Why Purposeful Storytelling Matters

October 21, 2022
What you'll learn from this article:

How to bring a story-first mindset to the work you do, no matter what it is.

For creators producing content across social media, one trend has defined the 2010s: video. From The New York Times signaling a growing preference for visual over text-based content to major publications pivoting to video, the medium has become less of a bandwagon and more of a religion.

While video boasts greater engagement rates across several channels, for some companies, the shift to video-only has not resulted in growth. Rather, the expense, time, and seemingly endless need to “feed the beast” have led to layoffs, declining revenue, and in some cases, bankruptcy.

Video — and content in general — despite having the power to grow brand engagement, can be a costly mistake if done just for the sake of doing it. Before you jump on the bandwagon, you need to understand the story you are telling, why it matters for your brand, and most importantly, why it matters to your audience — no matter the format.

Where is your storytelling inspiration coming from?

We’ve all seen that amazing commercial, documentary short, or interactive article that makes you hop out of your chair, inspired to whip up something similar for your own brand. Inspiration is important, but it’s only the first step. You have to be able to take that idea and explore whether the approach, themes, and messaging are right for you, and whether you can offer a new perspective.

The latter should be your priority. If you can’t say something unique to your brand or at least add to the conversation, don’t create the content. Audiences will notice and will be quick to click off.

It helps to revisit a piece of inspiring video or piece of content  and dissect the elements of the story that make it successful. Do this across visual components, content format, narrative, length, and tone. If possible, write down how the content ladders into some larger trends happening in pop culture. What are some of the adjectives that come to mind when you read, watch, or listen to this content?

On an adjacent list, write down some of the trends your audience is interested in. It’s OK to make assumptions in the early stages of brainstorming. What are some adjectives you would use to describe your audience?

On a third list, write some trends your brand has been focusing on lately. Then list out some adjective to describe your brand. Look at all three lists. Where are the similarities between your audience and your brand? Are there similarities between your brand’s story and the one that inspired you? If so, how can you offer a fresh perspective?

What are you trying to achieve for your brand?

Even if you have a great idea, without a clear reason for creating the content, you will not get the results you want or the impact you set out to create. Take some time to determine out why you are creating this content, how it will impact your business, and how you will measure success. The latter can be incredibly tangible (i.e. video views, watch times, more followers, etc.) or it can be more ambiguous (i.e. brand awareness, earned media, etc.), as long as you define your goals upfront.

It’s also important to be realistic in what you can accomplish. An emerging brand or creator will generate less attention and page views than one with an established presence. Keep your success metrics relative to your experience and industry, and grow from there. On the production side, be mindful of the costs — both in opportunity and dollars — required to create this project. No matter how great the idea, betting your financial well-being on a single piece of content is unwise.

Ideas change, and that’s OK

During a documentary workshop  my junior year of college, I was fortunate to have a professor with decades of filmmaking experience. Speaking to the room of novice documentarians, she dispelled one of the biggest myths around documentary filmmaking: that everything is spontaneously created around the subject. This couldn’t be further than the truth.

As my professor explained, every documentary starts with a hypothesis. The creator has an idea of why they are focusing on a subject, who the subject is, how they respond to certain stimuli, and how they want the narrative to progress. Having this set plan doesn’t exclude spontaneous ideas or sudden shifts in the plot. But when those moments happen organically, you can use your plan to more seamlessly pivot to those new ideas. And in some cases, the surprise ends up making the movie. Be purposeful in your storytelling and have a plan, but don’t let last-minute surprises frighten you. Use them to your advantage.

Explore how I've injected storytelling into the creative strategies of several B2B brands.

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