People love stories. It should be no surprise. Storytelling is at the foundation of culture, religion, human history. It runs like a current through every significant stage of human evolution, from cave drawings right up until the moment the first Game of Thrones book hit stores.
It’s also a key component of good marketing. Anyone who has ever seen a commercial understands this quickly enough. They also probably understand that not all marketing stories are created equally. While writers ultimately have the most responsibility in crafting stories that their audience will respond to, data can help focus messages to create branding campaigns that sell products.
This article talks about storytelling in marketing and how to couple it with data to revolutionize your brand identity.
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Table of Contents
Storytelling in Marketing
What exactly do we mean by storytelling in marketing or branding? To begin, it doesn’t have to be a literal story. No three-act structure, no saving the cat once upon a time. Storytelling in marketing is as much about creating a feeling as anything else.
Think about Flo from Progressive. Flo has appeared in over 100 advertisements in the past fifteen years. During that time, she has become a household name. She’s done it without plot twists or a character arc, or any of the other features commonly associated with storytelling.
That’s because Flo is not the story of a woman who loves her job, but rather, she is the tale of a company that cares for its customers by providing them with competitive rates and attentive staff.
Similarly, the Geico Gecko is not the story of a lizard that has been gifted with the powers of human speech. A calming Australian accent emerging from an instantly recognizable computer-generated mouth describes the ongoing saga of affordable insurance.
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And is Dos Equis the preferred beverage of our planet’s most exciting people? Survey says no. It’s a beer that is more or less one ruggedly handsome older man different from any of its nearest competitors.
Of course, consumers are privy to these “secrets.” No one buys Dos Equis thinking that it will make them more attractive. And yet the advertisement retains its appeal.
Storytelling is a Universal Language
That’s right. You don’t have to believe that the Dos Equis man is attractive to somehow, most likely subliminally, relate to the messaging. A mind craving excitement, adventure, or recognition might identify these qualities in the Dos Equis advertising campaigns. Then, the next time they are in the beer aisle of their grocery aisle, they might naturally gravitate towards Dos Equis.
Such is the power of a well-conceived advertisement or branding campaign. We live in a world full of options. Often enough, one product is not different from its nearest competitor. What sets it apart is branding. The story it tells. That’s why name-brand cereals still exist at all when their generic counterparts taste the same and are available at half the price.
And yet crafting the right campaign is tricky business. Attitudes change. Public perception can be demanding. While products that have excellent branding campaigns enjoy their sort of celebrity status, those with less than stellar marketing can very quickly become laughing stocks.
You don’t want that. Fortunately, contemporary data technology makes it easier than ever to understand what the public is looking for and craft a marketing message that naturally follows from it.
Understanding the Data
Though most businesses intuitively understand that data is a big part of the future, very few know how to use it. That’s partly because the technology is relatively new. Though analytics have been around forever, they have never existed at anything close to today’s scale, and much of the information out there is raw and untamed.
For a business to truly capitalize on data in a way conducive to improved branding, it must first make sure they have the right people at their disposal.
Data marketing analysts are people who essentially combine data analysis with marketing, as their title suggests. Their responsibilities tend to vary. However, data marketing analysts can dependably:
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- Understand dense information: True data comprehension typically involves combining many different information streams. This might mean factoring in data brought in by archives and algorithms and then paring it with offline sources like customer surveys to create a single, cohesive information set. Not only does the data marketing analyst need to be able to understand this, but they also need to be able to extract actionable information from it.
- Communicate clearly: Of course, marketing is, at its core, a communications job. This is particularly true for the data marketing analyst. They have to communicate detailed information, but they have to do it in a way that virtually anyone can understand. Often, they may be placed in leadership positions within a business’s marketing division. Their jobs will be to understand data well enough to create strategies that non-tech-savvy marketers will easily understand.
- Craft strategic marketing messages based on the data: Once a data analyst has extrapolated all necessary information, the second part of their job begins. In addition to understanding data, they also need to translate it into good marketing messages that the public responds to.
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Data Saves Effort
Like any suitable technology, data save marketing teams’ effort. Back in the day, creating a marketing-driven story often involved throwing things against the wall and seeing what stuck. While this technique had its victories, it also made many messes and resulted in plenty of fruitless labor.
Not only did it mean marketing campaigns weren’t as effective as they could have been, but it also meant that time and money were wasted on ideas best left on the cutting room floor.
Data allows companies to make the most of their resources. Rather than squandering resources, businesses can now use data to pursue promising leads and craft their campaigns with scalability in mind.
This means finding the proper messaging and tailoring it to all modern advertising avenues—banner ads, commercials, YouTube clips, etc.
Data Storytelling Provides Meaning
Data storytelling provides a product with meaning or sentimentality. Google, for example, proved this point nicely with their “Year in Search” campaign, which they have been doing for the past decade.
Each year, Google creates short, easily consumed videos that essentially review all of the most extensive searches of the year. Not only are the videos entertaining and shareable, but they also serve to provide context for the year that has just come and gone.
The events being depicted, of course, occurred in the real world. And yet wordlessly, Google has succeeded in reminding customers that whenever something big happens, they are there to provide information in real-time safely.
The ad campaign tells a story and gives Google a greater meaning without any blatant self-promotion taking place.
Craft a Message People Care About
Naturally, data is also there to help make sure that the message being crafted will appeal, either to the possible people or at least to those most likely to be interested in your product or service.
This might mean capitalizing on points of social concern, or it could simply mean better understanding how people view your product already and creating a message that aligns with this perspective.
Turn on a Dime
Have you met the Green M&M? Of course you have. For years, she was the famous candy company’s most visible character. Sure, other M&Ms had their role to play. Blue and Red, for example, enjoyed an excellent bickering session now and then. But they never did it with Green’s sensuality.
Well. Oddly enough, it turns out people are less receptive to seductive amorphized candy than M&Ms first assumed. Using data, the company was able to take note of how the public was receiving their campaign and revamp it with characters that are more in line with current taste.
Now, M&Ms feature more nuanced personalities.
Not every marketing campaign is going to be a home run. Mistakes get made; sometimes, risky moves don’t pay off the way you expected. When a campaign goes off the rails, data is there to help you quickly and decisively correct your course.
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The Same Product Seen in New Ways
Naturally, when most people think of Whirlpool’s appliance company, the first thought is one of higher graduation rates. Well, at least they did, back in 2016. It was then that the star washer and dryer company learned that thousands of students drop out of school every year because they didn’t have clean clothes to wear.
What did they do with this data? They used it to tell the story of a company that cares and a washer and dryer set for people in their time of need.
They installed washer and dryer sets at schools with high dropout rates. Over time, dropout rates decreased, and Whirlpool created honest, accurate content about their caring company with a robust product people needed.
Same washer and dryer. Much different context.
Data Reminds Customers Why They Like a Product
Of course, data-driven storytelling does not have to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it can be just as effective to remind a customer why they like a product to begin with. Spotify does this well with its end-of-the-year review feature.
Here, the company presents the listener with a review of the music and podcasts they listened to over the previous year. It is even quite granular with subcategories of a favorite musician, genre, etc.
The result? Spotify says nothing specific about itself, yet it manages to tell the software story that serves as a constant companion to its customers. No new information is provided. The company does not tell the consumer anything they didn’t already know. And yet, the effect is evident. Customers remember what they like about Spotify and become more likely to renew their subscriptions.
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Marketing materials have the unfortunate quality of being unrelatable to the average consumer. While there is a particular aesthetic pleasure to seeing pristine homes lived in by skinny people with symmetrical faces, the fact of the matter is that most people don’t quite identify with this image.
The cosmetic company Dove learned in 2004 that only 2% of women identify as being beautiful. Naturally, much could be said of this sad statistic. What the company extrapolated, however, was that a standard of beauty had been established that did not represent the average person.
They tried to change it. The Dove Natural Beauty campaign was born. Dove used this campaign as an opportunity to highlight women who were both beautiful and more representative of the general population. Stick-thin models were out; gorgeous, healthy-looking women were in.
This campaign made a small but admirable dent in a comprehensive self-esteem problem from a strictly human level.
As an ad, it worked on multiple levels. For one thing, it told the story of a company that cared about people. It also told the story of a product that isn’t for models but for everyday women who are beautiful just the way they are.
Suitable ads have to strike a careful balance. On the one hand, they need to describe something that a consumer will want to improve their life. On the other hand, the ad also has to describe a relatable person with or without the product in question.
Data implementation can help bridge this gap. With the right analytics, businesses can do as Dove did, finding a narrative that makes their product look good while also empowering the type of people who are most likely to find it helpful.