I’ll always remember the first time I opened up a newspaper.
I was young, and it was on one of those news racks you see in coffee shops. I opened it up, sat on the floor and flipped through the pages, not understanding exactly what it was, but I loved the tangibility of it. I loved the pictures of people, the vast columns filled with words and, of course, the comics. So, I made sure to look through and touch every other newspaper and magazine on that rack before I made peace with the fact my parents weren’t going to buy their 7-year-old a copy of The New York Times when she was at a Junie B. Jones reading level.
I know in the age of COVID-19, that probably just made some of you squeamish. Can you imagine touching all of those different publications in a public place — let alone on the floor? Yikes.
I’ve had a soft spot for print publications since that day, and when given the choice, I’ll take my content in a form that I can touch. As a marketing professional, I strongly believe print can be a powerful tool for storytelling and in reaching a desired audience.
But this is a time in which touching isn’t something people want to do, and things change so quickly the thought of planning a publication three months in advance can seem impossible. Print isn’t as viable of an option as it once was. The optimist in me believes it’ll come back, but at least not anytime soon.
That doesn’t mean we give up on storytelling. It means we adapt. We go digital, and we get creative.
“If it resonates with you, it’ll resonate with someone else.”
Why Storytelling is Important
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but nobody really cares about made-up stories or hearing from you about how great your brand is. They want to hear it from somebody else, usually in a longer and more interesting way than a testimonial.
Storytelling is one of the most authentic and genuine ways to connect with your audience. Sure, this type of marketing strategy isn’t as immediate as turning on a Google Ads campaign, but it’s an important part of giving your brand a personality and building brand awareness. Whether it’s a gut-wrencher about how your product or service changed someone’s life, or a feel-good story about an employee everybody loves, your brand needs to have a human element to it that can really only be achieved through telling stories of, well, people.
Humans are social by nature. We talk to people every day, whether a coworker, friend, family member or customer. We hear stories that make us laugh, cry and feel angry through conversation, and we all know a good story when we hear one. Why not share those stories if they’re relevant to your organization? I remember an old editor telling me, “If it resonates with you, it’ll resonate with someone else,” and I still believe that to my core.
Cutting the cord on storytelling makes brands more robotic and less relatable, and it could mean a hit to your reputation.
If print publications or newsletters were your primary form of storytelling prior to COVID-19, don’t lose hope. There are many creative options when finding that digital sweet spot for your stories.
The good news about going digital is that the possibilities are endless. You don’t have to worry about writing in inches or word counts, and you can focus your attention to structuring your story in a way that makes the most sense.
Call your email newsletter a “virtual publication,” and link to blog URLs formatted as news stories. Add photos (as many as you want!) and add a personal touch to stories with audio and video interviews. Get creative with infographics and make interactive charts and graphs to better showcase numbers.
One of my favorite brand journalism (think content marketing, only less “salesy” and more informative) sites is by Red Bull. Through Q&As and features on athletes across the country, the brand connects with its audience in a way that traditional advertising couldn’t. Instead of just writing about Red Bull products and trying to convince folks how great they are, the brand is aware that its product attracts adventurous individuals with active lifestyles, and it caters content to that crowd through storytelling.
Even more, with every story you click on, there are all sorts of interactive additions, such as links to social media posts, videos and more. Here’s a list from Ragan of other brands who are doing similar things.
Think about it this way: what do you want your audience to know about you, and what stories could you tell that would resonate best with them?
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Forms of Digital Storytelling
If your website has a blog, that’s all you really need to make your print publications virtual. Post your articles on the blog, and then figure out how they need to be distributed.
Since there are so many avenues you can take for digital content, determine where your audience is and meet them there. Which social media platform do they use most? Are they receptive to emails? Can you see them regularly checking in and listening to a podcast? Since there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, you might need several of these avenues to reach people, and that’s when it can be helpful to repurpose content and use one story in multiple ways.
If you’ve never done email marketing, now might be the time to start thinking about this as a practical method in email distribution. According to a report by Campaign Monitor, more people are opening emails during the pandemic than ever before. There was a 22 percent increase year-over-year in email conversion rates during the COVID-19 era, this study found.
People are also spending more time than ever on social media because of the pandemic. According to predictions from eMarketer, adults in the U.S. will spend 7 more minutes per day on social networks than they did last year, totaling an average of 82 minutes per day, with Instagram and Snapchat benefiting the most from this trend. That means more Americans are turning to social platforms to cure their boredom, which translates to more opportunities for people to scroll across your stories and click on them.
Trust and authenticity are more important to consumers than ever. Businesses and organizations can’t afford to be faceless entities anymore, and storytelling is a great way to bring your brand to life. Every story is another opportunity to convert people to your brand. It may take several tries, but if you’re consistent, it can work.
Kati Velazquez, Content Manager
Kati has been telling stories for nearly 8 years, and nothing inspires her more than when people trust her enough to tell theirs. Thanks to her background in journalism, she’s written about most things under the sun, from features on office pets to in-depth healthcare topics.