Smooth Moves, Subtlety, and Simple Truths: Three Hallmarks of Modern and Masterful Storytelling

It's an expression we founded ourselves on.  

Content doesn't have to push, shove, or force. Tell a magnetic story, and it won't have to. 

Below, we explore three ways to tell emotion-driven stories that reveal more about your brand's character than about its marketing matrix.

1. Consider granular sensory details as starting points for the overall content experience. What is felt is most often evangelized. 

One of the best ways to share a brand story is to show rather than tell. By evoking specific moods that translate back to the brand's overall purpose, we can further inject those moods into branded content touchpoints. In doing so, we offer each customer a new lens of feeling the brand rather than forcing them to understand the brand's mission through inauthentic content that feels like a chokehold.

A great example comes to mind from a conversation we shared with Harry's and Warby Parker co-founder Jeff Raider. In Harry's 5 O'Clock blog turned web magazine, the New York-based brand tells its story with a chic twist, offering a provocateur's glance inside the lives of tastemakers and brand ambassadors who live the Harry's lifestyle.

The online retailer then brings casual barbershop talk -- and obscenely useful tchotckes -- to its Corner Shop clientele, sealing the deal as an entire branded ecosystem of purpose and personality.

Harry’s offers anything from a bike lock to a bottle opener to a white Hanes t-shirt that you can wear out of the shop if you get too much hair on your clothes. I think a really great and intimate experience in guys’ lives is these relationships they have with their barber in the barber chair. In those relationships you can talk about life, but you can also talk about how you take care of yourself and how you should take care of your hair, or how you should shave. And for us, having people on our team who are experts in men’s grooming and in shaving is just a really valuable and important thing.
— Jeff Raider, Harry's

Using a specific set of feelings, like masculinityfresh-faced charm, and cutting edge class, Harry's wins over its audience no matter where they browse from.

Smooth move, eh? 

Lush, the Vancouver-based, all-natural cosmetics brand, employs a similar tactic. Step into a store and browse for awhile, and like clockwork, an associate will soon swoop in to massage and moisten the hands of browsing customers. In these small moments of pampered bliss, Lush's brand ambassadors also explain in gritty detail where ingredients like lavender, tree tea oil, and eucalyptus are sourced from. On each package, the depth of detail continues with hand stamped "made on" dates and even the faces of those who prepared the product.

The brand's Fresh Magazine, a printed catalog that resembles a quarterly magazine, provides stunning product photography, fields of fresh ingredients, and a well-placed product descriptions where readers can explore more. Features go into great depth, opening up frank dialogue about parabens and Lush's self-preserving products, the Hug It Forward nonprofit its Charity Pot face cream benefits, and its strides to go #FinFree by forming strict no animal testing regulations. By offering a piece of content that asks readers to stay and linger, the magazine acts as an extension of the associates, working to inform and inspire.

Endearment and affection for the brand – "He understands what I like," or "I can't wait to go home and read about the other products they offer" – are lasting impressions that also drive how content is absorbed longterm.

If your brand isn't a brick-and-mortar or based in a physical context, defining a clear voice and tone structure will imbue a genuine sense of personality that customers can feel an affection towards. Hipmunk, Scoutmob, and Mailchimp understand that a consistent personality across every touchpoint is best when it comes back to a feeling. 

2. Strive to produce elective content rather than mandatory content. Content that is reached for is content that sticks around.

The difference between elective content and mandatory content is the audience's state of mind and their current context. 

People learn about brands on commuter trains, sitting on tarmacs, in line for coffee, waiting for a table, and any other number of fleeting situations where a moment's downtime presents the right opportunity to share content. Elective content is content that lives in the bullseye of right place and time. 

To the contrary, people don't learn about brands when they're trying to share a movie clip with a friend, read an article about a serious health issue, or make a last minute dinner reservation. Mandatory content is content that lives in "out of bounds" territory that disrupts more than it helps.

This article, featuring Condé Nast's Director of Branded Content, Nathan Lump, explains why omnipresent content that consumers pick up at their own discretion is much more powerful than content that's episodic, short-lived, or forced.

"The greatest growth area is in digitally distributed content that is more of an ‘always-on’ kind of approach rather than episodic," Lump explains.

Dark Rye Magazine, published by Whole Foods, is one of the most gorgeous examples of elective, rather than mandatory content. 

Stories that may seem unrelated to the brand – food foraging, urban beekeeping, Detroit bus operators – all connect back to the Whole Foods mission of social enterprise, sustainability and community do-goodness in surprising ways. This comes from the story to be sure, but it also comes from the editorial staff who tell these stories in ways that create a branded connection in the audience's mind. 

When building elective content for digital publishing, it's also important to easily embed methods of saving content for later. For digital magazines and longform content especially, this includes actions that allow users to bookmark stories for later through Pocket, Instapaper, and other read-later bookmarking services. 

Remember: Content doesn't always require an explicit purpose ("buy now!") or demanding call to action ("tell us what you think!"). It doesn't have to be pushed or liked upon publishing. Instead, it should seek to immerse in a way that brings curious readers back multiple times at their own will. 

3. Seek to expose simple truths. The stickiest stories are often the most honest ones.

Digging into the details allows us to reveal more about the brand than we do when we prepare scripts and soundbytes. How can -roll footage say what you need to say (without saying anything at all)? How can visual content across social media speak for itself? 

Features from factories, farms, or headquarter offices all offer opportunities to peek inside and get a taste of the behind the scenes — even more so when there's an announcement waiting in the wings.

This week, Banana Republic's revealed its new Creative Director, Marissa Webb, coinciding with a social media event called #thenewBR. Showcasing its fall lineup and product images in a slow yet steady drip, the brand piqued curiosity and fanfare for its timely rebrand. 

Our friends at ZADY are masterful storytellers when it comes to revealing simple truths about their products and partners. A brand built on the promise of conscious consumerism, Soraya and Maxine have built a Features section of their site, a home for exploring exclusive features. This longform piece on cotton, the history of an ancient jewelry piece, the golden cuff, and the art of handwritten correspondence all create scenarios for which ZADY's products find purpose.

The Honest Company, a fellow B-Corporation alongside brands like Warby Parker and Etsy, has become a trusted household accomplice for new mothers that fear the effects of mass produced cleaning products rife with chemicals. Honestly, the company's blog, provides "an honest look" at topics like talc, organic labeling, and citronella oil in a crowded marketplace that's often focused on product pushing rather than product explaining. 

Brands that can connect content around an emotional experience are ahead of the curve. 

  • Understand the core emotions your brand experience provides. Then, understand how you can craft stories that continually reference those emotions at every content touchpoint. 
  • Offer elective, at-will content rather than mandatory, urgency-based content. Provide options for bookmarking, revisiting, and exploration. Even better, measure and analyze how people behave with content that they choose to pick up and put down. 
  • Create content that champions your brand's passion. Amplify the behind-the-scenes and let people into the messy underbelly of your process.