There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen. - Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
In elementary school, professional storytellers would sometimes come to our class. It was always the same two people, but they’d come dressed up as the characters they’d describe. Each visit brought new stories, new costumes and the anticipation of where the storytellers would take us. I can still remember their faces, their costumes and even where I sat in the classroom. Their stories transported all of us to a new time and place.
Similarly, the value of brand storytelling in today’s hyper-connected world isn’t in the technologies we’ve created (though they are amplified because of them). Storytelling has been around for thousands of years, effectively transferring knowledge and emotion from one person to another – and in that classroom there was one audience, one storyteller and one channel. None of us were tweeting 140-character quotes, nor was the story being live-streamed. That’s not to say that in the 21st century elementary school students are tweeting during class (they’re not, right??). But the notion of brands telling stories through a single medium is long over.
Today, audiences have much of the power, choosing where and when to engage with branded content (if at all). So brands must not only have a good grasp of how to unearth a brand story, but how to tell that story across a variety of channels. Both are tasks that don’t come naturally to many brands, so here are a few rules in multi-channel brand storytelling.
Rule #1: Don’t embrace a new channel without getting your story straight first. One of the most common mistakes brands make in the age of content marketing and social media is treating the launch of a new channel like a Black Friday sale at Best Buy. Everyone is running to be first, but nobody really knows what to say. There’s nothing wrong with early adoption, but only if you understand your story platform—the core narrative of every story that’s told about your brand, on every channel. Simply put, it’s the emotional heart of your brand. The platform is built around your brand’s ABCs (audience, brand and category or competition): Who and where is your audience? How do they perceive your brand? How do you perceive your brand? How do you want your brand to be perceived? Who is your competition? Where does your brand fit in? What’s your brand’s unique differentiator?
Rule 2: Don’t think in terms of single campaigns—think like a media company. Jake Sorofman, a research director at Gartner, believes content marketing is about continuous storytelling. “It’s about a steady stream of storytelling innovations—large and small—delivered as an ongoing pulse. A drumbeat.” Too often brands develop marketing strategies around campaigns lasting a finite amount of time. Websites, email campaigns, mobile apps and social media channels are created and abandoned. So it’s no surprise when audiences follow suit. When brands start thinking (and more importantly acting) like media companies, their focus changes from coming up with new campaigns every 3-6 months to committing to publishing on a daily basis. But in order to do this, it means a complete transformation from the ground up. This includes the people, processes and culture and means dedicating resources to a brand newsroom—one that creates interesting, entertaining and relevant content. Michael Brito offers a great infographic on his blog on how to use social strategy to transform your brand into a media company.
Rule #3: Define your authority to publish. With a commitment to act, or even become, a media company, publishing content across paid, earned and owned channels, the challenge shifts towards figuring out just what your brand should (and shouldn’t) be talking about. The recent royal baby announcement was a prime example of some brands, even Oreo, possibly overstepping their boundaries.
Red Bull is the poster-child for content marketing and brand storytelling success because of its ruthless commitment to publishing across channels while staying true to its brand story. At face value, it seems strange to think that an energy drink has the authority to publish a live space jump to millions on YouTube, but Red Bull’s wildly successful Stratos campaign (which really isn’t a campaign—it’s merely a continuation of it’s media publishing) made sense because it’s true to the brands “gives you wings” tagline. From its commercials and sponsorships to it’s social and owned publishing, Red Bull has built its authority to publish content around the world of extreme action sports.
Rule #4: Make informed channel decisions. Publishing content on a consistent basis is a great first step for a brand to generate earned and owned media, but deciding where to publish is just as important. There are far too many channels for your brand to embrace them all. Just take a look at the conversation prism and you’ll get and idea of exactly how big “social media” is. However, you aren’t making the decision alone on behalf of your brand. You’ve got an ally—your audience. What channels are they most active on? What types of content do they like to consume? Where do they like to consume it? What technologies do the use most? Lowe’s, L.L. Bean, Etsy and Better Homes and Gardens have found great success on Pinterest because their products lend themselves perfectly to the visual medium. News outlets are perfect for Twitter because it's succinct and timely.
Brand storytelling is an evolving practice, but the brands that are finding the most success across channels are those that spend the time preparing before publishing. Develop the story, transforming into a media company, identify an authority to publish and choose channels appropriately are vital steps if you want to tell your story effectively and create a community that will help spread your content. Otherwise, plan on taking your story from classroom to classroom.