How to Use Storytelling in Your Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing
Last updated:
June 28, 2021

In 1984, Nike needed a strong advertising campaign following a sudden spike in competition within the sneaker industry from a variety of pop culture related events. They wanted to think of an effective way of reaching new audiences who had recently been introduced to sneaker shoes through the pop culture elements occurring at the time. After much consideration, they decided to run an advertising campaign with none other than Michael Jordan; selling sneakers they called the Air Jordan Shoe. The concept for the Air Jordan Shoe was “buy Nike and you’ll be like Mike.” While Nike may have not fully realized it yet, this concept would go on to drive every advertisement and marketing campaign that Nike runs (with different executions done by newer athletes like Lebron James  and Serena Williams that signify the "Be Like Me" idea); showcasing the fact that if a marketing campaign uses effective storytelling, it can go on to define a brand’s future marketing campaigns.

At the heart of any brand, there is an art of storytelling that works to define who you are, what you offer to a consumer, and why your product/service is important. The power of storytelling works to gain an emotional response from potential customers who may be interested in a brand’s product/service. Over the years, this need to draw emotional connections between producers and consumers has been accomplished in numerous forms; visual storytelling through advertising/billboards; building a narrative arc through a strong one liner concept (buy Nike and you’ll be like Mike); implementing effective content marketing with a key message that will attract a potential customer base; and in today’s world; using a digital marketing strategy to create a cohesive digital story of a company/individual and what they are trying to offer to consumers.

With the advent of recent digital technology creating online spaces like social media platforms, there has been a massive influx of new companies/individuals who have found success through branding themselves online. This influx has made the competition in almost every industry increase, as there are just so many businesses a consumer can choose from. To help alleviate some of the pressures surrounding competition, an individual or business can use digital marketing techniques to differentiate themselves, create a solidified idea of who they are to a consumer, and build a cohesive image of their brand.

Digital marketing can be used by just about anyone; self-published authors who want to bring their story to audiences on a tight marketing budget; restaurants who want to improve their reach to local communities by building stronger connection with them online; major corporations who use corporate storytelling for improving consumer loyalty and enhancing public relations; influencers who use social media marketing to make a living; and even dental offices who want to use digital marketing efforts to reach an ideal customer. Digital marketing does not discriminate. Though, it must be done well; it must be fleshed out with an effective story around the brand by releasing marketing campaigns and curating content marketing tactics that exist cohesively together.

To do this, you must understand how to use storytelling in your digital marketing in a way that is authentic, easy to understand, and is precise to what you are offering to a consumer. This is first accomplished by understanding the general routes of storytelling:

Understand the Purpose of Storytelling to Help Grasp Your Own Story

Storytelling is as common and integrated into our lives in nearly the same way eating, sleeping, and exercising are; acting as one of the pillars of necessity for the human experience. Songs contain stories, as do books, movies, advertisements, conversations, guide books, and textbooks. Storytelling elements exist in all walks of language, culture, and human connection. There are many different categories for stories, but they all exude one primary aspect; having a core message. 

Core messages can be big or small. A core message can be a parent asking their kid to take out the recycling, or an advertising message on a billboard saying “try this chocolate.” These messages are the central theme in a story, and in digital storytelling, these core messages are used to help flesh out ideas with incorporations of design, visual art, and structured writing. Digital storytelling’s purpose is to command the attention of a viewer by engaging, fascinating, and intriguing them enough to want to find out more about the storyteller.

The purpose of storytelling is to share something, to offer something to a listener. Since the digital landscape is so overfilled with constant stories (advertisements, companies, creators), it is important that you are able to first, understand and comprehend your own story so that you can share it with others in a way that draws them into wanting to hear more of your stories (in other words, more of what you offer; products, services, etc). Understanding your own story in the simplest terms, means being able to understand who you are, what you do, and why this is beneficial to others who may want to participate in listening/viewing you.

Once you understand your own story, you must then communicate it to customers in a way that draws them into viewing your products/services/self. A strong plan is to build a cohesive narrative that will give viewers an understanding of what you actually do. To build a cohesive narrative though, you must have a clear and concise concept for your digital presence:

Apply Your Digital Storyline to a Concise Concept 

No matter how intricate or complex your business or personal brand may be, it must be able to be grasped by an audience in seconds; considering the fact that the average attention span of a person is no more than 12 seconds. Whatever form of storytelling you use online, your storytelling must be concise and clear. This is because most people are quite busy in their own lives and don’t have time to hear about a new product or service they don’t even know they would like. While this may be tough at to realize at first, developing empathy for an online audience can help you find a way to reach that audience in an engaging way. For that reason, using a concept structure for your online content, brand, and your core messages will help turn your product/service into a powerful story that viewers may actually want to purchase/engage in.

The concept process works like this: 

  1. Create a Clear and Concise Concept for your Product/Service - Your concept must be able to be explained in ten seconds or less since everyone is busy (and not in the mood to hear about a strangers product/service). Remember, a concept is a general notion or idea of something, and it surrounds the entirety of your product or service. A concept is a classic storytelling technique that has been used to effectively communicate ideas. Instagram is a concept. Albums are concepts. Inception is a concept. This blog is a concept. Songs, novels, postcards, and even door handles all contain concepts; each with the ability to be explained effectively for the sake of opening new connections between the producer and the audience.
  2. Apply that Concept to Everything You Post Online - Now that you have developed a clear and concise concept, it’s time to bring it to life digitally by posting actual content related to your concept. When establishing yourself on digital platforms like Instagram or TikTok, ensure that everything you post relates to the general concept of your product/service in some way. For example, Universal Music Canada’s Instagram is focused on promoting artists signed to their label. Though, to creatively market their artists, UMC uses polls or questionnaires that users can interact with on the Instagram platform to engage both other users and the artists themselves. This interactive narrative draws back to the concept of wanting the artists to be seen and heard (so that the label can make money), but it does so in a way that users can feel a sense of community throughout the interaction on UMC’s Instagram platform; since the user is now part of the interactive experience as well. 

While there are never any guarantees that a product/service will become successful, having a clear and concise concept will at the very least, make your product or service presentable + easily consumable for a viewer. When it comes time to telling your story, releasing your concept into the world, there is another aspect of digital storytelling that is essential; finding the right platforms for your story and adapting it to the platform’s specific content regimens that can help grow your customer base:

Find the Right Online Platforms that can Enhance Your Digital Storyline 

Digital storytelling and digital marketing go hand in hand to create a digital presence online. Digital storytelling is the process of building a narrative around your product/service, and digital marketing is the process of bringing that narrative to audiences through numerous online channels. Within these online channels, there are a few key platforms that you can use to reach potential customers:

Social Media Platforms: Perhaps the most important online platform is the social media platform when it comes to reaching an audience. With its intricate social networks, the varied ways a person can produce content, and the numerous strategies such as hashtags or reposting options; social media platforms are essential in gathering an online audience. Within the social media world, these dominating platforms each have their own specific purpose as digital marketing channels:

  • Instagram – For showcasing visual content that can be in the form of videos, photos, and text posts. These visual stories are usually captured with high quality, and an Instagram business account typically gears most of their posts towards their products or services. A business owner can reach a target customer on Instagram using hashtags, creating reels, and making themselves a “business” account on Instagram which allows for more analytics on their own posts. Interestingly, Instagram has proved to be a powerful tool for marketing as Instagram users are fifty-eight times more likely to comment, like, or share a picture compared to Facebook.
  • LinkedIn – For promoting the business of storytelling by highlighting the more professional aspects of your product/service. For an individual, LinkedIn can be a place to market yourself to other companies; posting your work experience, making a professional storyline about yourself, and as well connecting with fellow peers. As for a business, LinkedIn is a great place for corporate storytelling, data-based storytelling on company successes, and an effective tool for drawing in potential employees to your company.
  • Snapchat – For pure video and photo content that can be less polished than other social media platforms; focusing more on relatable characters and positive emotions around your company. Snapchat is a fun platform for sharing stories, and initiating an authentic story or conversation online with your audience. Since Snapchat provides a more intimate approach to reaching an audience (with most people simply speaking to an audience by their phone), content creation within the app can be less focused on visually striking content, and more about the story that goes along with the photo/video. There is a reason why Snapchat calls their posting platform a “Snapchat Story.”
  • Twitter – For short-form storytelling in the structure of “tweets” that allows an individual/company to share stories about themselves, upcoming events, and even just relatable quotes an audience may enjoy. Twitter certainly has a human element of storytelling considering how much of the tweets on the platform involve random bursts of human thought that can range anywhere from politics to odd but hilarious celebrity tweets. As an individual/company, think of twitter as a content marketing tactic used as a short form of storytelling (considering each tweet has a character limit of 280) with the hopes of drawing in audiences who enjoy not just your product or service, but what clever, fun, or engaging tweets you decide to post.
  • Facebook – For a mix of storytelling that can involve posts, videos, singular text posts, and even more long-form storytelling with unlimited character options. Facebook is unique in the sense that it is so vast; being the largest social media platform ever with over 2.5 billion active users. For social media marketing, Facebook gives options to individuals/businesses who want to access users on the app through intricate analytics that tells Facebook the interests of users based on their friends, groups, and the posts they like. Unlike Instagram, Facebook is more rooted in text posts with the photo option as more of a background to the text (whereas Instagram pronounces photos/videos more than the text). For that reason, Facebook is great for building a loyal community of followers through text related posts (with photos as a background).
  • TikTok – For accessing pure video user-generated content that can help you reach younger generations and hop on exciting new trends. Of all the major apps, TikTok is currently experiencing the most growth. This can be due to how engaging the content is on the app. The secret sauce behind all of this growth can be attributed to the many popular trends that appear on the app through background music or popular challenges that take place on the app. Because there are just so many intricate ways to tell a story on TikTok, an individual/company has a great opportunity to tell visual stories on the app with the possibility of it going viral due to the heightened user- engagement on the app.
  • YouTube – For creating pure video content on your own assigned Youtube Channel that lets you use either short-form or long-form storytelling to reach an audience. Youtube has always been one of the basic building blocks in social media’s short but influential history. As a social media platform, Youtube is an effective tool for developing an interactive narrative around your brand in video form, and telling visual stories about yourself or your company. Youtube’s ability to have a user watch videos that can range from 5 minutes to over an hour, showcases the platform's influence on users; and indicates that with effective storytelling you as well can command an audience’s attention if done right. 
  • Pinterest – For posting professional photos that tell a visual story of your brand and a cohesive story of your brand’s general aesthetic. Meaning, the visual aspects of your company, and why this should attract an audience. By being purely focused on photos, Pinterest’s content type should be geared towards taking high-quality images you can upload to the site relating to your brand. If your career line uses visual stories everyday in your posts on other sites (photographer, videographer), Pinterest is a great platform to share your content.
  • Clubhouse – One of the newest popular social media apps, Clubhouse, is an invitation-only social media app for iOS and Android where users can communicate in voice chat rooms that accommodate groups of up to 5,000 people. The audio-only app hosts live discussions, with opportunities through speaking and listening. In terms of storytelling, Clubhouse is a great place to interact with audiences and tell real stories relating the themes of your product/service. 

Personal Website: Having a personal website is another essential aspect of digital storytelling. A home website allows for more personalized storytelling, and can be the basis for where customers can reach your product/service. If you are an individual trying to market a product/service, having a personal website with eye-catching visual stories + informative content can make you stand out more in the overwhelming crowd of websites who may sell similar products. Reaching out to advertise your personal brand/company on websites whose customers may have similar interests related to your products/services is another good marketing tactic (example: a mountain biking company reaching out to tourist websites who offer hotels near mountains.) 

Email Marketing: Building up an email list allows for you to reach out to customers on a weekly basis in the form of newsletters, informative updates, and possible discounts on products/services. Remember, email marketing shouldn’t be overused, as the customer may put your email in the “spam” section if you're sending too many emails. Make sure the emails you send are purposeful, engaging, and include a title that will draw customers into actually reading through your email. Above all, email marketing is another mix of storytelling and marketing used to place yourself one step closer to a potential customer. 

Blogs: For more long-form stories on your product/service, or even topics related to your brand, having a personal blog can be a great way to incorporate content with storytelling in actual written form. Of all the digital marketing methods, blogs are the most focused on the written portion of your story. A blog post can be short or long, and it can include SEO keywords to help your blog reach the top of search engines for more clicks + views. 

Podcasts: Why are podcasts becoming so popular?” is a question that many people seem to be asking right now. In 2020, over 155 million people listened to podcasts every week. Having a personal podcast for your own brand can be incredibly engaging for listeners who may be interested in the themes related to your podcast. While a social media post has to be short and condensed, a podcast can be vast + time consuming; so make sure that time being consumed makes the listener actually want to come back to listen to another one of your podcasts. In all, podcasts can be great forms of personalized storytelling, discussing a true story about yourself/your company, and pronouncing authentic emotions + storylines listeners will enjoy.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of stories out there. As there are endless amounts of competition in so many different industries. The good thing is, this competition evens out to some degree with the endless amount of potential customers you can reach online. Using storytelling in your digital marketing is simply a way to refine and transform your personal brand/company into a cohesive message. While the future of marketing may contain new fascinating ways of sharing your story; these online platforms + techniques remain the best steps you can take to tell your story effectively online. So, what is your story?

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