The Difference between Storytelling and Content Marketing.

While content marketing and storytelling marketing are commonly taken together, since they do feed off and complement each other quite seamlessly, they are two very different styles of marketing, as will be shown by this blog post. In order to illustrate those differences, I will reuse the examples I used to illustrate my original post on the subject: Converse, Red Bull and Ford.

I said previously that “since the long-running nature of Ford cars means that their campaigns fulfil all aspects of content marketing, the examination of their marketing campaign will extend over both blog posts on the subject.” Because of this, I will use Ford as a bridge between the two other products as a way of illustrating the differences between storytelling and content marketing.

Converse shoes are almost purely content marketing in their approach to customers, with a full range of activities across the digital board, including Pinterest, stand-alone websites and social media usage. Instead of simply selling shoes, Converse has created the idea that their brand stands for independence, creativity and a rebellious spirit, and uses their digital presence to reinforce that idea. Since content marketing is geared towards nudging people into changing their behaviours rather than outright selling anything, the use of videos and interviews with the very sort of alternative people who would be most likely to wear Converse shoes is a good method of reaffirming the status of Converse shoes as THE name in alternative lifestyles.

Storytelling marketing is one small yet distinctive niche in the larger context of content marketing, and Ford manages to incorporate them both in their adverts for the Ford Mustang model that is currently their newest car on the market. The use of a prolonged car sequence instead of a series of static images not only allows Ford to showcase various colour schemes\additions to the basic model (see the fin which briefly appears when the chef sees his own personal Ford Mustang) but also allows them to incorporate a human story into the proceedings.

The car sequence itself is pure content marketing — the car is moving through what seems like a typically busy city during the day, and encounters situations like the road works at the end which could potentially be present during any drive. While it goes, it changes both the colours and features present in the car to show all the possibilities of a Ford Mustang.

The human element in the Ford Mustang advert is where the storytelling comes in — with no dialogue or other form of interaction between the people in the advert, the viewer is left to deduce that the changes in colour (including a very nice custom paint job when the chef is looking at the car!) are in response to the secret desires that are lurking in people’s hearts.

I think it’s worth pointing out that the inclusion of two vaguely similar yet different styles of marketing is possibly a ploy on Ford’s part to appeal to both sets of potential customers: the specific content marketing (as represented by the car) taken on its own is the part of the advert which is designed for returning customers, as it is more or less a quick showing of the various features available for the new car model, while the advert as a whole, with the car changes happening in response to the inner desires of the people included in the video are a storytelling ploy to try and interest people who have never bought a Ford before. The storytelling would try and draw their interest by promising that they too could get what they secretly want by buying a Ford.

Red Bull, in opposition to Converse, takes an entirely different approach in its advertising; it uses storytelling marketing through a series of videos which often make no reference to the Red Bull drink until the very end of the video, relying instead on the stories being told to market the product in its stead.

Perhaps the main difference between content marketing and storytelling marketing is the involvement of the product being marketed. As I have shown, Converse shoes are right at the heart of all their marketing, while Red Bull often doesn’t involve its products at all.

Looking back at Ford, the entire advert works precisely because of the enmeshing of content and storytelling marketing — the human element is what precipitates the changes that the car goes through on its journey. Because of this, the strands of content marketing and storytelling can be separated by separating the car itself from the people it is influenced by — the story being told is that of Ford’s ability to find and reflect the innermost desires of people — not only in respect of what car they would like, but also (as is seen in the case of the little girl and her reflection) of the kind of person they would like to be or become.

Storytelling marketing does what it says on the tin — it tells a story, which may or may not (Ford versus Red Bull) involve the product which is behind the advertising campaign. Content marketing does not involve this (Converse versus Ford) — as said above, content marketing is simply a company trying to encourage customers to change their buying behaviours using various advertising tools.

As a final note, I mentioned that the Ford advert uses both content marketing and storytelling marketing seamlessly woven together. While I broke down the two different lines of advertising above, the advert itself shows the two separate lines of advertising converging in the figure of the little girl, who not gives the car two separate make-overs (showing that not everyone is who they seem to be on the surface), but herself gets a makeover in her reflection in the car, seeing herself in a feathery black gown. Anybody watching the advert would see in that moment both a human storyline and a call to alter their buying patterns in order to buy a car which reflected their true selves.

So the ultimate difference between storytelling and content marketing seems to be whether or not the marketing consumer is taken on a journey inspired by the products being advertised.

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