: By using compelling data and statistics to demonstrate the impact of your brand, you can attract the eyes of your target audience.
  • Minis: Sometimes, less is more. Short snippets of teaser information can better capture and engage the increasingly shorter attention span of the modern consumer.

Don’t feel as though your digital marketing campaign has to be constrained to just 1 of these techniques. Depending on your target market, using a combination of 2 multimedia elements or pulling from all 3 might be exactly what you need to tell your brand story.

Real-Life Digital Storytelling Examples

OK — we know what digital storytelling is. But what does it actually look like in practice? Let’s dive into 5 of the most unique digital marketing examples from the past year:

1. Toyota Big Game Commercial: Jessica Long’s Story

When you think Toyota, you probably don’t feel all that warm and fuzzy. However, that’s exactly what the Japanese automotive manufacturer set out to change when partnering with Paralympic gold medalist, Jessica Long.

In just a single minute, we watch as Long “swims” through her life, sharing her and her mother’s story of hope and determination. An emotional soundtrack swells as Long watches as an actress playing her mother reenacts the phone call where she is told her daughter will live a hard life. Her response?

“It might not be easy, but it’ll be amazing.”

Following an enormously challenging year, Toyota used its coveted Superbowl spot not as a plug for cars, but instead as a reminder that there’s strength in us all.

2. iPhone 12 Fumble

Not all digital storytelling has to be emotional. In fact, sometimes the best way to relate to consumers is through comedy.

A quick show of hands — who hasn’t fearfully picked up their phone after an especially dramatic, face-down fall?

Yeah, we figured. And that’s exactly what Apple was banking on.

The audience watches as our unnamed protagonist struggles desperately to stop her phone from falling. No judgement — we’ve all been there. When she grimaces and finally picks it up, it comes out unscathed.

Rather than outright saying, “buy the phone,” Apple concludes with a snappy message for both existing customers and potential buyers: “Relax. It’s an iPhone.”

3. Play New with Nike

Over the course of a minute, we watch everyday people as well as highly decorated Olympians try their hands at a new sport and … fail. Like, pretty dramatically. But in Nike’s “Play New” campaign, that’s more than OK.

By putting the play back in fitness, the company encourages the audience to tie up their (Nike) shoelaces, go out and try something new, even if they aren’t great at it right off the bat. As our narrator says, “Here’s to going for it, and being terrible.”

4. Spotify and Harry Styles

Spotify has positioned itself as the king of streaming. Just take a look at social media come December — your newsfeed is likely flooded with screenshots of your friends’ yearly listening breakdowns.

In the “Only You” ad, the company plays on this, comedically highlighting a listener who played Harry Styles’ song over 15 times in a row. By providing a personalized breakdown of users’ listening habits, Spotify works to connect with consumers by focusing on what sets each of us apart.

5. Dove and the Reverse Selfie

Since first launching the “Real Beauty” campaign in 2004, Dove has committed itself to tackling traditional beauty standards. With this ad, the brand reaffirms that mission.

The audience watches in reverse as a young woman gets ready to take a selfie. The video unwinds as she takes a glamorous photo, applying image distortion effects, filters and heavy makeup to achieve the look she wants. At the end, we’re left with a young girl staring sadly in the mirror. Dove shares a poignant message about the negative impact of social media, urging viewers to appreciate their natural beauty.

Each of these ads create a compelling story through different tactics. Whether it’s emotion, humor or a combination of the two, the most important thing is that the story you tell resonates with your audience and reflects your brand.

Benefits of Good Digital Storytelling

In 2000, Microsoft conducted a study measuring how long people can focus on one thing for a specific amount of time. The results came in at around 12 seconds. Fifteen years later? It dropped to 8 seconds. Although there hasn’t been an update on the study since, researchers estimated that the number would only continue to dwindle.

Consumers are exposed to thousands of ads every single day. If you’re a digital marketer, cutting through the noise and actually capturing your audience’s attention for that sacred 8 seconds (or less) is going to take a more compelling narrative than a traditional ad could contain.

In addition to capturing the attention of your target audience, digital storytelling offers your team a host of other benefits:

  • Genuine messaging: Customers are inundated with aggressive advertising and more traditional sales practices all the time. Leveraging a personal narrative can help your brand stand out among the crowd.
  • Cohesive content planning: Once you create a digital storytelling project, the hard part is done. From there, you can leverage aspects of your story across social media and other channels to get the word out there.
  • Meaningful branding: Actions speak louder than words for today’s consumers. Using digital storytelling to demonstrate how your company is dedicated to your mission as well as your customers can help you prove that you’re in for the right reasons.

In today’s market, digital storytelling is quickly becoming the new norm. Keeping up with your customers’ expectations and your competitors’ marketing will take some extra creativity on your part.

What To Avoid

Now that we know what a good storytelling campaign looks like and why it’s so important, let’s break down what you should try to avoid as you develop your own:

  • Show, don’t tell: It may be tempting to over-explain your story. However, try to lean more heavily on engaging visuals and compelling audio cues to let the audience come to their own conclusion.
  • Keep it brief: Just look at the campaigns we went over today — not 1 was longer than a minute. The best digital stories don’t need more time than that to get their point across.
  • Stay consistent: Don’t pull a bait-and-switch maneuver and follow an emotional personal narrative with an outright ad. Be sure that your story flows through from start to finish.

Looking for some extra pointers when it comes to crafting your own one-of-a-kind digital campaign? Subscribe to the Brafton newsletter for marketing tips, industry updates and more!

Editor’s Note: Updated October 2021.

Amanda Ciarci is a senior writer and editor at Brafton. When she isn’t busy overusing the em dash, she can be found playing with her cat, drinking pots of coffee at a time or finding her next concert to attend.