7 tips for better digital storytelling

Stop chasing shiny objects. Try storyboarding—it worked for Walt Disney. Stop selling, and embrace the power of responsive storytelling.

Last year Wired magazine published a story on “Sex in the Digital Age.”

The cover illustration, as Brian Solis notes, was simple: Two emojis representing hands. One was pointing, the other was making an OK sign.

That’s how today’s hip generation texts a seduction request that once required those tiresome symbols known as words.

Has storytelling died, then? Of course not, says Solis, a digital marketing analyst with Altimeter Group (who, by the way, expresses a love of the written word).

In a Ragan Training session, “#AdaptiveContent: Using responsive design to reinvent corporate storytelling and reignite ROI,” he explains why narrative is as important as ever at a time when “the real world moves faster than your ability to keep up with it.”

Here are a few tips he offers for content marketers:

Stop chasing ‘shiny objects.’

You’ve heard the digitally aware experts in hip glasses and haircuts they seem to have given themselves, demanding, “What’s our Snapchat strategy? What’s our Pinterest strategy?”

Wrong questions altogether, Solis says. You should not be building a strategy around a shiny new platform, but creating irresistible content for any outlet. Focus on stories, not the exciting newness of particular channels.

“You take your story and put it on a platform, and you think that because the platform is shiny, it’s going to be better,” he says. “But it’s not. It’s worse.”


The first storyboard for a feature-length animated movie was for Disney’s “Snow White,” Solis says. Solis learned a lot about the medium when he hired a Pixar artist to create a storyboard for one of his campaigns.

“They’re actually about making you walk through the steps of your audience and test whether or not the drama works, whether the story works, whether or not the characters matter or mean something,” he says.

Solis tells how Airbnb’s chief executive, Brian Chesky, was inspired by Disney’s storyboarding to use the same idea for his own company. He had staffers storyboard a customer’s Airbnb experience, from the time they leave on vacation.

Then he said, “Once they arrive at the property, this is their state of mind. What are you going to do about it?”

Quit chasing case studies. Give your audience interesting, useful content.

“Case studies, I think, are your worst enemy,” Solis says, “because basically, they’re all stories from the past.”

Believe it or not, those big brands pumping out polished content are just as lost as the little guys, he says. Don’t look to the past—or to the corporate biggies—to figure out today’s rapidly shifting world of content.

“The world actually wants to hear about interesting things,” Solis says. “They want useful content.”

Stop talking to people only when you need them.

Want customer engagement? Treat content as a conversation.

“Businesses are no longer the sole creator of a brand,” Solis says. “It is co-created by consumers through shared experiences and defined by the results of online searches and conversations.”

Stop selling, and start embracing responsive storytelling.

The smartphone isn’t a phone, Solis says. It’s a window to the world. Create for this window.

Think about storytelling before design.

Google punishes sites that aren’t mobile friendly. So why are websites still just digital brochures waiting for legal to approve them?

The goal shouldn’t just be to get something up there on a new platform, but to think about storytelling before responsive design, Solis says. Now, go forth and shake up the world with your content.

“There’s no reason things have to be the way they are,” Solis says.

This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of video presentations and interactive courses.



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