21 March 2019

Digital Storytelling Consumers Care About

Technology has shortened our attention spans to a mere 8 seconds. Here are six examples of digital storytelling that cut through the noise to reach customers.



Tiffany Delmore

Great marketing isn’t data-driven; it’s story-driven.


Last January, Skyword reported that 52 percent of top-performing content marketers embrace storytelling. But among all content marketers, that number falls to just 10 percent


Although the content marketing firm doesn’t directly blame the disconnect on pressure to hit numbers, it does say the primary reason is that storytelling “isn’t part of the culture.”


For companies that can make that honest assessment, this can give them good incentive to do everything they can to challenge themselves, even by bringing in outside resources.


In a recent interview, Hawke Media CEO Erik Huberman argues that one advantage of having outside help to guide a brand’s marketing is a willingness to push back when they see sub-par strategies or tactics like flat storytelling.


To be sure, strategy and data can and should inform a brand story.

But storytelling, as Skyword notes, can’t be a box to check off or something to experiment with. Memorable stories simply aren’t told with one eye on the clock or the balance sheet. Developing characters, designing a narrative arc, and putting it all on the page takes time and authenticity.


In the digital age, however, smart storytelling takes at least one other thing: the right format.

Same story, new style

Technology has shortened the average person’s attention span to a mere 8 seconds. Although a compelling story can hold our attention for longer, the truth is that we ignore brand stories that don’t immediately hook us.

The challenge, unfortunately, is that technology hasn’t changed the types of stories that grip us.


In “Open Me Now,” the late copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis described six marketing motivators that get readers’ attention: fear, exclusivity, guilt, greed, anger, and need for approval.


The reason social media marketers love “FOMO,” for instance, is because it taps into both fear and exclusivity.


On social media and elsewhere, Gordon’s motivators work as well as ever; they just need a fresh coat of pixels.

Starter story ideas

To develop your brand story, start with what hasn’t changed: human motivations. Then, choose a medium to craft your message.

So what types of stories motivate humans? Let’s find out.

Here are six types of digital storytelling that resonate with customers

1. Exclusivity: A sneak peek

Why are we suckers for secrets? Because we all want to be part of the club. But that club doesn’t require a paid or even physical setup. Sometimes, a single sentence or image is enough.


JotForm, for example, sent subscribers an email teasing the 4.0 version of its product. Topped with the phrase “We can’t wait to show you” and featuring an illustrated cat popping out of a gift box, the email doesn’t actually give away product details. It merely tips off readers that JotForm’s “big reveal” will be February 1.

2. Guilt: A chance to give back

Guilt motivates us when we know we could be doing more. America’s volunteering rate has been declining for decades, but young adults are more interested in community engagement than they have been in half a century.


But good guilt stories don’t beat their readers over the head. Simply tweeting a photo of your team providing disaster relief alongside a donation link can induce engagement with subtlety and tact.

3. Need for approval: A user story

Something as simple as a compliment on our new hairdo or jacket can be the highlight of our day.


The reason, of course, is that we crave the approval of others. Especially in a public setting, positive recognition is a powerful thing.

Give this a try with underappreciated audiences.


When UK chocolatier Maltesers learned that 80 percent of people with disabilities felt underrepresented in media, it created a series of brief ads around real-life stories of individuals with disabilities.



Not only did the campaign boost sales by 8 percent, but one ad still remains the brand’s most viewed YouTube video.

4. Greed: A taste of more

Can a free trial become a story? It can if you treat it like GoToMeeting.

Not only does the offer’s landing page allow users to sign up without a credit card, communicating generosity, but it concisely explains the “why” behind the product: Who doesn’t want to “get more done” or “build better relationships”?


After hooking customers on the story, GoToMeeting then offers a satisfying conclusion: a 20 percent discount on the paid product.

5. Fear: A word of warning

Most products make life better; others, however, keep it from getting worse. But because products like seat belt cutters and first aid kits are used rarely, they tend to be tough to market.


Fear is the perfect fit for “you’ll be glad you had it” goods. Like stories of guilt, though, the key is subtlety.


Take smoke detectors: Kidde’s latest campaign reminding people of the importance of smoke detectors doesn’t show a blazing home; it showcases real people whose smoke alarm staved off tragedy.


6. Anger: A call to arms

What makes online content go viral? Cute kittens can do it, but according to Wharton School researchers, marketers’ best bet is anger. In a study of 7,000 articles from The New York Times, they found articles that induce anger have a 34 percent greater chance at virality.


Just be sure to harness that anger in constructive ways. Political anger, for instance, is rampant and effective at motivating citizens to get involved. Analysts point to Bernie Sanders’ email campaign that criticized political and economic elites as one driver of his record-breaking grassroots fundraising, for example.


As long as human beings exist, so will stories. But marketing in the digital age means squeezing more action into fewer words. And if that’s not tough enough, it also means competing for ears with more storytellers than ever before. Strategy and measurement are critical, but the best hook is always a good story.


Tiffany Delmore is the Founder and CMO of SchoolSafe.