Long-form storytelling is an approach to content marketing that has taken the corporate world by storm. But is it right for your business and its unique set of goals?
The answer to that question naturally depends on your business’s personal set of circumstances. Your budget, the number of employees who have the time to manage your campaign, and the overall amount of resources you have available to commit to a long form storytelling approach to content marketing will all limit your abilities to consistently produce the caliber of content expected of the genre.
At the same time, you may have plenty of resources available yet don’t have a strict need for long-form storytelling. Maybe your audience responds best to the bite-sized content you’re already producing. Maybe you don’t have an intuitive way to integrate lengthy brand narratives into your marketing funnel.
To help you determine if long-form storytelling would be a workable content marketing strategy for your business, we’re going to define what it actually is and show you some examples of how it can effectively be used. Then, we’ll outline the criteria you should use when weighing whether or not long form content storytelling is something you should embrace to succeed in your marketing goals.
What Is Long-Form Storytelling, and How Is It Different Than Regular Content Marketing or Advertising?
At its heart, long-form storytelling is a content marketing approach that aims to get audiences involved emotionally while keeping their attention for longer than the typical tiny window afforded marketers these days.
The subject of the stories being told is never the brand itself. Instead, it’s a customer whose life improved thanks to the special care the business took to make sure they were satisfied. Or, it’s a passionate project like a charity or environmental cause the business supports. Sometimes, the story tells the tale of the business’s founder, painting a picture of a visionary everyone can identify with.
Almost all of these stories have to do with transformation – how the business or its ideals change the world around it. For instance, luxury suitcase brand Tumi created a short film where actor Alexander Skarsgard travels around the world along a single degree of latitude. The five-minute short explores the concept of the brand’s new “Latitude” line and what latitude actually means on a global scale.
This narrative approach differs from traditional advertising in that it is all about the experience. Rather than deliver a list of selling points, the story shows what the core concepts, beliefs or benefits mean in real life. Showing, not telling – the traditional storytelling technique.
How does this long-form story-focused approach differ from typical content marketing? Besides the obvious difference in length and the prominent narrative elements, storytelling content promises deeper exploration of subject matters, often with some sort of emotional hook to draw you in.
To create an example, let’s suppose there’s a real estate agent who donates a portion of their commissions to a women’s shelter. A typical advertisement may include this fact as a quick “blurb” statement. A content marketing blog may describe “The 6 Benefits of Working With a Real Estate Agency That Supports Charity” or “Why We Think Donating to Charity Is Important to What We Do.”
A long-form storytelling approach would instead tell stories about people whose lives were touched by the donations the agent gave and the work the local shelter does for the community. Specific people can be interviewed, photographed, and profiled magazine-style. The story could also cover the struggle of someone like a mom with three kids who just barely made it out of an abusive relationship alive thanks to the shelter.
Stories like these have a more lasting impact and create stronger positive associations to the business that creates them – even if those associations aren’t made obvious within the content. People love stories, after all, and long-form content is an excellent way to turn what your business does or believes in strongly into a compelling tale.
What Are Some Examples of Long-Form Storytelling Done Right?
The beautiful thing about long-form storytelling is that it is catching on like wildfire. Tons of great examples illustrate how you can go about developing your own unique approach to the genre.
Short films like the one mentioned above are one such option, but they don’t have to be polished, Hollywood-type affairs. Instead, you can take the approach of creating a series. Each new video you create can build off the narrative of previous ones.
REI’s Trailheads series takes the approach of a reality TV show, filming 10-15 minute shorts showing the crew engaging in various outdoor adventures. During the course of each episode, there’s plenty of humor and personality, but there’s also a lot to learn by watching the cast engage in the activities. People can discover new outdoor pursuits or see their favorite hobby profiled in an amusing way.
Ember Magazine provides another great example of long-form storytelling that highlights individual stories on a regular basis instead of just engaging in one-off concepts. The magazine covers topics within the marijuana industry, such as interviews, business profiles, and stories covering how legal cannabis has become entwined within the culture. The magazine is produced by cannabis conglomerate MedMen in collaboration with Paper magazine.
McDonald’s surprisingly offers one of the most introspective entries to the long-form storytelling genre. The company revived their promotional szechuan sauce for a temporary time after it was mentioned in the popular animated show “Rick & Morty.”
The re-release of the sauce turned into a fiasco that could potentially have done PR damage, but instead the company decided to cover the incident in the style of the popular podcast, Serial. “The Sauce” covered multiple bases by providing a transparent apology to sauce fans who didn’t get their hands on any of the limited quantities available, while also serving as an engagement point for others interested in the story.
These three examples, along with Tumi’s short film described above, show just how diverse long-form storytelling can be and all of the forms it can take. But would it be right for your particular business? Here are 3 criteria you can use to decide:
3 Most Important Things to Consider When Deciding Whether to Use Long-Form Storytelling
1. Budget & Bandwidth
These two factors are enough to limit any business’s ambitions to create long-form narrative-style marketing content. While you don’t have to sink a huge budget into the creation of the content, it does need to be polished.
You need the time to investigate your subject before creating the story. You should also take care when assembling your story so that it can hit all the right emotional notes while still representing your brand.
After the project is complete, you will ideally promote it vigorously on social media, through paid ads, and with other campaigns designed to boost visibility. All of these factors mean that your business must have the resources set aside not only to create the needed content but also to publish it while adhering to a high standard of quality.
2. Relevance to Your Marketing Goals and Other Campaigns
Long-form narrative-driven content absolutely demands a careful strategy. The assets you create should directly fulfill some sort of other critical objective that can benefit your overarching business goals.
These objectives can include lift in brand awareness, an increase in customer leads, bringing more traffic to your site, growing your social media following, or anything else you value. The end goal for creating the content can even be to win an award, which will help fulfill multiple other objectives while making a name for your business in your industry.
If you cannot devise a focused strategy and objective for your long-form storytelling, then just telling your story is not a dire enough need on its own.
Don’t scrap your ambitions entirely, though! Write down any ideas you have and let them simmer. Eventually, a bigger purpose may emerge where the story you want to tell suddenly has a perfect time and place.
3. How Well Your Other Marketing Programs Are Functioning
Think of long-form storytelling as a flagship for your business’s marketing program. If the rest of the ships in your fleet are barely afloat, it won’t matter how impressive that flagship appears.
In other words, long-form storytelling should come after you have all of the other necessary components in place. Your website and landing pages should have a sizeable conversion rate. Your social media profiles should be professional and actively engaging your audiences. Your email list should be organized and sending off valuable content that regularly gets opened.
If none of these factors are in place, then a successful long-form story content campaign could just bring attention to how poorly your other marketing programs are run. For instance, your short film may catch fire, leading to thousands of people who search online for your business, only to find a barely-functioning web page.
Our Advice for Creating Long-Form Content: Dream Now and Start Planning for When the Moment Is Right
It takes a lot of ducks in a row before your business can capably pull off a long-form storytelling campaign as impressive as the examples described above. But the last thing we want to do is discourage you from pursuing your creative vision!
Start brainstorming now and document your plans for creating your unique story. Keep these plans in mind as you tend to your other campaigns and programs, and eventually you will have the perfect moment to create your story and share it with the world.
If you want that moment to arrive sooner, we are here to help! Our digital marketing services for businesses can help turn all of your marketing channels into a well-oiled machine, and we can also help you bring your story to life.
Contact us today if you need help planning your next long-form storytelling campaign or want to prepare your other channels for the potential success it could bring you.