Branded content can engage your biggest fans, but you’ll have to rethink what storytelling means now.
March 1, 2019 5 min read
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Taco Bell recently relaunched its nacho fries with a cosmic bang. In its third faUX movie trailer, the fast food chain parodies a sci-fi epic — think “Interstellar” or “Arrival” — to show the world that its menu is expanding rather than contracting. This one, called “Retrieval,” features actor James Marsden, whose road to stardom began in a “Saved by the Bell” spinoff (which seems fitting), and it has fans on social media demanding the release of a feature film.
CMO Marisa Thalberg says that the expectations around the campaign have perhaps been just as great as those around the product, which is any marketer’s dream. So, where are these great expectations coming from? How did Taco Bell build such a buzz?
Well, in the world of fast food, Taco Bell’s nacho fries might be good. They might be really good. That’s for you to decide. But in the world of marketing agency, Taco Bell’s storytelling is undeniably superb.
A great commercial — in fact, any great piece of branded content — can engage your audience and inspire viewers to action. Well-done branded content will build or strengthen loyalty to your brand. But to accomplish any of this, it must provide a compelling story. As large as the American appetite for T-Bell’s nacho fries might be, it’s tiny compared to the human appetite for great stories. Always seeking stories that resonate, we are obsessed with creating and consuming content in countless forms.
It’s not easy for a brand to get noticed amidst the flashy videos and photos endlessly cascading down our news feeds or being projected from our tablets, televisions and mobile devices, but it can be done. If your storytelling isn’t compelling, however, you might as well be shouting into the void.
If you’re a marketer or entrepreneur hoping to tell a better story through branded content, here are three tips from people and brands that have done it before.
1. Find the right spokesfolks.
Consumers are more likely to pay attention to your story if it’s coming from a source they trust. Consider Airbnb’s “Airbnb Magazine,” a travel magazine for the sharing economy, published by the hospitality disruptor in partnership with Hearst.
Unlike most travel magazines, this one highlights real people. Its contributors include top columnists and authors who are experts in their fields. As the magazine continues to circulate, Airbnb fulfills its mission of connecting people who love to travel while adding credibility to its message.
Similarly, Uber partners with local experts in its operating cities to publish its city guides. These local blogs offer relevant stories from Uber’s corporate offices, as well as news and things to do in the area. Its Once Upon a Ride section features real rider stories, including one in which a couple met in an UberPool and later got engaged.
Publishing your own content can be extremely beneficial. Just make sure you get the right voices — whether experts or normal folks — to contribute.
2. Give the people a hero.
The most memorable stories always involve a relatable, heroic character of some kind. Hope Horner, CEO and founder of video production company Lemonlight, points to Intuit’s recent campaign as an example of how storytelling can transform a brand’s image. The financial software company has been around for more than 30 years but had never run an ad campaign until 2018. Last year, it decided to invest in a massive effort that included a Super Bowl ad, as well as longer-form video content published on YouTube and Facebook. Its videos centered on the story of a surprisingly relatable giant robot — brought to life in Pixar-like fashion — which represented its various products.
Within days, the campaign had been viewed 16.8 million times. It ultimately lifted brand awareness and favorability significantly among consumers. “Storytelling personifies a brand better than any other tactic,” says Horner. “When audience members relate to a story on a personal level, they remember the brand behind it — and when it comes time to purchase, they give that brand the first shot at their business.”
3. Let audience members choose their own adventure.
In the consumer world, we’re seeing companies like Netflix experiment with innovative storytelling approaches. The content giant’s release of “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” — which allows viewers to select their own narrative path — made headlines for weeks, and it definitely got some marketing agency junkies more than a little excited. Interactive content can certainly help brands get noticed, too, especially those trying to reach niche audiences.
Interactive video gets pretty expensive but if your budget is smaller, there are still innovative ways you can incorporate video content into your marketing agency. Take, for example, the “Tax Spa” videos from Geico and Vice. The two companies partnered just in time for tax season to enlighten viewers struggling with their taxes and, in an immersive twist that almost feels interactive, to help them relax at the same time. The campaign was an unprecedented success, with viewers, on average, watching at least 83 percent of all four videos.
The ability to tell a compelling story is a competitive advantage for any brand. Capturing consumer attention is only going to get more challenging. Companies that want to grow or maintain market share, regardless of what industry they’re in, will find that great storytelling is an essential ingredient of their branded content.