How 3 Top Brands Are Using Long-form Storytelling in their Content Marketing Strategies
In the last few years, many marketers have favored short, snackable pieces of content over the longer in-depth counterpart. It was assumed that long-form content (1,200+ words) had no place in a world of tiny phone screens and 140 character limits. However, recent studies have shown the opposite; long-form content is the comeback queen. More specifically, it’s non-fiction long-form storytelling that’s really having a moment right now. From long-form pieces posted on medium.com, to serial podcasts (like Serial) to documentaries made by Vice, people want stories that they can read, listen to, and watch.
Long-form storytelling isn’t new, and it’s also not new to marketing. Companies have been telling their own stories for years (crafting creation myths, case studies, etc), but the rise and importance of content marketing has provided companies with more opportunities to tell stories online that grab the attention of their target customers, build trust, entertain and educate. We found three brands that are doing this extremely well: Red Bull, Casper and American Express.
Red Bulletin – Red Bull
What is it?
Red Bulletin is a magazine, an international men’s lifestyle publication, owned by Red Bull (the energy drink). A print issue is distributed and sold every month, while its digital counterpart, redbulletin.com, is updated more frequently. Red Bulletin boasts 50-60 employees – many of which are journalists. The magazine serves as a marketing tool for Red Bull, and the company provides financial support to supplement the advertising revenue generated by the publication.
Why it’s Great
Red Bull has adopted a traditional journalistic approach to creating long-form features about sports, culture, and lifestyle (all topics prevalent in Red Bull’s other marketing initiatives) that are both relevant and interesting to the brand’s target demographic. Many of the content found in the magazine and on its website are well over 1,2000 words, and the editorial team is dedicated to telling unique, real-life stories that provide both value and entertainment.
The magazine puts a high emphasis on visual storytelling, using exclusive photography and illustrations to bring long-form content to life.
Robert Sperl, editorial director at Red Bulletin, spoke to Super Content Marketing, about what’s required to make great content in 2016. He said, “It’s about telling stories that people are interested in. Period. It sounds easy, but it’s about finding people who do the right thing and talking about them in the right way, finding images that fit, and finding the right platforms to reach your readers. Nothing has changed since Gutenberg.”
According to Sperl, Red Bulletin delivers the Red Bull marketing team plenty to work with as the print magazines sell more than two million copies per month and the website brings in thousands of users every day – “there’s ROI for the parent company.”
A recent highlight is “Ancient Adventurers: Who are the Sea Gypsies?” by Josh Rakic. The story is a long-form interview with Canadian explorer Jody MacDonald (she also provides original photography) about her time living with the ancient sea gypsy tribes of Borneo.
Van Winkle’s – Casper
What is it?
Casper is a mattress company (and frequent podcast sponsor, as my fellow rabid podcast listeners will surely know) with a big goal of changing the way mattresses are bought – which is in a tiny box and in the mail.
Last year, the company launched a thought leadership initiative, which took the form of a standalone news and media website, to change the way people think about sleep and how they sleep.
The website, Van Winkle’s, is led by Elizabeth Spiers (former editor-in-chief of the Observer) and is staffed with journalists.
Why it’s Great
Van Winkle’s tells stories about sleep – stories that you would never think could be about sleep. And the publication has a very interesting rule: Do not mention the word “mattress.”
“The idea was to create sleep as an editorial vertical, much like fitness or shelter,” Jeff Koyen (editor-in-chief during Van Winkle’s launch) told Back Channel. “I wanted to get Van Winkle’s readers to think about sleep, and the rising tide would benefit Casper.”
The idea is for Casper to become the leader in all things “sleep”… and then make readers think about purchasing a mattress made by a company that is clearly the expert on all things sleep-related.
A standout is a piece from summer 2016: “How the Dance Marathons of the 1930s Made Sleep Deprivation A Sport – and Paved the Way for Reality Television.” The piece tells the story of how an innocent dance event evolved into a spectator sport rife with money-making scams.
Van Winkle’s also includes practical tips for getting better sleep (one of the most-read pieces is about how often sheets should be washed) and long-form investigative stories about over-the-counter sleeping pills.
Local Business Stories – American Express
What is it?
“Local Business Stories” is a series of long-form stories; each piece tells the story of a small business owner that has made an impact in their community.
The series is housed on American Express’ OPEN Forum, a website that the brand launched in 2007. It features blog posts, videos, and long-form guides that aim to help entrepreneurs make better decisions as they navigate the small business world.
Why it’s Great
The stories featured in this series are well over 1,200 words each. They are well thought out, beautifully written, fully-formed journalistic stories of the highest quality.
The user experience is top-notch as well – with multimedia components, like video interviews and original images, that bring the stories to life.
Check out “Strictly Bicycles: On the Road to Success,” a story about a bike shop that successfully turned its space into a community hub for cyclists.
“Local Business Stories” works for American Express because the stories resonate with OPEN Forum’s target reader/customer: small business owners. Being a small business owner isn’t always easy. A lot of entrepreneurs learn on the job, and a lot of them learn from other small business owners. American Express is providing stories that help small business owners learn from other’s mistakes and successes.
Within the context of content marketing, successful storytelling aligns (both directly and indirectly) to a company’s mission without actually calling out the company’s products or service – storytelling is not the place for a hard sell.
These three brands have done a great job at finding a topic that weaves together all of their stories (adventure, sleep, and small business success); and the creation of high-quality long-form stories has gone a long way in building each company’s reputation as an expert for each of their chosen topics. It’s the long way round to content marketing success, but telling great stories keeps customers (existing and prospective) around longer and coming back for more (just look to Red Bull’s 2 million strong monthly readership for proof).