From story-telling to #StoryTelling: how your brand should communicate in the digital space

Walking in London’s beautiful Richmond Park a few days ago, I spotted a deer and took a picture. Like most of us I then felt the immediate impulse of sharing the picture on Instagram but something stopped me. It wasn’t the sudden (and what would have probably been a healthy) realisation that we don’t need to record every single moment of our life on the digital space; it was something different, something that brought me back to the start of my marketing career, when I was first paid to write.

Back in those days emails were still almost a novelty (yes, I am that old!), you still had to connect manually to internet (the infamous noise of the modem searching for the connection), and the office pace was generally slower (but not less busy!). I remember the buzz I would feel in front of my white, empty screen, waiting for the words to somehow come out from my fingers, something that I admittedly still enjoy.

In those days, communication was a very much defined one-way journey: from me (the writer, the representative of the company) to the recipients. There was no expectation of feedback or even less of a proper interaction with the audience.

In those times we started experimenting with email marketing (and doing it all wrong! Pushing messages instead of providing value) and Marketing was still only outbond, again invasive and interrupting.

Today, brands engage with their audience over social media in real time, we talk with our customers, they talk with us, they talk among themselves about us. Today, digital communication between brands and their audience is a real, two-way communication, an exchange where brands provide entertaining, interesting content and audiences proactively engage with it.

But back in those days whatever we wrote had to make sense. If anything, from a grammatical prospective!

So what stopped me posting the picture of the deer? It was the fact that I wanted to tell the story of the encounter, of how my friend and I must have scared him with our noise, of how he hid in the bushes and used his antlers to collect Bracken leaves and camouflage himself. Of how the camouflage was so good that you could hardly spot him in the picture and of how we realised that that was absolutely intentional because as soon as we passed and turned back we saw him walking back on to the field with his antlers perfectly clean. But can you imagine such a long story on Instagram? Nobody would have wasted half a second to read it.

A deer in Richmond park

Instead, my post would have read something like:

Can you spot the deer?! #AmazingCamouflage #LoveAnimals #OutsmartedByADeer #LoveRichmondPark #etc #OkIAmExaggeratingButYouGetThePoint

Where has the magic gone?! Since the first SMS took the world by storm (you might remember that back in the day they only allowed you 140 characters, yes like Twitter – not a coincidence) we somehow stopped to tell stories and started to share snaps… Snapchat anyone?

And yet the expression ‘story telling’ is very much alive and is becoming a sort of buzz word. Brands are constantly told to be story tellers, data shows us that in content marketing, longer articles perform better than shorter ones, but yet when it comes to real time communications, on the platform where we have real interactions with our audience, we need to tell our stories in between snaps and hashtags.

So, while my first encounter with communication was certainly old fashioned and more of a monologue rather than a proper communication, I feel that something in the digital world of communication is missing. And I know that I’m not the only feeling this way. Speaking with clients, I often hear their incertitude about how to communicate, how to use hashtags, how to use pictures to tell their stories.

So how should your brand communicate?

My recommendation is a two-fold one:

A) Understand and embrace the changes on how your audience communicates

First of all, understand your audience. You probably have different buyer personas, some who prefer longer and more detailed stories, and some who are already communicating with snaps and hashtags. The latter are used to get their attention grabbed by a picture, or even better by a video, rather than by many words.

Of course, you need to be there for them. However, please do not just jump into the word of hashtags and snaps just because that’s what everyone is doing. Do your research, learn how different platforms work, learn their purpose and how to use them.

Here are some useful articles

Your Hashtag Campaign Is Pointless And Won’t Work. Here’s Why

Hashtags: Friends or Foes?

Is Snapchat The Right Social Media Marketing Platform For Your Brand?

Instagram for Business: The Ultimate Instagram Marketing Guide

B) Don’t be afraid of finding your own way to communicate

Just because some of your audience is expecting you to communicate in a snap, it doesn’t mean that you can’t also use your own way to communicate.

First of all, not all your buyer personas might be ready to respond to the new way of communicating, preferring old fashion emails and long articles to snaps and pics.

But even for the most digitally advanced audience, remember that the most important aspect of digital marketing is transparency. Pretending to be what you are not, playing the same game everybody is playing even if not aligned with your brand, is not going to pay in the end.

Find your tone of voice, find the platforms that work for you and your audience, learn how people communicate on them, but ultimately be your own brand. And if that means writing a short post on Instagram, and then still allowing yourself to also write your story your way on another platform, just go for it. Adjust, adapt, but ultimately be yourself.

Study the teachings of the pine tree, the bamboo, and the plum blossom. The pine is evergreen, firmly rooted, and venerable. The bamboo is strong, resilient, unbreakable. The plum blossom is hardy, fragrant, and elegant. – Morihei Ueshiba

If there is one thing I have learned in the past years working with different companies on their digital marketing is that the genuine brands win in the end.


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