Storytelling is one of those god-awful buzzphrases that we’re forced to use for lack of a suitable alternative.
It’s a catchall term used to describe marketing campaigns that include some sort of narrative, basically a soft sell approach that people will want to engage with on some level.
I’m of the opinion that the term is best used to describe authentic content that reveals something interesting and truthful about the company, such as the origins of its products or a look inside the company culture.
I don’t really think storytelling should include a contrived brand marketing campaign cooked up by an FMCG’s ad agency.
Alas I’m not in charge of the marketing dictionary (yet), so I’ll just have to live with people labelling almost any form of content marketing as storytelling.
But what I can do is highlight a few brands that I feel excel at storytelling, i.e. those companies that actually stand for something and are able to promote that ethos through their products and their marketing.
I shall begin with a brand I only became aware of quite recently after seeing co-founder Soraya Darabi speak about ecommerce trends at Le Web.
Described as a “lifestyle destination for conscious customers”, Zady sells eco-friendly fashion and homeware products that are designed to last.
It promises that its supply chain is limited to companies that have a low carbon footprint and that treat their workers fairly.
Darabi believes that the future of ecommerce lies in storytelling and as such Zady has a strong focus on content marketing.
Here’s a look at its storytelling strategy…
Zady.com is built using a custom backend to enable the ecommerce team to infuse stories of its suppliers into the site.
The homepage features a short video that shows where the wool comes from that goes into its sweaters.
The message is simple (‘Process Matters. Quality Matters. Honesty Matters.’) but powerful, and it feels sincere.
There are also links to its articles, labelled ‘features’, and essays as well as links to its products.
The product pages themselves continue the narrative, with plenty of detail about where and how the items are made.
All the products receive this treatment, from the clothing to the stationery to the dog’s leads.
Take this jacket, for example. The product description begins: “Made from up-cycled nylon fishing nets…”
It goes on to list the benefits of the jacket before detailing which environmental standards the supplier adheres to.
Further down the page we’re introduced to the supplier, EcoAlf founder Javiar Goyeneche, and given details of his company’s sustainable ethos.
The brand story even reveals the etymology of the company name – it’s a combination of ‘eco’ and the first three letters of his son Alfredo’s name.
It’s small titbits like this that fill out a narrative and help people to identify with the brand.
It also explains how you can charge almost $200 for a beanie.
Zady has an excellent blog that feeds into the narrative about sustainability and the importance of caring for our planet.
But as this is a fashion and homeware site there’s also a lot of lifestyle content, mainly relating to travel, interior design and food.
The posts aren’t dated so it’s impossible to tell how frequently the blog is updated, but the content is always of a high quality and relevant to the brand’s image.
There are frequent interviews with clothes makers and designers, essays on sustainable living, inspiration for healthy eating, and profiles of attractive travel destinations.
Hardly any of the posts try to sell something, it’s all about associating the Zady brand with a sustainable yet glamorous lifestyle that its customers might aspire to.
And it’s also about getting people to keep coming back to the site so they’re more likely to eventually make a purchase.
Zady’s social channels all contribute to the overall narrative of sustainability. Much of the content is product focused, but it also frequently shines a light on the suppliers.
For example, on Instagram we get this shot of the land that is home to the sheep that produce the wool for Zady’s sweaters.
If I was being critical I would say that perhaps it veers too much to the overt sales messages and could focus more on the stories behind the products, particularly on Facebook.
Also, the Twitter feed is a bit uninspiring as it lacks personality.
Links and retweets are often posted without additional commentary and many of the articles would benefit from having an image included.
A final nod goes to some of Zady’s on-going campaigns.
The ‘Sourced In’ Movement promotes Zady’s sustainable supply chain and tries to encourage other brands to follow suit.
It has it’s own hashtag, #KnowYourSource, and the company has even gone so far as to create a petition to get the US government to require apparel brands to label their items with a ‘sourced in’ tag that discloses the origins of the entire product supply chain.
It’s a worthy cause and certainly one that fits with Zady’s brand image, though I’m not entirely confident of its chances of success in the short-term.
Another movement that Zady frequently references on its blog is the ‘Slow Travel Manifesto’, which advocates slowing down the pace of our leisure time.
Instead of rushing around trying to cram in as many experiences as possible, people should take the time to explore new destinations and cultures to get more value from each experience.
This fits with the idea of becoming more aware of the world we live in, as slow travel is about getting to know communities and ‘reigniting our consciousness’.
However all the posts I read on slow travel did avoid the tricky question of what flying around the world does for your carbon footprint.
For more on this topic read our posts on brands excelling at storytelling and content marketing & the difficulties of storytelling.