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How to Craft a Compelling Brand Narrative on Multiple Channels

How to Craft a Compelling Brand Narrative on Multiple Channels

Developing a compelling, effective marketing campaign is rarely quick and easy, made even less so by the maze of channels now available to reach a target audience. And when launching a large-scale initiative with lots of parts and pieces, many of these channels can get overlooked — that, or simply seen as fulfilling the requirements of a brief.

Take native channels, for example. You’ve got an image the size of a postage stamp paired with a 25-character headline and minimal copy. Looking at it, you question whether your target will even see it, and the limited constraints can be rather demotivating creatively.

But as our clients have seen, native advertising works. It’s a tactic deserving care and attention, because while it’s effective, it’s also challenging. You don’t have the room for those broad strokes used on traditional marketing channels. Each word or image must be chosen strategically, all the while fitting within the grander brand narrative of the campaign. Talk about flexing those creative chops.

That small image and copy needs enough power to stop someone’s scroll. Sure, best practices will tell you to use a face, which can make a quick emotional connection. But every other native ad serves up similar images, making it less impactful. So what’s a company to do?

Unearthing the Story

No matter the medium, story should drive the work. And the deeper the story, the more compelling the message will be, which increases the chances of establishing a stronger connection with your target audience.

Of course, hearing the word “story” can lead you to work up a grand idea for a brand campaign and then distill it down from channel to channel. What starts with brand awareness trickles its way down the funnel, informing every decision for every other channel going forward.

Once you get to direct response, you’re left with only a whiff of that big idea. As soon as you hit social media, that whiff is nothing more than a trace and whatever offer was originally conceived for the campaign is almost lost. You have to take that big idea and whittle it down to the necessary components.

Your story deserves better. In fact, your brand deserves a better brand narrative. That offer is often the entry point for customers, helping to establish trust and loyalty — which has a direct impact on your bottom line.

Connecting the Dots

For a recent engagement with a financial services client, my company was tasked with refreshing all of the creative currently running in digital channels, display, social, native, etc. The organization had been using the same type of images (smiling people engaged with devices) for quite some time. An exploration of image concepts helped this client move beyond the face-device combination, and the new imagery allowed for a level of brand customization not normally found in stock photography.

This seemingly simple change was a solution that differentiated the placements visually, increased brand reinforcement, and directly connected with a variety of offer-based messages. The story the new creative tells may not have been deep, but it quickly communicated the experiential feel of banking with the brand and the appeal of the offer. When seen in context, the shift from faces stood apart and grabbed the eye.

Like the string drawn from pin to pin on a crime scene bulletin board, the story is what connects it all together. Even the smallest of pins can provide enough information to tell someone what they need to know. When following that string to the next pin, the story grows as does your brand narrative.

This leads to the question of how exactly to make sure that line connects from one pin to the next. The following can provide the answer:

  1. Go native-first. Remember how mobile-first changed web design because sites needed to be built with the added limitations of a smaller screen? The native-first approach is similar, in that you start with the most challenging opportunities for storytelling (i.e., native advertising). Just make sure that the “story” not only relates to the target audience, but also fits the channel and device, allowing you to better target your marketing efforts.
    But going native isn’t always enough. It’s also wise to test everything from color, layout, and images to headlines, content, and placement. Doing so allows you determine what’s exactly working and what may need improvements. The goal here is to amp up click-through rates, so you’ll likely spend some time finding the right native ad for your target audience and chosen channels.
  2. Think small. When limited to stock imagery and constrained language, it’s those little moments that can make a big impact. Find an image that tells its own story. Even a hand pulling a debit card from a gas pump is narrative in nature. And if trying to align native advertising with a brand campaign, look for a thread you can pull into direct response — then weave it through a story suitable for your offer, channel, and audience.
  3. Extend strong. As you move from channel to channel, you’ll inevitably get more room to tell your story. Use this opportunity to reveal a new layer and create a richer narrative with each additional placement. Start with the smallest, most meaningful piece of a bigger picture, and build out from there across your menu of tactics.

When you extend from the smallest of pieces, you establish a foundation for creative work at its simplest, unforced expression, which often translates into greater authenticity. And as you probably know, consumers want authenticity from a brand, as 90 percent of Millennials say it’s an important factor in their buying decisions. The same can be said for 85 percent of Gen Xers and 80 percent of Baby Boomers.

You might capture people’s attention when you follow native best practices — great for building your brand narrative and awareness, but not exactly what you’re looking for. You want a response, which means your words and images must resonate with your target audience. If you’ve struck on the right message for the right channel at the right moment, it will.

What tactics have you used that are especially helpful for making your content pop on various channels? Share your expertise with us!

Jason Gitlin
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