I spent a couple of days in Cologne last week at Dmexco 2015, and one of the most interesting talks I attended was about storytelling. 

With content marketing’s increasing importance over the last few years, brand storytelling has become a key part of many companies’ marketing strategies. 

While this means we have to put up with job titles like ‘Chief Storyteller‘, from a consumer point of view it’s great. Rather than relying on the old ways of advertising on TV or through banners, brands are being forced to provide a richer and more immersive experience for their potential customers. 

The panel included senior marketers from the likes of Tumblr, AOL and Nestle. In this post I’m going to share some of the highlights with you. 

Consumers should be at the centre of storytelling

Obviously we all know what storytelling is in general terms. We grew up with it through books and films and TV shows. It’s one of the primary ways in which we communicate with our friends and family. 

But what about storytelling in a marketing context?

One of the panellists was Nestle’s digital innovation manager, Stephanie Naegeli. She describes it as follows: 

Storytelling is the art of creating a narrative that supports the brand but puts the needs of consumers at its centre.

This makes sense. Any story worth its salt should aim to please the person to whom it’s told. If brands create stories with only self-promotion in mind they are unlikely to resonate with their target customers. 

Another panellist, Omnicom Group CEO Jonathan Nelson, calls it “A mix of art and science.” ‘Science’ refers to the data side of things while ‘art’ describes the creativity, communications and messaging. 

Technology is driving tone of voice

As technology continues to evolve at a ridiculously fast pace it is inevitably having a big impact on the ways marketers approach all areas of marketing, and storytelling is certainly no exception. 

“Consumer behaviour is influenced by tech,” says Naegeli. “And we’re seeing that with storytelling.”

Naegeli describes how a computer screen is much closer to a user’s personal space than television used to be, and obviously mobile devices even more so. This provides an opportunity for a much more intimate experience. 

“Consumers are their own content curators,” she says. “They determine what goes into their YouTube or Instagram feeds. Brands now need to compete with content from individuals, which is why they need to take a more personal tone.”

To illustrate what a more personal tone might mean when it comes to brand storytelling, Naegeli references the ‘Dear Kitten’ video below that was created and published in partnership with Buzzfeed. 

Storytelling platforms are evolving

Another impact of technology has been a huge increase in the number of potential platforms through which brands can tell their stories. 

Tumblr is one such platform, particularly useful because it allows publishers to upload content in almost any format. 

Nescafe recently moved all of its websites onto the Tumblr platform, which means real-time connections with Tumblr’s audience rather than the more static traditional .com sites. 

Communicating with consumers in real time seemed to be a theme of the discussion, with Outbrain’s Yaron Galai bringing up content recommendation. He says:

When I’m reading a blog or an online magazine, the only thing you can assume about me is that I’m interested in reading content.

The best way to target consumers with your story, Galai says, is to provide recommendations about your content within another piece of content they’re already reading. 

AOL’s Bob Lord says you can’t talk about creating a brand story without mentioning data and context. 

“Once you understand factors like a consumer’s location or the environment they’re in, you can use that rich information to serve relevant ads on a mobile device,” he says. 

Lord goes on to talk about how The Huffington Post uses real-time data to serve similar content to what the user is already consuming. By embedding ads into relevant content in this way they appear less jarring. 

He adds:

It should feel like a seamless experience for the consumer.

Conclusion: 

As Stephanie Naegeli mentioned, when brands are serving content to people online they’re not just competing with other advertisers. They’re competing with individuals, too. 

It is therefore critical to make sure your content speaks to people in a very personal way. 

The ‘Dear Kitten’ example above is a perfect example of this. It is the type of video people would share regardless of who produced it. It is funny and entertaining, but it also gets the brand message across.

People are bored of traditional online ads, as evidenced by the rise of ad-blocking software. If you want to tell your brand’s story, the time has comes to do it in a way that fits with online consumer behaviour. 

Otherwise you risk a perfectly good story getting lost in the noise.  Or worse, you’ll just annoy people. 

You can learn even more about content marketing at our two day Festival of Marketing event in November. Book your ticket today and see how you can break through the noise.