There are very few things I like discussing more than stories. It’s why I got into digital marketing in the first place. It’s a field centered on story creation and distribution.
The art of storytelling dates back to campfires and cave paintings, but current media is a tad more sophisticated. We’ve entered the era of digital storytelling in which creators combine tried and true narrative techniques with evolving digital technologies.
From the daily news update on your smartphone to the advertising campaigns of your favorite brands, storytelling marketing is everywhere. It’s time for you to get the creative juice flowing and harness stories to help you market your business.
What is digital storytelling?
Digital storytelling is the art of using digital tools and media to tell stories. It’s a multidimensional concept encompassing everything from written blogs and podcasts to videos and interactive games. The essence of digital storytelling lies in its ability to combine traditional storytelling with the power of technology.
Digital storytellers often include textual, visual, audio, and interactive elements to enrich the audience’s experience. The creator can shape a more immersive narrative, make complex ideas more accessible, or evoke an emotional response.
The digital storytelling process is fundamentally democratic. It empowers anyone with a device and internet connection to become a storyteller.
The history of digital storytelling
Digital storytelling has a deep history of artistic, technological, and marketing innovations. Let’s take a deep dive into its origins to gain a holistic understanding and harness its power to build better stories.
Digital storytelling can be traced back to the late 20th century when computers and the internet started becoming more accessible.
The earliest tools were relatively rudimentary and required specialized skills and equipment. As multimedia applications and blogging platforms such as WordPress, MySpace, YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram emerged in the late ’90s and early 2000s, more users started to create stories and share them in an accessible format.
Two early adopters of the art form helped define it.
Dana Atchley was a performance artist and video producer who began using multimedia elements in his shows in the ’70s. His work incorporated (and consistently pushed the boundaries of) emerging technologies. In Next Exit, Atchley’s most famous performance, he incorporated 150 years of family and personal archives into an interactive history onstage.
In the 1990s, he and Joe Lambert co-founded the Center for Digital Storytelling — now StoryCenter — in California, a source of digital storytelling workshops and resources. Lambert remains its executive director to this day.
Brands approached Atchley to help them tell their stories. His clients included huge enterprises such as Coke and Adobe. He even participated in Apple’s giant rebranding in the nineties.
Ken Burns’s epic documentary The Civil War first aired in 1990. Despite being aired on a conventional broadcast channel, its multimedia elements were a watershed moment for digital storytelling. The Civil War had a significant impact on the way we teach and think about important events. It incorporated and dramatized primary sources and oral history as well as broad overviews.
Evolution of digital storytelling throughout the years
As technology advanced, so did digital storytelling. The advent of Web 2.0 in the early 2000s marked a significant turning point. It brought about social media platforms, blogging sites, and video-sharing services.
In the following years, the rise of smartphones and tablets introduced mobile storytelling, making digital stories more accessible than ever. Meanwhile, advancements in software have made it easier for non-professionals and brands to create high-quality content as part of storytelling in business.
More recently, the field has benefited from the emergence of virtual- and augmented-reality tools and no-code web and app builders.
Different types of digital storytelling
Digital narratives come in various shapes, sizes, and styles. These are some of the most common types.
In interactive storytelling, audiences actively participate in the narrative. Instead of passively consuming a story, viewers become co-creators, making choices that influence the story’s direction and outcome.
The most common example of interactive content is a video game. Through gameplay, players shape the story. They affect character development, plot progression, and even the game’s ending in a deeply immersive experience.
Marketers can work with digital storytelling tool options to create narratives that put the consumer in control of the content and products they see.
Multimedia storytelling refers to the use of different types of media — including text, images, audio, video, and animation — to tell a story. This approach allows storytellers to create rich, layered narratives that appeal to various senses, enhancing the audience’s engagement and understanding.
You can turn any page on your website into a multimedia story by incorporating video clips and other rich media, such as sound effects. Powerful editors and freely available Creative Commons content make it easier to develop and source high-quality material.
Social media and user-generated content
Social media elements revolutionized the way we consume stories. Platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok allow users to share their personal experiences through photos, short videos, and text updates.
In this type of user-generated content (UGC), the audience members are also the creators. UGC can also play a significant role in brand storytelling.
Encourage customers to share their experiences with their products or services. You gain a source of social proof for your business’s offerings, a library of authentic content, and a community focused on the brand.
Benefits of digital storytelling
Digital storytelling marketing has emerged as a powerful tool for brands to connect with their audience on a deeper level. Narrative marketing allows brands to integrate campaigns and extend their reach.
Build brand awareness
A compelling story can captivate an audience, engaging the viewer and helping them remember your brand. It can even create emotional bonds that encourage loyalty and advocacy.
Nonprofit storytelling benefits from digital storytelling that links memorable faces to organizations. These personal touches build deeper connections with audiences than mission statements alone.
Nonprofits also generate some of the best answers to the question: How does a digital marketer use data storytelling? One way is to turn your important numbers into a story to demonstrate need, relevance, and impact.
Generate leads and sales
By weaving your products or services into a personal story, you give potential customers a way to imagine themselves benefitting from all that your company offers. Building drama and interest contributes to urgency, too. No one wants to miss out.
Consider Apple’s product launches. They don’t just list the features of their new devices. They tell a story about how these features can enhance the user’s life, creating a buzz that often leads to record-breaking sales.
Instead of overwhelming your audience with technical jargon or dry facts, you can use stories to explain complex ideas in a relatable and engaging way.
For instance, if you’re launching a new software, a case study can show potential customers how other businesses have used your product to increase productivity or reduce costs. Similarly, a tutorial video can walk users through the process of setting up and using your product, making it easier for them to get started.
Moreover, educating your customers through storytelling establishes your brand as an authority in your field, boosting your credibility and increasing customer trust.
Real-world examples of digital storytelling in business
I usually prefer to highlight smaller brands that make an online marketing campaign work for them, but this article is all about drawing inspiration from master digital storytelling examples. These major businesses use a digital content strategy to relate more personal experiences, create emotional connections, and build brand loyalty.
Nike has mastered the art. Their pieces are not just about selling athletic wear; they’re about inspiring people to overcome challenges and achieve their goals. They continually reinterpret their tagline, “Just Do It,” in fresh narratives.
One of their greatest hits is the “Dream Crazy” campaign featuring athletes overcoming significant obstacles. It features Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback known for his peaceful protests against racial injustice, and encourages viewers to break down social and physical barriers.
Nike’s latest campaign, “How We Do,” furthers its mission but turns the focus from the challenges overcome by successful athletes to the obstacles of access and lack of representation that prevent people from ever stepping on the field.
Starbucks uses digital storytelling to connect with its audience, sharing interactive content designed to be consumed in multiple forms. They focus on stories that highlight their commitment to community and sustainability.
An excellent example is their series, “Upstanders.” Told as two “seasons” of episodes, each tale features ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities. The audience can engage with the episodes as short films, written stories, and podcasts.
In the wake of pandemic-related changes in work environments, a more recent digital storytelling project centers around Starbucks as a third option to the home or office. The campaign highlights the potential for entrepreneurs and creators to work at their local Starbucks.
Salesforce is a great example of how a B2B company can profit from digital storytelling. In 2019, the company radically revised its marketing content to humanize its technology products and better inform current and prospective customers.
Salesforce created a vast library for its blog and a YouTube channel that now has over 800,000 subscribers. Content addresses potential pain points, educates prospects about the purpose of the customer relationship management (CRM) platform, and inspires through real-world success stories.
One of their most common features is the “Customer Success” series. In these stories, Salesforce customers share their experiences, discussing the challenges they faced and how Salesforce helped them solve these problems.
Start implementing digital storytelling today
Digital storytelling marketing has the potential to energize your brand and engage your audience on a deeper level.
If you’re ready to embark on your own digital storytelling journey, start by identifying your brand’s unique story. What makes your business stand out? What are your values? Consider your audience, too. What stories would resonate with them?
Then, think about all the individual stories that could contribute to the greater brand narrative. What information and subject matter do you want to feature? What formats would best suit you? Which channels do you want to use to establish your presence? Maybe you’ll start with email marketing.
Start spinning your tales. We’re eager to hear them.