Content Strategy

Brand Storytelling Is Not About You

By Daniel Tay on July 5, 2018

Consumers are demanding more and more from the content they ingest. They not only want it to be entertaining, emotional, and educational; they want to enjoy with without the attached traditional sales pitch and aggressive approach to advertising.

However, from a marketer's perspective, you clearly don't want to invest resources in creating content that doesn't do anything for your bottom line. As such, you need to strike a balance by giving your audience an enriching content experience while subtly promoting your brand. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but your brand shouldn't be the main focus of your brand storytelling. To help you find that perfect balance, here are the factors to consider when deciding exactly how much of your brand to inject into your campaigns.

Why Your Brand Shouldn't Be the Main Focus

Content marketing turns the traditional concept of a marketing campaign on its head. Instead of focusing solely on promotion, it's all about providing value to your audience first. In fact, many content marketing campaigns include no brand mentions whatsoever.

Take Samsung's Connected Series documentary, Hearing Colors. This powerful piece of emotional content doesn't mention the brand at all. Similarly, many of Nike's campaigns rely on a great story to form an emotional connection with the viewer. The "Just Do It" slogan at the end is often the only way to tell that the content you just saw was produced by Nike. This lack of overt promotion works because you're building relationships rather than pitching deals. It's those relationships which lead to full-fledged, loyal customers.

As Content Marketing Institute's managing editor Marcia Riefer Johnston explains: "If products hog the spotlight, you're missing opportunities to build customer relationships and, ultimately, revenue."

Surely though, you can't simply create anonymous content and hope that consumers will flock to your business, right?

Not quite. However, you can tone down the brand mentions and still reap massive rewards. Consumers who see some value in your content will automatically have a strengthened relationship with your brand. So which factors are the most important when determining how much to hold back when while still keeping in mind brand awareness?

Who Your Target Audience Is

Trying to reach a broad audience with the same content can result in mixed messages-none of which actually make it through to them. Content focused on a specific target audience can be far more effective.

For instance, Zipcar's Ziptopia blog focuses on the company's core market: city dwellers. Their posts don't mention Zipcar, but do have a call-to-action button at the bottom of the webpage inviting readers to either "join Zipcar" or "book a trip" with their service.

In the same vein, luggage startup Away focuses its storytelling on travelers and their journeys. It does this through its digital magazine, print publication, and podcast. According to co-founder Steph Korey:

"We think about what stories we can feed to the press and to social media-things that make people take notice, things people want to share and talk about."

It's not always consumers who are the target of marketing campaigns. Adidas' digital magazine, GamePlan A, is aimed at attracting and retaining top employees and fostering a unique company culture.

Frank Thomas, director of content strategy, says about the site:

"[...] I truly believe that work life is better, more inspiring and fun if we integrate more sportsmanship into it. I'm keen on doing my part to grow and enable a community that promotes this idea."

The Goals of Your Campaign

Whether you have a single overarching goal for your brand or multiple goals for each of your campaigns, these objectives will factor into the ways you weave your brand into your storytelling. Do you want to create brand awareness? Form a strong emotional connection? Represent your company as a thought leader? Focusing on the impact you want your content to have on the consumer will directly impact your promotion technique.

For example, the workplace messaging tool Slack wants to educate users through its blog, Several People Are Typing. However, according to the company's content director, Julie Kim, the brand is still establishing its presence and has a "pretty long way to go" when it comes to awareness. This explains why it still injects frequent brand mentions heavily into its content.

Conversely, a company such as Lowe's, which already has a well-established customer base, focuses on entertaining consumers and growing customer relationships through forms like its YouTube channel.

One particular hit for the brand is its The Weekender series, which has attracted more than three million viewers in its first season alone. Now in its third season, The Weekender episodes aren't heavy on branding, but accompanying pages feature the products used in the show's DIY projects.

Then you have a company like Ben & Jerry's, whose content seeks to promote company values. Yes, you'll find a lot of their posts revolve around ice cream recipes and company trivia, but they also publish a large volume of content that speaks to a larger brand mission of improving the world, such as “5 Things You Can Do To Support Refugees This World Refugee Day” and “5 Travel Innovations to Help Save Our Climate.”

Jay Curley, senior global marketing manager at Ben & Jerry's, writes:

"We're trying to create a new model for how businesses can use their voice to have an impact on important social movements, and show that you can do that and it doesn't hurt your business. As a matter of fact, it may help."

No matter what your campaign goals are, the content should align with your brand and message. It's just a matter of how explicit you decide to be.

The Type of Product You're Promoting

For many companies, it's difficult to attract customers to your product and increase awareness about your brand without actually talking about it.

One way to still mention the brand without it being the main focus of the work is to craft your story not on the product itself, but around the experience that the product provides.

With Land Rover Stories, the car company keeps its brand in the background and places the focus on the people behind the driver's wheel. The publication tells stories about couples and families on road trips or taking up challenges, instead of talking directly about its vehicles.

This goes to show that even the product-centric car industry can get creative with its content. The benefit of the product is still central, but the focus is on experience over objects.

As a UK department store selling a slew of products, John Lewis is another company that has mastered the approach of conspicuously incorporating a ton of products into its storytelling. John Lewis nails the balance with its Christmas campaigns year after year, including its beloved Buster the Boxer campaign featuring the adorable trampoline adventures of a dog, two foxes, and a hedgehog! It's estimated that the brand's sales have increased more than 35 percent due to the success and memorable storytelling used throughout these ads.

As we saw with Ben & Jerry's earlier, it's difficult for food companies not to focus on their brand. Even so, there doesn't always need to be a product focus. Much of Clif Bar's content is heavy on brand mentions but topic categories include things like values, culture, inspiration, and nutrition, with very little about the product itself.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, less can certainly be more when comes to talking about your brand within your storytelling.

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Featured image attribution: Helena Lopes


Daniel Tay

Daniel Tay is a content marketer and writer. As the founder of With Content, he helps companies to create quality content that resonates with their audience of choice. With over 5 years of experience in content strategy and marketing, his writing can be found on websites such as Hubspot, Search Engine Journal, and Tech in Asia. You can find Daniel on LinkedIn or Twitter.