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Storytelling in Marketing

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Megan KesslerChief of Integrated Marketing & Strategy
A thread of yarn, signifying the weaving of a masterful story for marketing

Storytelling in marketing is a creative strategy that uses narrative techniques to communicate a message to a target audience. Marketing storytelling is important because it helps brands differentiate while educating, engaging, and building relationships with prospects and customers.

We recently gathered PAN’s top integrated marketing minds for a session on digital storytelling, exploring critical considerations for creating stories that move audiences, brands, and sales.

PAN’s SVP of Integrated Marketing Zareen Fidlon was joined by Nik Barkley, VP of Brand Marketing and Experience Design; Ashley Wallace Jones, VP of Integrated Marketing and Content; and Jenn DeRango, Senior Content Strategist for an exclusive expert panel discussion with PAN clients. Following are the six critical questions they consider when building great stories to promote brands online.

Storytelling Marketing: 6 Considerations

1. What’s my story and why am I telling it?

As we like to say around PAN, our best work “starts with the story,” but we could just as easily say it starts with your strategy.

One of the most common mistakes we see B2B marketers make is to focus on the tactics and channels they will use to tell a story — how and where a story will appear — before they set the broader strategy that informs what their story should be and why their audiences will find it interesting to begin with. While tactics and channels are important, they are simply vehicles to amplify your story in a consistent, resonant way.

So, how should brands establish their “what” and “why?” Data is crucial. First, data gathered from topic, competitive and pipeline analyses help us unearth those distinctive “greenfield opportunities” all brand storytellers seek to understand what is already being talked about by an industry, competitor and target audiences — as well as where, and by whom. This allows marketers to think of fresh angles for their stories that build on relevant trends, or to offer stakeholders new perspectives entirely on the issues and opportunities they care most about.

Once we’ve laid a strong foundation rooted in data, analysis, and understanding of business goals — and let this lead our “what” and “why” — the resulting brand story often feels more organic and less salesy. This is an important first step toward audience connection.

Related Read – Strategic Storytelling: What it Is and Why it’s Critical to Your Brand

2. Is my story finding my audience? 

Once the brand story is in place and aligned to strategic goals, building an audience-centric rollout plan that enables intentional connection points at the ideal moments in the buyer’s journey is the logical next step. It’s time to thoughtfully sequence the story’s chapters or phases and select the optimal mix of communication vehicles or tactics to engage those audiences most effectively.

For example, we may kick things off by seeding a brand narrative through thought leadership content in earned media to build initial awareness among top-of-funnel prospects. As the campaign gains momentum, we’ll layer in mid-funnel activations like webinars or interactive experiences to nurture engaged leads. And then ultimately, more bottom-funnel demand generation content gets folded in to convert those prospects into pipeline. This phased approach ensures we’re constantly evolving the story in a logical sequence, tailored to how audiences consume information and make purchase decisions. This approach is what we call brand to demand.

It’s also important to recognize that content needs to proactively find the audiences it was intended for. That means a rich understanding of where target audiences exist online is a critical foundation for any campaign. Not only should this knowledge guide earned and paid media approaches, but it should also drive the tone and format of the content itself.

3. Am I giving my audience a dynamic and connected brand experience?

Put simply, effective digital storytelling requires a dynamic approach to content – one that recognizes that online audiences favor video and visuals even more than the written word. While the brand story should become the core of a campaign, how it’s brought to life should take full advantage of the digital and physical venues where it will appear.

At PAN, we call this dynamic storytelling approach “campaign thinking” and we activate our teams in this work through regular cross-functional brainstorming. These brainstorms always include specialists across our key service areas — media relations, content marketing, experience design, social media marketing, and demand generation — and often our client partners as well.

We start by breaking a brand narrative into a series of campaign concepts — often including taglines and visual “adlobs.” As best practice, we aim to include concepts that range from safe to bold, to assess comfort levels and further direct the team’s thinking. Once we land on a concept and dive into the different channels for activation, these often branch off into different storytelling experiences — from static banners to thought leadership content, explainer videos, interactive sales tools, and experiential activations, to name a few. The more collaborative we can be together along the way, the more effective we can be in the campaign overall.

Related Read – Repackage, Repurpose, Reoptimize: 3 Rs of Content Marketing for B2B Brands

4. Am I connecting emotionally with my audience?

It’s also critical to consider how the visual expression of the brand story can support that emotional connection we are seeking. Any creative graphics and videos should have the perfect rational and emotional balance, just like the narrative’s storytelling does. The role of the visuals in a campaign is to complement and partner with the messaging and capture the essence of the campaign — what that brand is enabling or empowering.

Say a campaign is speaking about how a product or solution amplifies impact. While the copy might speak to how the product or solution technically accomplishes this, the visuals can carry the weight of showcasing an empowering feeling or emotion. It could come through the types of imagery, , graphic patterns, design overlays, or animation style (if it’s a video…all of it).

Consistency is also critical. To accomplish this, we like to build “campaign platforms” that will help tie everything together and create a level of continuity for audiences — think fonts, colors, iconography, design elements, photography that we can dial up or down based on the asset. Having a consistent style, tone, and personality helps connect those critical dots to create less friction across the buyer’s journey and channels.  We want audiences to recognize the brand campaign while scrolling their socials or walking through an airport, visuals help do that.

Finally, tone tailoring — or adjusting the style and emotional appeal of content to match the preferences of different audiences and the norms of various platforms — is also helpful in boosting engagement and ensuring content feels authentic. This alignment with audience expectations and platform norms increases the likelihood of achieving desired outcomes like more clicks and shares.

Related Read – How to Move from the Voice of the Customer to the Heart of the Customer

5. Did I provide proof to support my story?

As mentioned earlier, data plays a critical role in establishing our storytelling opportunity and identifying why we are telling the story in the first place. Beyond this, data plays a critical role in connecting with the audience on an intellectual level, establishing credibility and trust to set the brand and story apart from exhaustive sales content that pushes products without necessary proof.

Over and again, we see that the best content campaigns spotlight proprietary data that is informed by the issues and trends most relevant to target audiences. These campaigns include either a survey component or first-party data from client technology solutions that’s been aggregated, that’s paired with relevant industry and third-party data. Together, this data can offer a new take on existing conversations or introduce something completely new for the market to consider – the critical takeaway here is that the data should be educational or inspirational to its audience. The goal is not promotion, but rather, value and connection.

Along these lines, survey and first-party data should be leveraged across the full campaign — for everything from keynote speaking opportunities to social media graphics, ad content, billboards, email subject lines, etc. When paired with emotive visuals and tone, intellectual “proof” provides the one-two punch that moves audiences to action.

6. Is my story resonating?

When it comes to measuring the impact of your brand story and the campaigns that stem from it, establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) at the outset is key. The discovery phase, while exploring the “what” and “why,” is the appropriate time to explore the audiences that should be targeted and the outcomes that define campaign success. Understanding these aspects upfront will allow for smarter decisions around key story points, as well as where to activate and in what formats.

Brand-to-demand strategies aim to align brand building with revenue generation by combining awareness and demand activities into one cohesive strategy across the entire buyer’s journey. To measure the effectiveness of this approach, several KPIs are commonly used:

  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC): Total cost of acquiring a new customer, including marketing, sales, and related expenses. A lower CAC indicates a more efficient and effective strategy.
  • Lead generation and quality metrics: Number of leads generated, Lead conversion rates, Lead quality scores, Cost per lead
  • Engagement and conversion metrics: Website traffic (total visits, unique visitors, traffic sources), Time on site, Pages per visit, Bounce rates, Form submissions, Conversion rates (downloads, sign-ups, purchases)

These KPIs cover various stages of the buyer’s journey and by tracking these metrics, organizations can evaluate the overall effectiveness of their campaigns to identify areas for optimization. It’s important to note that the specific KPIs used may vary depending on the brand’s goals, industry, and target audience. However, this consolidated list provides a comprehensive overview of the key metrics that are often considered in brand-to-demand work.

Related Read – 6 Key Elements of Brand-to-Demand Marketing for B2B Success

Storytelling and Marketing: How to Stand Out

Digital storytelling offers an expanded opportunity to connect with your audience both on and offline. By keeping these considerations in mind, you can be sure that your story stands out and the campaigns you create reach and resonate with the audiences that matter most to your brand.

Next Step – Stand Out in a Sea of Sameness with Help from PAN’s Expert Storytellers. Let’s Talk!

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