How to Tell Your Story With Digital Content

How to Tell Your Story With Digital Content


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Everyone loves a good story – and brands, just like people, have stories to tell.

Most businesses are started in pursuit of personal dreams that go far beyond just “wanting to make money.” Entrepreneurs are often idealists. Whether it is a family-owned restaurant that wants to preserve the cuisines of the Old World or a tech start-up that wants to revolutionize the way that people live their daily lives, every company has a story behind it.

And telling that story – whatever it happens to be – is one of the best ways to get more press coverage, build brand awareness, and achieve other marketing and business goals. You just need to think strategically about how you will tell it.

Take one of our clients, MediSafe. Which of the following pitches do you think would be more likely to interest reporters, and in the end, their readers?

1. “MediSafe reminds people to take their medication.”

2. “A year and a half ago, Bob Shor’s diabetic dad asked him if he had seen his dad take his insulin. Bob’s answer, “No, I didn’t see you take your meds” was interpreted by his father as “No, you haven’t taken them.” His dad overdosed that day, which Bob says was the reason he and his brother Rotem created MediSafe, a collaborative app that helps keep track of long-term medication.”

The second example is the opening paragraph of a Cult of Mac article that covered MediSafe as a result of our outreach. That coverage came from telling the MediSafe story rather than just pitching yet another random app.

What Type of Story Will You Tell?

Telling a story is not only a great way to gain PR coverage but also an integral part of content and social-media marketing. The diverse nature of digital media now allows for countless ways to tell a brand’s story online, but it needs to be done in a strategic manner.

Before continuing, I recommend that you first review our prior posts on how to integrate content marketing with a company’s social media strategy. Here, I will elaborate on a point that is referenced in those posts – matching the content to your brand.

As Tim Nudd notes in Ad Week, author Christopher Booker writes in “Seven Basic Plots” that there are essentially seven archetypical stories that have been told and retold throughout the ages:

  • Overcoming the Monster (“Beowulf”)
  • Rebirth (“It’s a Wonderful Life”)
  • Quest (“The Lord of the Rings”)
  • Journey and Return (“The Wizard of Oz”)
  • Rags to Riches (“Cinderella”)
  • Tragedy (“Romeo and Juliet”)
  • Comedy (“Midsummer Night’s Dream”)

Depending on how your company is positioning its brand, choose one of these archetypes as the overarching theme of your digital content. Here are three examples.

1. Overcoming the Monster – Apple

In 1984, Apple was a small start-up going up against the likes of IBM and, later, Microsoft. Here, Apple wanted to picture itself as the young, heroic Everyman rising up against the older, oppressive establishment. It is no wonder the Apple eventually developed a cult, “indie” following among its younger fans, many of whom wait in line for hours today to get new products on the day that they are released.

2. Rags to Riches — Chrysler

Both globalization and the 2008 economic downturn have been hard on Detroit. Unemployment is extremely high, the city is facing bankruptcy, and crime runs rampant. In this video, Chrysler associates itself with civic pride and tells the viewers that Detroit will soon rise again.

3. Journey and Return – Google India

An elderly man in India tells his granddaughter about his best childhood friend from decades ago before they were forcibly separated by the British partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The elderly man is seemingly a Hindu, and his friend is a Muslim. The goal of the partition was to separate the population, creating two separate countries that would each be respectively comprised mainly of Hindus and Muslims. Needless to say, the elderly man lost his dear friend in the separation.

In the advertisement, the granddaughter uses various Google services to reunite the two men in a surprising, heartfelt reunion. The last scene will surely bring a tear to the eyes of anyone with a heart.

What Should Your Audience Feel?

Why do people share certain types of content online and not others? It’s a question that has plagued marketers since, well, the Internet began. Luckily, the University of Pennsylvania and New York Times have some insight (based on a study of which NYT articles are shared most often): shareable content evokes the emotions of awe, amusement, anger or anxiety.

(For more details, I recommend reading these analyses by Ekaterina Walter, John Tierney, and Carson Ward as well as the original study (a PDF file).)

Keep in mind that not all of these emotions are suitable for corporate content. For-profit companies usually want to stay away from controversial, anger-inducing topics. Also, feelings of anxiousness are rarely useful to evoke. How many companies would want potential customers to feel anxious whenever the people think about their brands? Rather, it is typically better to stay positive by inducing feelings of awe or amusement. For an example of the latter, take this funny video from Dollar Shave Club:


People like stories that are funny or have happy endings (or both).

The Formula for Telling Your Story

It comes down to answering these questions:

  • What type of archetypical story should the brand tell?
  • What emotions should the content evoke?
  • How should the story be told?

After these three strategic issues are addressed, your creative team or agency can begin to brainstorm specific ideas for videos, graphics, and other digital content.

It is also important to remember that the principles of good storytelling are eternal – whether the story is being told around a campfire, in a newspaper, or in a video. Susan Gunelius offers a few suggestions to keep in mind when you are planning content:

  • Show a creative personality
  • Create sympathetic characters
  • Include a beginning, middle, and end
  • Leave the audience wanting more

Humans have told stories since the dawn of history, and these same practices can help you today – regardless of whether you are an ethnic restaurant or a high-tech start-up.

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