Great storytelling is the key to successful digital marketing

As we get further in to 2021, it appears that if we stay on our current trajectory we might be able to get back to something resembling business as usual towards the end of the year. It’s hard to tell what sharing spaces will look like going forward for experiential marketers, but we’ll no doubt find new ways to adjust, including through hybrid events. In the meantime, new digital tools have been the key to keeping customers engaged with brands.

The pivot to digital has required us all to adapt, both in terms of our expectations and our comfort with new technology. On the one hand, it’s given us the opportunity to engage with people over a distance. But the transition to more digital marketing than ever before has also come as our audiences are more overwhelmed with digital experiences than ever before. Since we’re all being constantly bombarded with everything from Zoom calls to TikTok, for digital marketing to succeed it needs to be meaningful, memorable and actionable.

The key to drawing people in, creating or maintaining brand awareness and loyalty, and staying on people’s minds has always been good storytelling. And the biggest mistake people make in their digital engagements is neglecting that mandate. The brand narrative should always drive the experience and be supported by the technology of the medium, not the other way around.

So if your interactive digital strategy isn’t doing the work you hoped it would despite using all the technological tools at your disposal, it’s time to go back to the basics and remember to put your storytelling skills front and center.

Let’s look at some of the ways we can use storytelling to create better interactive digital engagements that bring brands to life.

Enhanced video

Early in 2020, 92% of marketers said that video was an important part of their brand strategy. Given what’s happened since, that number has only grown and people are now watching roughly 100 minutes of online video a day on their devices. And while video is a pretty straightforward way to further the brand experience through storytelling, it’s also fairly passive. To drive more engagement, video content can be integrated into broader digital engagements, and the video itself can be made more compelling with better production values and techniques like 360-degree views, 3D animation, action sequences and interesting camera moves. 

Nissan incorporated many of these tactics when creating their virtual Nissan NEXT event a few weeks ago. In the absence of traditional auto shows, and their accompanying press launches, the live-streamed event incorporated live on-stage and pre-recorded video content to introduce two new vehicles and outline Nissan’s plans for the coming year. The live event was kicked off by Tim Tebow and Eddie George, stars of some of Nissan’s TV commercials, and then run by Nissan CMO Allyson Witherspoon.

Live video can also take advantage of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Benefit Cosmetics has been utilizing this mobile-friendly medium for years. With the slogan “Laughter is the best cosmetics, so grin and wear it!” they’ve positioned their company as one that’s playful and fun. That’s what made their “Tipsy Tricks” Facebook videos, in which the host gives makeup tips and answers audience questions live while drinking a glass of wine, so popular.

Video can serve as a gateway into other interactive engagements as well.  When Elton John announced his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour before his retirement, the press kit included a 360-degree video retrospective of his long career. Originally created as a virtual reality experience for the attendees of the press event, a partnership with Youtube made it available to all his fans from virtually any device.


Augmented reality and virtual reality have unique potential for brand storytelling because of their deeply immersive nature. AR in particular is now supported on most consumers’ mobile devices, making it a much more viable option for consumer engagement than just a few years ago. Think about the app that Jack Daniel’s created to turn their bottle into a virtual tour of their distillery. In a time when travel is still limited, experiences like this can help connect consumers to a brand in new ways.

AR content can also be effectively integrated into existing social media channels. Pepsico partnered with Instagram during the last pre-pandemic summer to create branded AR filters in their #Summergram campaign. These tied into a larger story incorporating social media personalities and live events all encouraging people to live their “Best. Summer. Ever.” Clearly not all of that campaign would translate to our current world, but it’s easy to see how the AR component could make the transition.

This year, Canada’s Labatt beer company (which has long associated itself with hockey) teamed up with 4 NHL teams and Snapchat to create an AR activation that let fans scan Snapcodes on their beer cases to reveal a virtual jumbotron and stadium, bringing the game to them since they can’t be at live events. This activation wouldn’t have made much sense if Labatt didn’t already have a strong story to tell about hockey, but their history with the sport allowed them to leverage the technology to extend their storytelling.


Gamification is time-tested technique for lending an immersive quality to digital brand activations. While it might seem like just a pleasant diversion, gamified content can be a strategic way to tell a brand story that doesn’t feel pushy. And lest we assume games must be geared towards younger customers, it’s worth noting that according to Forbes, 62% of adults and 80% of all smartphone users play mobile games (with almost 50% playing every day). To top it off, game apps appeal equally to both men and women – no surprise since games are fun and motivating and can activate all sorts of emotions.

Gatorade has long been using gamification to tie their brand directly to sports, one of their most memorable being the Snapchat-powered tennis video game used to celebrate brand ambassador Serena Williams’ quest for her 23rd grand slam title. Snapchat also developed a dedicated filter but the game was pushed on social media for both mobile and desktop audiences as well. It was fun and it sent an empowering message about women in sports.

Natural beauty brand L’Occitane managed to gamify their core values of sustainable development and environmental stewardship with Seeds of Dreams, which gave customers the chance to choose a seed and nurture it while it grows, Tamagotchi-style, all while learning new facts about plant they chose as well as Provence’s biodiversity. More engagement led to rewards both in-game and in-store, so it not only brought people back to play more, but acted as a tool to teach customers about the brand’s environmentally-conscious identity. They followed it up with Tap Tap Harvest, which not only let people create an avatar to find the brand’s distinctly Provencal ingredients but integrated real-world charity efforts, virtual travel with friends, product vouchers, and linked directly to their virtual store. The game was closely aligned with the company’s overarching brand identity of doing good for others and for the planet.

Bringing it all together

Each of the strategies above can stand on their own, but they can also be combined. The best digital experiences do more than just connect us to a brand but actually meet people’s needs. This past Christmas, with COVID-19 cases still high, Macy’s made the decision to interrupt their 160-year tradition of hosting Santa Claus at their flagship store. But knowing that parents everywhere depended on these visits, they created instead an entirely digital Santaland At Home experience. Built around video stories of a journey to North Pole, it also included kid-friendly games and even an AR coloring book feature. Kids even got to take a photo with Santa, right on their parents’ phone and without waiting in line. The website was free, had loads of features, and still maintains an interactive timeline of the store’s history with Santa, who will presumably be back next year.

The free experience not only underscored Macy’s’ role as the home of Santa and central to Christmas traditions, but demonstrated the value of a digital Santa experience that will continue even after things do go back to “normal,” since the it made the holiday experience more accessible to kids everywhere. Macy’s is already hard at work on plans to improve the experience for this year.

Featured Image: Nissan NEXT livestream event