The Moral of the Story – Storytelling for Content Marketing


August 30, 2013

It was early. It was Monday. It was hot. I had been on a train for eight hours before I finally stepped off the platform into Praha Hlavní Nádraží—that’s Prague’s main train station for those of you that don’t speak Czech. Though it was still early, I quickly made my way to the nearest pub. It had been a long night.

It was in this pub that I met Anna. This wasn’t her real name, or maybe it was short for her real name, but she laughed when I tried to pronounce the first name she gave me. She was about my same age and her English was broken, but it was good enough. I spent five hours in that Old Town pub. It was just Anna and I, telling stories.

With storytelling being a big buzzword for content marketers this year, it’s now that I look back on my time with “Anna” and remember her stories. I ask myself: What makes a good story? Why do we tell stories? Why do we love stories? The answer is simple—people need to feel connected.

This remains true for companies as well. People want to get to know you, understand you, and relate to you. So start connecting with your audience and use social to tell your brand’s story.

Pick a Plot

Whether it’s how your company started, a customer’s experience, or a big event you were a part of—every brand has a story to tell.  Stories are executed well through campaigns—both online and offline. So even if campaigns are not purely social, you can still integrate with traditional marketing using social media. Campaigns can be structured one of two ways:

  1.  Happily Ever After
    This story has a defined beginning, middle, and end—acclimate your audience in the beginning and get them interested, build up to the action, have a climax, and finally have a resolution. This works great for many campaigns that promote a competition or upcoming event that will eventually end.
    I’ve mentioned the Mercedes-Benz “Take the Wheel” campaign in a previous post, but it’s worth mentioning again. The German auto manufacturer has successfully allowed Instagram users to see stories unfold as told by consumers. The end of the story, or the resolution, will come when the winner is announced.
  2. The Never Ending Story
    This type of story is ongoing. It is one that allows you to share many stories over an undetermined amount of time. You continuously monitor, grow, evolve, and adapt with your audience.
    Take General Mills’ “Hello, Cereal Lovers” approach. They’ve created an online community utilizing social assets and ask consumers to contribute content and tell their stories. Therefore, it becomes a compilation of many consumer-generated stories with the same message at heart.

Drafting your story:

Craft Your Characters

Have key players, leaders, iconic figures, or characters that people remember or associate with your brand. These don’t always have to be people—they can be products, imagery, or even the consumers themselves. Use them to help tell your brand story.

Select a Setting

Decide on an execution strategy and what, when, how, and on which mediums you will post. It’s important to stick to the script, but don’t be afraid to go a different direction if your audience takes you there. Social media is such an organic medium that you need to remember that the story might not always end how you think it will—sometimes there can be a twist in the plot.

Where’s the Drama?

A little “conflict” goes a long way. Red Bull is a great example of this. They have long been associated with action sports and have continuously positioned their brand to align with this lifestyle. The conflict or the drama is always conveyed in inspirational stories of people battling the elements. I mean, did you see Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall on Red Bull’s YouTube channel? Talk about intense!

Remember the Moral

Any good story has an overarching theme or message—as does any great brand. Consumers want to feel a certain way when they interact with your brand. It’s your job to define what that “it” is and embody it. Just remember what the moral of the story is and stay true to it.

I think Cameron Uganec, Hootsuite’s Director of Marketing and Communications, said it best in his Social Media and Storytelling post series: “We can no longer push our messages across, we need to pull customers in with engaging, useful content.” This is at the essence of modern marketing and it’s at the heart of storytelling. It is a pull vs. push approach, so whatever your brand’s story is, just make sure it’s a good one.