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In digital marketing, narrative is the new black

Published: September 3, 2013

Author: Susan Waldes

More devices, more ad types, more platforms, more emphasis on social and community and the visual – what does it mean for digital advertising?
It means we’re becoming more narrative, and the emphasis is shifting from direct-response, last-click action to building stories and communities and reinforcing relationships between brands and potential customers.
The rise of demographic and attribution modeling shows that smart marketers are building profiles – characters, almost – and employing the narratives that emerge from those profiles. It’s like television but with more depth and more points of contact.
Consider those points of contact in an explosion of ad types:
–       RLSA, FBX, and other forms of dynamic retargeting (done intelligently) target people in different funnel stages with more narrative messaging that aligns with their needs (education, community, product research, etc.).
–        Facebook has a new targeting method for  “in-market” people based on online and offline signals such as people identified as in the market for specific brands of cars. This targeting obviously ties to other car advertiser opportunities, but also in creating a flushed-out demographic character. People in market for Volvos likely have growing families, are interested in safety, longevity, or durable goods, and have a pretty substantial HHI. These psychographic signals can be the foundation of good target audiences and the messaging that matters to them for a myriad of other products – home security products ads featuring families and their safety, for instance.
–       Twitter TV targeting brings a digital layer to already-narrative TV ads, making tablet and phone couch-surfing an advertising target in itself.
–       Facebook’s Sponsored Posts are driving a bigger and bigger share of Facebook’s (exploding) revenue now although they’ve only recently been released into the News Feed.
–       LinkedIn sponsored stories, just released last week, have followed that lead into the B2B sphere where long nurturing cycles are the norm and these narrative touch points are a huge opportunity for keeping your funnel warm.
We’ve spent the last year-plus building a world-class social media advertising team, in part to take full advantage of this trend; here’s what our Director of Social, Andrew Foxwell, had to say when I asked him about the narrative undercurrent in today’s landscape:

Digital marketing is extremely narrative focused – and it’s really all about the shared experience that customers are having from one channel to the next. Social helps shape this narrative because it’s the most interactive and relatable place online for people to interact and get an idea of what a company is all about. The narrative on social never sleeps; it’s a constant updating and dialogue of ideas and thoughts and that’s a powerful thing for marketers to understand.

The narratives are also leaning more heavily on visual appeal than ever before. Facebook’s Instagram acquisition and rumbling plan to monetize is coming with a commitment to beautiful narrative ads – “visual crack,” according to Fast Company. And Google has an images-based beta in the works to bring editorial visual elements – think glossy print ads for branded fashion, cars, etc. – to the online space.
CEO David Rodnitzky likes to say that four emotions – vanity, fear, exclusivity, and greed – drive paid search clicks on traditional ads. That is still true when people are ready to pull the trigger, but there is a broader interaction happening starting with the first impression.
People who feel recognized, included, and understood are much more likely to enter the funnel now, and today’s (and tomorrow’s?) best digital marketers are those who will be able to use targeting and the new world of ad types and platforms to build those sympathetic narratives.

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