How Can Brands Tell Inspiring Stories in 2020?

Anthropologists say storytelling is central to our existence, while linguists report that our ‘language instinct’ means we have an innate hunger for sharing and receiving tales. So, it’s hardly surprising that brands have been telling stories for decades as a means of communicating a personal dimension and provoking an emotional response among consumers.

But in the constantly evolving world of marketing, what can brands do to ensure their storytelling is as inspiring and innovative as possible? It’s no longer enough to send out campaigns with thinly veiled marketing messages. In 2020, it’s never been more important for consumers to be exposed to a range of voices and for narratives to be shared using non-traditional formats. Here’s what the next chapter holds…

Sharing the microphone 

In a bid to establish real-life connections, some brands take consumers behind the scenes and tell their employees’ stories. Of course, customers also have a voice and, by sharing their stories, brands can tap into a huge repository of user-generated content (UGC). Like Airbnb with its social media channels that are full of crowdsourced imagery and recounted stories from happy customers. Using UGC is a clever move – 79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions, and consumers are 2.4 times more likely to say UGC content is authentic compared to brand-created content (source: Stackla). 

But it’s not just about reposting and retweeting. Recent years have also seen a rise in companies collaborating with influencers in order to amplify their brand story. After all, what’s an influencer if not a highly skilled – and trusted – storyteller? 

Related Read: #BrandStrategy: Creating a Digital Community for Your Brand

Thinking like a publisher

Consumers want to feel a brand is credible – that it faces the same challenges they do and understands the issues that make them tick. This demand for real-world, reactive storytelling has led more and more content marketers to start operating like media publishers.

Microsoft’s Story Labs is a great example of what can happen when a brand breathes fresh life into the traditional case study format. Featuring news, profiles and articles about the people and organisations that are improving the world through technology, the site looks and reads like a digital magazine.

The always-on newsroom

We’ve seen how reactive storytelling – or ‘newsjacking’ – can create viral wins for brands on social. Just look at Lidl’s ‘It’s a Lidl bit funny’ Twitter ad in 2018 which poked fun at John Lewis’ Christmas ad featuring Elton John and their new range of pianos. The Lidl ad featured a much cheaper, but equally festive, electric keyboard. But how can brands combine an agile approach with an always-on publishing presence? How can they continue to connect with followers outside of a campaign? As businesses realise the value of creating and disseminating their own stories on in-house websites and with third-party publishers, the answer is increasingly clear: a brand newsroom.

For example, Reebok’s launched a newsroom as part of its ‘Be More Human’ mission, which has helped the brand consistently and creatively contribute to the cultural conversation over the past few years, such as launching t-shirts showcasing the slogan ‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ and donating proceeds to the Women’s March organisation.

From social media managers and copywriters, to digital media developers and videographers, brands around the world are hiring people to create a newsroom in a bid to drive their publishing efforts

Want to know more? Read our latest report on 2020’s marketing trends, ‘Trends 2020: Marketing Trends with a Global Reach’.

More than words

Websites, print publications, social media – brands have a range of storytelling tools at their disposal. The popularity of podcasts has also provided an effective method of communicating with consumers – from the fintech podcast Rise created by Barclays and the fashion-forward Gucci Podcast to General Electric’s 8-part science fiction series The Message. Showcasing their thought leadership and providing interesting information to their audience, podcasts enable non-media brands to take advantage of the benefits of audio content marketing. 17% of marketers plan to add podcasts to their marketing efforts in the next 12 months (source: Hubspot Marketing Statistics). 

Alongside podcasts, many brands are also engaging famous directors and video production teams to make ‘documercials’ and films. 

Gone in an instant

Instagram Stories, Facebook Stories, Snapchat’s My Story… social is all about telling stories too. And while some brands are releasing feature-length films, others are keeping it short and sweet with ephemeral marketing tactics. Indeed, with the ability to build a frame-by-frame narrative around their products, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to tell stories through organic posts as well as targeted paid-for campaigns.  500M people use Instagram Stories every day. 62% of people have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it on Instagram Stories – so it’s a great platform to use (source: Hootsuite Instagram Statistics). 

For more tips of advertising on social in 2020, make sure to download our latest 2020 Trends guide! 

When products become part of the story

Today’s consumers are distrustful of traditional advertising methods, 74% of consumers use advertising avoidance strategies, such as ad-blocking, changing their media habits or paying for streaming services (source: 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: In Brands We Trust?). 

As a result, brands need to look at more subtle and sophisticated ways of getting their message across – like product placement, which isn’t anything new, but offers increasingly ‘co-promotional’ opportunities for brands to align themselves with a fictional story that has captured people’s imaginations. Like Stranger Things and the launch of Burger King’s Upside Down Whopper and the re-release of Coca-Cola’s New Coke. In these mutually beneficial relationships, the product appears on people’s screens, while the brands promote the shows to their followers. 

From storytelling to storyliving

Through virtual reality (VR), 360° video and Facebook’s 3D photos, several brands are leading the way when it comes to sharing narratives using pioneering tech. 

We’ve heard of someone ‘getting lost’ in a well-written article, but nothing beats the immersive experience offered by these interactive and multimedia formats. From Visit Japan’s videos that transport would-be tourists to Tokyo to BBC Earth’s 360° videos, which can be played in the YouTube mobile app using Google Cardboard or a similar VR viewing headset, and allow viewers to escape to the Costa Rican jungle or walk alongside snow leopards in India’s mountains.

Research shows video ads using 360° technology drive 7% higher purchase intent on smartphones and a 12% increase in the belief that a brand has a unique story to tell when compared to traditional video ads (source: Business Wire). 

Related Read: AR in Marketing: The Latest and Greatest

If a picture paints a thousand words, it seems brands will have plenty to say in 2020 as non-traditional advertising formats and an ever-inventive social media scene continue to dominate the brand storytelling space.  To discover more about the role of brand narratives in 2020, download our new global marketing trends report here. 


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