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Digital Storytelling: How Brands Can Use Authenticity and Emotional Connection to Stand Out Online

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Humans have communicated through storytelling for centuries. Aside from sharing information, stories connect communities and create lasting bonds. When digital marketers use storytelling to their advantage, they construct similarly strong bonds between brands and audiences. Focusing on authenticity and emotions during digital storytelling can strengthen those connections.

What storytelling does to the human brain

To understand the power of storytelling for brands and businesses, it is worth looking at how our brain reacts to stories from a biological and psychological perspective. Our brains have evolved over thousands of years. While it is undeniable that our cognitive capacity has changed, the pace of those changes has been far slower than, for example, the development of technologies we use to share stories.

That means that no matter whether you are part of a marketing team, part of the target audience for a product, or the product’s inventor, you share one thing: how you respond to content. When we hear a story, our brains change noticeably. Aside from the areas that process language, the parts of our brain that would be involved in the activity we are hearing about also become active. Psychologist Dr. Pamela Rutledge writes that the meaning of messages starts in our brains.

Whenever consumers are confronted with content, including marketing messages, their brains respond by trying to put the story into the context of their experiences. This is how humans make sense of new information. For digital marketers, the narrative at the heart of any campaign is critical.

Related: How to Use Storytelling to Sell Your Brand and Vision

Storytelling and technology

Some of the earliest narratives we know of were scratched into or painted on the walls of prehistoric caves. Communication technology has changed beyond recognition since then, and digital marketers have never had more channels to choose from to reach their audiences when those are most receptive to their messages.

Stories are rarely restricted to one platform. Instead, marketing teams spend considerable time fine-tuning their approach and their selection of digital marketing channels. Each channel has its strengths and weaknesses, and each contributes to the immersive effect of storytelling in its own way. Emerging technologies like virtual reality headsets even allow audiences to become part of the story and influence its outcome.

Exciting as all those developments are, the most important point is this: no digital marketing channel can replace the power of the story itself. Communication technologies are simply enablers that help transmit stories.

Harnessing authenticity and emotion in digital storytelling

Knowing that stories can activate certain parts of our brains, it is time to consider how authentic and emotional storytelling can support brand marketing efforts even further.

Emotional digital storytelling

While people may purchase products out of necessity, when faced with choices between brands or varieties, emotional impulses tend to outweigh purely rational thought processes.

To stand out online, digital storytellers need to ask themselves how they would like their audiences to feel when they see or read their content. Some of the most common desires are:

  • A better future for the whole family
  • Experiencing instant gratification
  • Creating a sense of overall well-being, belonging, or freedom

The relevant emotions will vary widely between brands, and this list is far from exhaustive. But if your story triggers these or other feelings, you have created an emotional bond with your audience. This bond will run deeper and be far stronger than a connection simply based on factual information.

Related: How to Utilize Public Relations Without Sacrificing Your Own Narrative

Authentic digital storytelling

While stories allow their audiences to imagine themselves at the center of the plot, they are more than the figments of someone’s imagination. The most powerful stories with the greatest potential of creating an emotional connection between the audience and the narrator are rooted in reality.

Understanding this is significant for marketers and the leadership teams of the brands they represent. Telling the story of a brand or a product is never more powerful than when the narrator and the subject can be perceived as honest and genuine.

The higher the degree of authenticity, the stronger the connection between the subject and the audience could potentially be. In practice, that means marketers should avoid focusing only on the highlights of a brand’s story.

Admitting to mistakes made in product development, for example, allows marketing teams to tell a story of how they were rectified. Mentioning obstacles creates an opportunity to talk about overcoming challenges. These stories are not only authentic, but they also make a brand or a founder relatable and inspirational.

Taking authenticity further

Are marketing professionals the best narrators of their brand stories? Not necessarily. One of the world’s most recognizable brands, Apple, turned to consumers and their real-life stories to explain the benefits of its products. Using this approach avoids the dangers of overusing technical jargon in the case of Apple products or sounding too corporate.

Likewise, cosmetics brand Dove embraced authenticity for their memorable ‘Campaign for real beauty,’ which continues to resonate with consumers today. Rather than watching models present Dove products, consumers saw – themselves. The brand and its messages became instantly more relatable because professional marketers did not tell them.

Authenticity and emotions in digital storytelling

Digital marketing lends itself to authenticity and a focus on emotional stories. Take social media networks, for example. Created for users to connect, social media channels are now among the most powerful digital marketing channels, and their impact is rooted in authentic interactions between consumers and brands.

Recreating this type of authenticity and emphasizing the emotional aspects of brand connections makes digital storytelling one of the most powerful marketing tools for leading brands today.

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