Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin…
Storytelling has probably produced some of the most memorable TV adverts you can think of. Last Christmas we saw John Lewis tell the story of a little boy called Sam and his best friend, Monty The Penguin. It is undoubtedly the story of this beautiful friendship that made this advert so successful, so what happens when you take storytelling and apply it to digital advertising? In this post I’ll be sharing some ideas on how you can use it in your own Facebook campaigns.
What is brand storytelling and sequential advertising?
There are lots of definitions for brand storytelling, but in terms of advertising it’s essentially about creating ads that tell stories in order to be more relevant to your audience.
Facebook talk about it as taking a sequenced approach to digital marketing, where each advertising message informs the next one. This is in contrast to the style of most traditional digital advertising where ads often have a single message which focuses on the product and has a ‘buy now’ style of approach.
When do brand storytelling and sequential ads work best?
Brand storytelling and sequential advertising can be used for brand perception or awareness, as well as direct response conversion campaigns.
Brand storytelling can work particularly well for less well known brands, who don’t have the reputation or awareness to target users right away with a ‘buy now’ message. By building a story and introducing the brand, then landing the call to action later, they can build the awareness and then drive traffic and conversions.
Why use brand storytelling and sequential ads?
Be meaningful to your consumers
Brand storytelling allows your brand to become meaningful to your potential consumer, in a landscape where they are constantly bombarded with advertising messages.
The subtlety of storytelling ads also works well to engage consumers who are increasingly wising up to advertising.
Ultimately generate more qualified clicks
By building awareness and consideration through storytelling before driving clicks to your website, you can drive more relevant traffic that is probably closer to purchase when they do click, therefore likely increasing the ROI on the clicks you do receive.
Create purchase intent for the future
Our research showed that 55% of people would consider buying from a brand in the future if they really loved a story. This was particularly true for participants aged 18-24, 35-44, 45-54 and 55+.
Another study found also that “sequencing ads together in a way that tells a brand story leads to better outcomes than a sustained message focused solely on driving an action”.
Avoid users getting bored of your ads
As you’ll be using several different phases of ads in sequence, your audience shouldn’t get the opportunity to become too bored of your ads. Therefore they will hopefully be more receptive to them in comparison to if you had been running a single message ad for the same period of time.
How can you use ad sequencing and brand storytelling in your Facebook advertising?
Facebook have outlined two types of sequential advertising approaches. These are the funnel based approach, and the priming ad reminding approach.
There are three phases to the funnel based approach:
- The first ad phase should start with an ad introducing the brand
- The second ad should build on what the audience now knows about the brand, and introduce the product in more detail
- The third ad should summarise the brand and product, and include a clear call to action
This approach works really well for new brands which need to create brand awareness amongst their target audience first, and then gradually encourage them to visit their site and purchase.
Fabletics is a relatively new sportswear brand, so this kind of tactic would be perfect for them. Their target audience are style conscious women who enjoy exercise from yoga to running.
Phase one could be a lifestyle video ad which makes a statement about the brand, much like their TV ad which tells the story of a day in the life of a young fitness conscious women, who works hard to look good, from taking the stairs to eating kale.
The audience would follow and identify with this story, but there wouldn’t be any mention of particular products or prices, and certainly no hard-sell yet.
This might be complimented by some image ads which also portray the brand image:
Phase two could include carousel ads which build on the first phase of ads by promoting the products featured in the phase one lifestyle ads:
Until this point the audience has only seen glimpses of products in a lifestyle setting, so this next ad builds upon that by displaying some of the products with prices, but still not yet going in with the hard-sell messaging like ‘buy now’.
Phase three would combine both the brand message and products, with a strong call to action. This could include website click ads which use the ‘shop now’ button:
Facebook offer ads could also run at the same time, to take advantage of the joining promotion:
These three stages work to tell the story of a day in the life of women just like their target audience and make the audience aware of the brand, then entice them with some stylised images of the products, and lastly generate the click to the website with the final ads that encourage users to shop now or download the offer. By the final stage, the user is well equated with the brand and some products and so is more qualified when they click though to the website.
There are two stages to the priming and reminding approach:
- Show the audience how the brand is relevant to their lifestyle (the priming)
- Summarise the story shown in phase one as a reminder (the reminding)
Using the Fabletics example above, phase one would be the same, with a video showing the brands relevance to the audience, and phase two could be image ads which summarise the brand proposition like the one used to supplement phase one above:
The prime and remind approach is less focused on purchase, and more focused on branding.
Set-up tips and suggestions
Running the sequencing
If you work with a Facebook marketing partner that has access to the API, you might find they can run the sequencing for you. If you run your Facebook ads manually through the interface or Power Editor, you can just manually start and stop your ads.
To make sure a user has actually seen phase one of the video, you can create a custom audience of all users who have viewed the video in full, and then use this as the audience to target in phase two and three.
Really know your audience
This might sound obvious, but it’s absolutely essential to understand your audience well for your brand storytelling to be a success.
Research your audience and segment them if you think they fit into different themes. If you identify different themes in your audience, you should pick one segment of your audience to target with the story, or create individual stories for each audience. Don’t try and use one overarching story for all audience segments if they are very different, because you’ll end up sacrificing relevance and being less successful.
Now you’ve researched your audience, find an insight to guide your creative idea for the story. Can you help them solve a problem, improve their lives, or simply make them feel like you understand them?
Try using stories about real people and real events
Our research suggested that consumers often prefer it when advertising stories are about real people and real events. Test telling stories about normal people to see if this has a greater impact than using celebrities or ambassadors.
Try using different types of content for stories
Not all brand storytelling content has to be serious and inspiring. In fact, our research suggested that most people preferred humorous content. Naturally humour might not work with all brands, so try out different genres of story to see which ones your audience engage with best.
Use multiple ad formats
Different ad formats work well at different stages of the storytelling process. The earlier example showed how video can be a good format for branding earlier in the story, while carousel ads work well to showcase products or benefits of a service, and website click ads can clinch the final part of the story by pulling the user in with a ‘shop now’ button.
Monitor reach and frequency
The reach of your ads indicates whether you’ve managed to reach a good portion of your audience. The frequency on the other hand helps you make sure you’re not irritating the audience by serving your ads to them too often. There’s no magic number for either of these, so test running phases of the campaigns with different frequencies. If you find clicks and engagement with your ads has dropped it might be that you’re frequency has got too high.
Test the pacing of your ads
Try running a sequenced campaign with the phases lasting different lengths of time. Consider your normal path to purchase when you do this. For example if it’s a one-off relatively low value purchase, the phases might be shorter compared to a high value item like a holiday or subscription where the user takes longer to evaluate their choices.
Monitor your device targeting and performance
Storytelling ads should run across mobile and desktop, so make sure your landing pages are responsive or mobile optimised. Monitor performance across devices and remember that device performance might be different at different phases of the campaign. For example you might find mobile does well in the first phase but less well in the last phase.
Integrate the stories with your other marketing activity
If you’re running TV ads or any other kind of advertising, consider how the stories used in that can be used across digital. Continuity will only enhance the effectiveness and recognition of your messaging.
Don’t forget about audience targeting
You can have the most engaging and relevant story and ad sequence in the world, but if your targeting isn’t quite right you’ll be less successful. Test targeting different audiences, for example in the case of Fabletics, I would target Facebook users with an interest in Yoga and fashion in one ad set, and users interested in running and fashion in another.
Brand storytelling and sequential ads are an exciting new step for digital ads and reflect how consumers area becoming more sophisticated and advertising is following suit. It’s not going to work in every instance, so consider if it aligns with your business objectives and budget and test it if you think it does.