Short, snappy, and ephemeral—such are the traits of today’s most shared stories. The long form novella and the two-hour feature film have made way for the 140-character tweet and the 6.5-second Vine. Fictional purists can gripe that “the story” is dead, but they would be boxing themselves (and their brands) into a dead-end marketing solution. 

People are exposed to an estimated 30,000 commercial messages per day. Consumers must navigate an overwhelming miasma of brand stories at every turn, and their attentiveness to any one narrative is a precious entity. In the digital era, a sharp and effective brand story is of paramount importance—perhaps even more so than in the one-to-many broadcast advertising model of previous eras. 

Millennials have come of age perpetually connected across countless platforms and on myriad devices; as a result, this generation’s attention span is 60% shorter than that of older generations. Catching—and keeping—consumer attention in the digital media age requires answering the classic climactic questions of fiction in newly modernized and expedited ways.

So how does a brand do this? The answer: a “digitorial” marketing strategy. Marketers must recast themselves as magazine editors with the goal of publishing shareable, conversation driving content rather than simply selling products. Consumers will no longer passively accept the obvious sell; the sheer volume of commercial messages being hurled at them means that they can sift through content and be judicious in what they accept and reject. Further empowering the public is the democratic and enabling technology through which they engage with brands: mobile technology and desktop interfaces let viewers select and skip through content that isn’t compelling enough. 

The stories resonating with consumers are visually emotive and mobile-centric, as evidenced by the rise of social networks like Vine, Instagram, and Pinterest that are heavily image-based and chiefly viewed through smartphone applications. They answer the archetypal narrative questions in micro-content readability:

1. Who is the Hero?

Position the target customer as the hero. Consumers no longer respond to narratives of inadequacy, wherein they are inherently lacking and in need of a brand’s salvation. They now have a suite of survival tools (i.e. technology and social media) and desire to be championed in a brand’s story. Tell a hero’s journey in which the consumer is the active agent of positive growth. 

2. What is the Plot?

A brand must tell a suspenseful and compelling story, one whose arc moves consumers to read from beginning to end and anxiously await the sequel. Employ perpetual marketing hooks and teasers that keep viewers tuned-in to see what happens. 

3. What is the Setting?

A successful brand is easily accessible at all points of communication and customer engagement. This means fluency along multiple nodes of interaction: social, digital, and mobile. Surround customers with a variety of brand experiences so that they can self-select how they engage.  

4. What is the Conflict?

Tap into the consumer’s differentiated and participatory brand experience. Enduring, emboldening narratives point out what is missing (what service will the brand provide?) and enable the consumer to fix the problem (enter into a relationship with the brand’s service offerings). 

5. What is the Lesson?

Show how the brand will solve the problem. Put faith in customers and leave them with a meaningful take-away from the story. 

An inspiring example of effective digital storytelling is Taylor Swift’s application accompanying the launch of her music video “Blank Space.” The free American Express app offers an immersive technological experience that transports users into a recreation of the music video’s setting, a baroque and over-the-top mansion housing a dashing male model.  Users can follow a realistically animated Swift and her beau as they go through the virtual estate’s many elaborate rooms; essentially, the app is a chart-your-own-adventure video game. The app also includes behind-the-scenes footage of the music video shoot, links to Swift’s 1989 tour schedule, and an easily clickable purchase feature for the 1989 album.

The disruptive and ever changing landscape of modern marketing calls for especially emotive and captivating brand storytelling. Here at Southcott Strategy, we offer expertise into how companies can tell their stories in the most eye-catching and memorable registers.

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