How to tell a story on a shoestring

A study by the Content Marketing Institute found that a massive 30 per cent of most business’ budgets go on content creation. Telling stories, whether digitally, or around the campfire, is central to the way humans interact with one another.

The most widely shared stories aren’t necessarily the cleverest, or those that have had the most money thrown at their production, but they’re the ones which elicit an emotional response. Great storytellers have known this for generations - consider the tales passed down from grandmother to granddaughter. They’re warning stories which include little girls getting eaten up by big bad wolves, or being trapped in a gingerbread house by a wicked witch. What matters is the most memorable stories are emotionally powerful - good stories can be told cheaply, or even for free, thanks in part to social media.

1. Use Instagram for visual storytelling. Although by no means a start-up, National Geographic’s budget isn’t huge. It’s Instagram campaigns show just how impactful visual campaigns can be. The pictures are clear, awe-inspiring and professionally shot, but the key is that they’re always accompanied by an insightful caption with detailed background. With 64 million followers, the account describes itself as an 'adventure'. National Geographic captions are always much longer than traditional captions in Instagram, but they’re powerful, and the accompanying narrative is so good that they capture the imagination of people who will never travel so far away. It’s aspirational, and inspirational.

A post shared by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

2. Put the audience at the heart of the campaign. For any small businesses thinking VR is too expensive, they’re probably right. Wearing a headset and getting customers to experience your brand the way you want them to is why VR has the potential to change storytelling for ever, but using social media to allow the audience to access the action for free is completely possible. Again, Instagram enables viewers to feel involved. While National Geographic’s pictures are often sweeping (think of those taken from a helicopter or mountain peak) Airbnb takes eye-level pictures so the audience feels like they’re in the scene. GoPro is also used as a cheap storytelling option, particularly for sports brands. What better way for the audience to be involved in a story than experiencing a run through the mountains or kayaking in the ocean?

3. Answer questions your audience wants to know. Nest is a popular WiFi camera company, and its most successful campaign to date is when it filmed dogs at home while their owners were out. They found out that there were millions of dog owners in the US, and this was something that owners would love to find out. They hashtagged it #nestcam and counted thousands of views. They used user-generated content which saved them a fortune in marketing, and showed that thanks to an original question (what does my dog do when I’m out?) they captured the interest of an audience who may not previously have cared about WiFi cams.

#NestCam Footage of My Kids Sneaking Donuts for Breakfast

4. Build relationships with influencers and help them to tell your story. Social media influencers magnify your audience, and put your product in front of people you would struggle to reach. Why would they help you? Perhaps you already have a strong relationship with them so they might be willing to work with you, or perhaps they embody your brand. Make camping stoves? Then hit up travel influencers and ask them to use your stove in the Alps for example. Your audience will see your brand in action, and your reach will be enormously amplified. Plus, a story has been told - it tells the story of somebody using the product, their hike, their experience, and how your product has enabled them to have a better time than they would have done without it.

5. Use your blog to tell stories. Nobody, and I mean nobody, cares that your product has a new software update. Even the most ardent software enthusiast is going to skip your recent 1,000 word blog on how your product now functions more efficiently. Use your platform or blog to engage the audience. If you make something the man on the street would describe as boring then figure out how to change their perception. Make drill-bits? Then how about a blog or visual campaign on the best DIY projects? Or how to transform your house on a budget (using a drill?). Telling a good story is all about thinking outside the box, and with free social media tools, there’s no end to your potential.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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