Jonah Berger at SXSW 2014.

As advertisers, storytelling has always been the foundation of our work in all communications channels. But the ways in which stories can be told is evolving with the technology available to communicate evolves.

Storytelling goes hand-in-hand with the content discussions that are prevalent at South by Southwest this week in Austin, Texas. How do brands tell compelling stories in relevant channels that entice consumers to stay around and spend time and energy with that content?

It is the question all advertisers are facing in the age of growing digital communications. Here I’ve summarized some things from the past two days at SXSW that have struck a chord with me.

People watch video, comment on it and most importantly, share it. The length of video they watch depends on where they are when they have time to watch. Bored in line? Three minutes. Bored at work? Eight minutes. At home? Thirty minutes. The New York Times has created a series called Op-Docs that are short film documentaries that are distributed on the NY Times website, presented as supplementary content to the print edition and are all available on channels like Vimeo, Yahoo! And Hulu. Whole Foods has created an online magazine–Dark Rye--that leads with video. Interestingly, this content from Whole Foods is entirely unbranded, but all aligns with the core mission of the company. They maintain that their goal is to start conversation, not to sell something. And since they want people to engage and share the content, the producers and editors of Dark Rye understand the content starts with the story.  Interesting stories presented as video will drive interest in and engagement with the brand that presents them.

Immersive storytelling takes consumers further and deeper into the content, allowing them to experience the story in multiple ways: video, audio, games, images, a museum installation. Not only do these different channels present every point of view on a topic, but they also can reach multiple audiences. The New York Times is experimenting with this in their Op-Docs, creating complementary interactive experiences. The Goggles, a media group that touts they make “stories about interesting things, told in interesting ways,” is using digital to tell stories in a choose-your-own-adventure style that has been wildly successful for them. We can take video as an entry point for engagement, then immerse viewers into an experience that can ultimately build brand loyalty.

Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious, focuses on other reasons people share and the psychology behind the sharing. Social currency is one reason. But what are the triggers, the emotions, the distribution, the practical value and the type of stories that encourage sharing? A trigger could be a time of day (Cheerios is discussed during breakfast time, most frequently), a complementary product (peanut butter and _______), a contrived association (beach vacation and a Corona). Sharing content is the true value, not views. We need to turn psychology dials to encourage sharing.

Storytelling will always be the foundation of communications. But how we do it and grow brand awareness through sharing of those stories continues to evolve with technology. Staying on top of trends and tools can keep our brands in the paths and routines of consumers.