It has long been accepted that we create stories to cognitively process and order our experiences, gain perspective and to structure the world. People use stories to understand who they are as individuals and as members of society. The importance of narrative as a communication tool is undisputed.
Consumers also interpret their exposure and experience with brands via narrative thought processes. For example, if you ask someone ‘why did you buy a Volkswagon?’ you might get a personal story of how the purchase fits with their needs or prior experiences “I had a Civic before, but with two kids now, I did some research and feel a VW is the safest car in its class; it’s the smart choice.”
Advertising has long been (implicitly) aware of the power of storytelling. Some adverts tell complete stories, some continuing stories, like the famous 1980’s Nescafe Gold Blend couple (voted most romantic advert of all time in the UK), while others encourage self-generated narratives by evoking simulations of product use. Consumers then overlay these stories onto existing narrative structures and connections are made.
But as we shift to the new model of digital media, are we losing the opportunity to tell stories?
In Matt Spangler’s series ‘The Future of…’ he interviews NYC ad exec’s about the Future of Content and the reference to digital storytelling comes across clearly. But is the fragmented nature of brand content really replacing the seamless storytelling experience that TV enabled, for instance?
In August this year, Barnes and Noble College Marketing released research that showed for 42% of university students, TV is still the most effective advertising format.
So what can replace TV in our online world - video? Perhaps so. Adap.tv was recently ranked on the Inc. 500 list as the second fastest-growing company among all firms based in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, and ranked the fastest growing video advertising company (in the US). Video media has shown that it consistently returns much higher CTRs (averages of 1.1%) and conversions than other online advertising formats. So it appears that video could be our new core storytelling medium.
So why is storytelling so important to brand strategy?
Research has shown that narrative structures greatly improve the connections consumers make with brands. Stories help convey brand values in a way that melds more easily with existing cognitive processes. Making brands an integral part of the way we define ourselves and the world around us.
For specific brand goals, such as new attributes, extensions or launches, targeting new segments, or brand activation, storytelling is the most effective means of creating consumer brand connections. Brand experiences are then more easily fitted with consumer’s self-concepts and values. Brand connections established through storytelling are also seen to create stronger behavioral intentions.
The Olympics created a great opportunity for brands to create compelling stories around a common reference point. I personally like this poignant video from P&G. It’s a great example of a powerful story reinforcing the P&G overbrand values for a targeted segment.
The advantage of video is that when embedded in the digital realm it becomes an interactive experience. Online video’s advantage over TV is that the storytelling – triggering the consumer’s narrative processing which is a cognitive switch that happens almost instantly – can be partnered with response mechanisms that turn behavioral intention into immediate experiences. This is where digital storytelling truly surpasses TV. Take the original (new) Old Spice Man video adverts: they laid the groundwork for combining narrative with true audience participation.
Whilst content-driven social media campaigns continue to be the most successful brand engagement approaches, the ability to convey and create strong brand concepts resides in the realm of audio-visual storytelling.
So when devising your new digital media strategies, make sure you’re using storytelling appropriately and you’ll be living happily ever after.
With thanks to Gerald Hensel at davaidavai.com for alerting me about Matt Spangler's videos.