If they feel it, they’ll remember

Making the most of the stories your brand is built on

Stories engage us like nothing else. They are the reason we stay awake late at night to finish a book, the reason we sign-up to Netflix or go to the movies.

(Image: 1980s makeover of Vodafone’s flagship UK store on Oxford Street / Photo: Vodafone)

Stories fascinate, facts can bore. Facts are of course very important but it is stories that make us care.

Every brand has not one but many stories to tell. Everything a brand does – its conception, its journey to success, its people or how it impacts customers’ lives – is a story. Storytelling, if done successfully and shared widely across platforms, can make communications more engaging, memorable, authentic and impactful, giving brands a personality and purpose.

Consumers today are not passively buying from brands. They view brands as an extension of their lives and values. For companies, it is about telling authentic stories across traditional media and digital platforms which are true to the brand, while creating a culture and community that consumers are able to share and be part of.

Engaging globally

For a global company, there is the added challenge of creating content with appeal across countries and cultures. Vodafone has mobile operations in 26 countries and fixed broadband operations in 17 markets. That's 465 million mobile customers across Europe, India, Africa, the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East. The reality is that no single campaign can work for everybody, everywhere (particularly the case when comedy is introduced), but by telling the right story based on a clear, corporate narrative and by focusing on a universal theme with wide consumer appeal, it can work for many.

Global digital editorial campaigns are, for us, a collaborative process with local markets, working closely with colleagues around the world to create syndicated content and toolkits with appeal to multiple countries and cultures. We survey and speak with markets early on to better understand their areas of focus, what kind of content performs well on their digital platforms, the audiences they want to target and the tools they need to drive influencer, blogger and consumer media engagement.

Many are keen to be more proactive on digital channels but often do not have the time or resource to create regular campaigns and video content. Our digital editorial campaigns are different in subject matter and tone. All set out to emotionally engage the target audience, be it by inspiring, amusing, educating or informing, while making them time-relevant by linking them to noteworthy dates.

Facts in the narrative

Last year, we heard from the HR team about a new global maternity policy. Usually, a new HR policy would not be something we would communicate externally, but we all saw potential for a large-scale digital editorial campaign. The policy was truly ground-breaking. It would offer women everywhere 16 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave and a return-to-work policy where women would get full pay for a 30-hour week for the first six months after their return to work. Other than the United Nations, very few global organisations – and even fewer multinational corporations – had adopted minimum maternity policies of this kind.

The campaign was timed with International Women’s Day. The goal was to develop a creative campaign targeting female consumers, together with economic analysis to prove that the new policy made sense for businesses. The material had to work effectively across multiple cultures, with target markets ranging from New Zealand and the United States to Qatar and India.

Our feeling was that a global maternity policy would make sense for businesses globally, so we commissioned KPMG to find out. Their research revealed that businesses worldwide could save $19 billion annually if they provided women with 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave as opposed to paying backfill recruitment and training costs to replace women who leave their jobs after having a baby. This provided the peg for briefings with business, news and women’s editors and bloggers globally, while a short film to communicate the KPMG facts and figures in an emotionally-engaging way was created in 10 languages for use on social media.

And the hashtag #maternomics helped fuel a social media conversation with key opinion formers, from Arianna Huffington to U.N Women, reaching nearly 300 million people and, in the words of one international publication, helping Vodafone…win International Women’s Day”.

It’s all in a date

Relevant corporate dates can also work. On the 30th anniversary of the UK’s first mobile call made on Vodafone’s network, we wanted to do more than issue a dry corporate announcement. We developed a digital editorial campaign featuring content which satirised Vodafone’s history, using the quiet period between Christmas and New Year to launch. Short-form video content was created and translated for markets, from a spoof social media advert of the UK’s first mobile phone, made in the style of a high-tech product launch, to reuniting David Hasselhoff with his 1980s mobile phone.

Global bloggers and media were invited to create their own content at an event at Vodafone’s flagship UK store on Oxford Street, transformed in to a 1980s store. The store featured original handsets for testing and the people who were there at Vodafone’s beginning were made available for interview – from the first customer to the original engineers. Nostalgia featured heavily in both user-generated and shared content.

Sometimes a series of noteworthy dates can carry a digital storytelling campaign over a longer period of time. This was the case with our #BeStrong Anti-Bullying campaign, where key moments and world dates – ‘Back to school’ in September, Anti-Bullying Week, Safer Internet Day and even World Emoji Day – helped create global activations and social media discussions supported by leading YouTubers, anti-bullying influencers and influential platforms including Snapchat.

While cyberbullying is a growing concern in the digital world, young people lacked the tools to help them take a stand and show support for friends being bullied online. We were tasked with addressing this by creating a digital editorial campaign anchored on the creation of a new set of anti-bullying emojis for young people, to work across multiple social media platforms and markets.

Working with teenagers, anti-bullying charities, a leading psychologist, semioticians and designers, the #BeStrong anti-bullying emojis were designed, appearing on Snapchat as a geofilter with 50 million interactions in just three days. We partnered with relevant influencers and international YouTubers with knowledge of cyberbullying, encouraging their followers to be ‘upstanders’ and share the #BeStrong emojis when they witness friends being bullied online. While working with YouTubers is not suited to every brand-led digital editorial campaign, these partnerships work well when the message is authentic and does not resemble celebrity endorsement.

From sharing a support emoji to remembering when mobile phones were the brick-like yuppy toy that did nothing but make calls, all brands or organisations, whatever they do, are made up of stories. The challenge is choosing the emotionally-engaging, authentic and memorable ones that showcase its personality, purpose and, where possible, inspire.

Vodafone was last week rated as one of the most creative companies in the world in terms of its proactive editorial campaigns, according to the PR analysis firm Holmes Report. Vodafone ranked third in a global survey of all consumer and enterprise brands, behind Unilever and P&G.

Amanda Andrews

Amanda is head of communications, strategy and research at Vodafone Group. She has worked in the external communications team at Vodafone since 2012, creating global media and digital editorial consumer campaigns focused on corporate themes. Amanda was a journalist for 13 years, most recently media editor of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph and Media Business Correspondent at The Times. Other roles include business correspondent at the Sunday Express and business reporter at The Scotsman. Before joining Vodafone, Amanda was head of media and technology in the corporate division of Freud Communications.