Storytelling Sells: Creating a Digital Marketing Narrative to Drive Action

When it comes to digital campaigns, advertisers tend to lead with “Buy Now” messaging. But is the traditional direct-response approach the most effective way to reach people on digital? Not necessarily. Advertisers are beginning to evolve how they approach their digital marketing strategies, embracing techniques—like storytelling—that have been used successfully in driving business results on other channels (TV, print, email, search, etc.).

How do marketers identify the right blend of storytelling and call-to-action marketing for their brand? A year ago, the Facebook Marketing Science team began testing the effectiveness and impact of storytelling on digital campaigns, with the first of the results published jointly with Adaptly on Facebook IQ. Since the release of that research, Facebook has worked with a cross-section of advertisers to further examine the incremental value and impact of storytelling.

We recently spoke with Neha Bhargava, Ads Research Manager, Facebook Marketing Science, to understand what we learned in this past year and what those results mean for marketers. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow.

 

Q: What was the reaction to the initial research on the value of storytelling?

 

Neha: Positive. After the Refinery29 case study, marketers reached out wanting to know if what we learned could be applied more broadly. This got us thinking that, to truly understand what implications storytelling might have on other industries and business objectives, we would need to conduct more research that included more verticals, like Consumer Packaged Goods and Retail, as well as expand the business objectives to include lower funnel actions like conversions.

Beyond understanding how storytelling delivered against their business metrics, marketers also wanted to know the role creative played within the storytelling structure. So, we thought it was important to research how different creative combinations like display and video ads performed within a storytelling approach.

 

Q: What were you hoping to accomplish by expanding this research?

 

Neha: We wanted to accomplish 2 things. First, we wanted to see how marketing strategies, like storytelling, were being used on other channels (TV, print, email, search, etc.) and understand more broadly how they applied to digital and Facebook specifically. Second, we wanted to drill down on 2 types of storytelling approaches, funnel-based and priming-and-reminding storytelling, and determine what, if any, impact each had in comparison to traditional direct-response marketing.

 

 Q: How did you approach this analysis?

 

Neha: It was important that a cross-section of industries were represented in this analysis. We worked with 6 advertisers from the CPG, Nonprofit, Publishing and Retail verticals. Each advertiser identified the business objectives they wanted to test—spanning from driving brand resonance to conversion.

Then, among the 6 advertisers, we needed 1) the results to be comparable across all of the tests and 2) the treatment groups to be similar across the board. We set up each test very similarly while still keeping in mind the objective of each advertiser.

With regard to test design, each advertiser’s test used our usual test setup. The treatment groups within each test were randomly assigned, and the people within each treatment group saw the same number of creative, with the same ad quality during the same length of time. To neutralize any other variables, each campaign in the treatment group had to also have the same spend, frequency and measurement approach. The only thing that varied was whether the campaign used 1 of the 2 storytelling techniques in comparison to direct-response techniques and the advertiser objective.

We wanted to make sure we maximized the reach of each piece of creative and the campaign as a whole. By flighting the media in phases, unlike retargeting, we did not limit reach, thereby enabling maximum impact.

 

Q: How are you defining the 2 types of storytelling techniques you tested?

 

Neha: We defined a funnel-based approach as a campaign that guides a person down the purchase funnel in 3 phases. For example, the first phase called “Meet the Brand” would be a brand’s introduction to the market. This phase occurs no matter if the brand is new to the market or an established brand. The next phase, “The Teaser,” would feature a product-focused ad. The third and final phase, “The Hook,” would feature a call-to-action ad.

 

FacebookIQ_PowerofStorytellingFunnel_August2015

 

We defined a priming-and-reminding campaign as using multiple ad formats, like display or video ads, to help educate people of the brand’s relevance to their lifestyle in 2 phases. For example, the advertiser would use creative that showcased the brand’s value proposition to “Set the Stage” in the first phase. In the second phase, “The Synopsis,” the advertiser would use their creative to “remind” people of the main brand storyline found in Phase 1.

 

FacebookIQ_PowerofStorytellingPrime_August2015

 

Q: How would using one of the storytelling techniques impact how marketers approached their campaign?

 

Neha: In any marketing campaign, a marketer has to understand the people they are trying to attract with their messaging. I have found, in other research that I have worked on, that advertisers should use certain creative elements in their digital ads to help drive conversions, which is the ultimate goal of this storytelling approach. For example, ad creative should clearly showcase the product, the key details of the brand and a prominent call to action.

 

Q: Can you give me an example of some of the results seen through these approaches?

 

Neha: Most brands within the study experienced a statistically significant positive lift from using 1 of the 2 types of storytelling approaches. For example, Refinery29 had 49% greater conversion rates for email registrations when using a funnel-based marketing approach. And for a recent Quaker brand campaign, across the priming-and-reminding storytelling executions, we observed incremental positive lift for all implementations with the incremental lift ranging from 0.7% to 3.3% on message association.

Keep in mind that both advertisers see a positive impact. The scale of the lift for each of the brands are quite different because of the objective we’re measuring and the advertisers existing brand equity. Refinery29 is still building their brand and driving new email registrations, while Quaker is an established brand looking to move brand perceptions. Both are important objectives for the advertiser and storytelling helped them achieve their goals.

 

Q: So does the storytelling approach always work?

 

Neha: No marketing approach is one-size-fits-all, but based on the cases in this research we have seen that most of the time there is a positive lift when a campaign is designed using the storytelling framework. However, to really understand what is most effective for your brand specifically, I would encourage advertisers to think about their performance metrics, like brand awareness and email registrations, or about driving conversions on or offline and test how their marketing approaches perform against those objectives.

 

Q: What should marketers take away from this research?

 

Neha: Whether you are a brand or a traditional direct-response advertiser, marketers should think about how their marketing strategies translate across channels. Advertisers should develop campaigns building from the techniques used on other channels and see how they perform on digital and Facebook in particular. Advertisers can more smartly inform campaign strategies by experimenting with different marketing strategies, like storytelling, and testing what approaches best connects with people, drives them to act and delivers against brand objectives.