"Picture it, Sicily 1912…" so begins the opening to almost every unforgettable story told by the incomparable Sophia Petrillo, TV's original Golden Girl. Though a fictional character from a 1980s sitcom, when Sophia tells you to "picture it," you know you're in for a story you're not likely to forget. The same holds true for brands: inviting an audience to "picture it," allows destinations to draw their audiences into stories about everything that is memorable, sensational and intriguing about their destination—whether it be a thrilling new rollercoaster, a hot new restaurant or the best place to go snorkeling. The stories behind the places in a destination are the building blocks to an impactful content strategy.
Before diving deeper, let’s go back to basics: what is storytelling and what exactly could a storytelling content strategy look like? In its simplest form, storytelling is the how and where you present your message (your content). That said, storytelling is distinct from advertising—and audiences can recognize the difference. The concept of storytelling is much more meaningful than traditional advertising in that it appeals to an audience's interests and imagination. Storytelling entertains. It piques curiosity—and when an audience is entertained, they retain more, they share more and hopefully they'll want more. Storytelling content can take the form of first-person articles, character-driven videos or cultural deep dives.
It's important to recognize there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to storytelling. Your storytelling strategy should be multifaceted and holistic to reflect the numerous channels and platforms your audiences consume content on. A competitive multichannel content strategy involves choosing the right topics, styles and formats for your audience and a strategy for measuring your audience’s preferences over time.
Because so many channels, and therefore opportunities, exist, your storytelling strategy needs focus and intent. There's always the temptation to be everywhere for everyone but doing so will only dilute your message (and drain your budget). To give your strategy purpose and definition, carefully think about a publishing cadence, how your content can function on different channels and proactively establish KPIs. Do utilize multiple channels, but don’t rely on a universal content strategy; each channel is unique and likewise requires a unique approach to yield results.
To determine which channels to use, think of the audience you are trying to reach. Where are they consuming content? How are they going to share it? Once you’ve selected your channels, you can then optimize your content (your story) for those channels. For example, you could have traditional website content that you promote through an email newsletter or deploy on different social channels (with each channel, naturally, getting its own strategy). Going one step further, differentiating the content across social channels can deliver different benefits: Through short-form videos, TikTok serves up an endlessly addictive thread of awareness; YouTube is a valuable place for search and discovery; Facebook is a highly trafficked information hub; whereas Instagram can drive astronomical brand engagement. In other words, your strategy for Facebook shouldn’t be the same as your strategy for TikTok.
You could also have an online video and drive deeper engagement through a mix of other complementary, platform-specific content (think longform web articles or a podcast or a mix of social posts, etc.). Metrics and objectives built around these kinds of audience-first, integrated content strategies can further inform a whole array of other, future strategies surrounding organic and paid media, audience building, traffic generation, content amplification and more.
As for your content, ask yourself the basics like, how are you telling the story, where is the story being told and who is telling the story. Again, your KPIs and channel selection are critical to your approach. Are you looking for online page views? Social engagements? Completed video views? Data aggregated from your results can help answer these questions and determine the what of your story.
What, then, is the what? The answers may be limitless but as the world continues to navigate the Covid-era and post-Covid travel, a good starting point is recognizing how an audience may be searching for experiences beyond the tried and true. Destinations can tap into trending travel topics such as eco-tourism, mindfulness and sustainability to build entertaining multi-platform content. But it has to be more than just top 10 lists or “go here/do this” travel guides. Good stories captivate and celebrate the unexpected both in content and format. Compelling stories can be told through scripted or unscripted videos, image-driven social posts (Instagram literally has a feature called Stories!), serialized podcasts or off-the-beaten-path road trip itineraries.
Authenticity and representation are also critical to storytelling. For example, destinations can empower local communities and businesses to create content that generates awareness and promotes inclusivity. By integrating a broad range of local, diverse voices, stories will resonate with and reveal more unique nuances to would-be travelers.
Like with any good story, you want to share it with others ("have I got a story to tell you…"). Storytelling and, ultimately, its sharing potential through online and social posts is what brands and destinations can lean into to inspire their audiences to engage with and learn more about their products or places of interest. All you need to do is “picture it”.