Your e-commerce brand has a story—a story worth telling.
But how are you going to do it?
After all, even the best stories fall on deaf ears when poorly told, and the same is true for your brand narrative. In fact, it’s especially true for your narrative, because you probably have a lot of people trying to tell it—internal team members as well as external marketing partners. And if they tell your story inconsistently, or if they create content that fails to drive your narrative, it won’t have a meaningful impact on your audience.
That’s why every brand narrative needs a communication strategy—a collection of guidelines for executing your narrative across different channels and contexts. But what kind of guidelines do you need to consider? And how will they help impact your customers?
Don’t sweat it! Your old buddy Saltwater will walk you through it.
There are various types of guidelines you can include in your communication strategy. The catch is that the types of guidelines you need, as well as their direction, will have to be catered to your brand’s narrative, available marketing channels, content creation capabilities, and goals. Simple, right?
So let’s talk about some of the factors you need to consider when putting together a communication strategy. We’re going to focus on communications strategies for the outdoor industry, and we’ve even included a few examples from work we did for Jetboil—an industry-leading manufacturer of backpacking stoves.
Narrative Structure: Brand narratives come in many shapes. For example, your narrative might have a tiered structure to accommodate various product types, or it might consist of a small collection of sub-narratives to highlight the different facets of your brand (as we did for Jetboil, above). Whatever shape your narrative takes, you’ll need design, imagery, and copy guidelines for when, where, and how to execute your different narrative components.
Channels: Execution guidelines for your different channels are a vital component of your communication strategy. Why? Because every channel is different, both in the user’s expectations and the publishing specifications. Your approach to copy and design will be different for social vs. email vs. your blog, so you need to establish guidelines for telling your story in the best way possible, no matter the context.
Buyer’s Journey: Some call it the sales funnel while trendier folk call it the sales flywheel. Regardless of what you call it, your customers undergo a journey from awareness to purchase, and your communication strategy should address how your different channels and narrative components usher them along that journey.
Content Topics and Types: What type of content is going to best communicate your narrative to your customers? What topics do they care about? Your communication strategy is the perfect place to answer these questions, so you can be confident that every piece of content (whether it’s a blog post, social image, live video, email, etc.) contributes strategically to the story you’re trying to tell.
Marketing Plan: Does your marketing plan include campaigns throughout the year, or do you take more of an always-on approach to marketing? Maybe it’s a combination of both. Either way, it will affect your strategy. For example, some of our clients, like Jetboil, have leaned towards an always-on approach, but also needed guidance for executing product launch campaigns throughout the year.
Style and Design Elements: What’s your company’s visual style? Do you use bold, eye-catching colors, or subtle, sophisticated hues? Whatever your brand’s look and feel, provide guidelines on how to execute it in the context of your brand narrative. This is especially important if your narrative includes new design elements, as you’ll need to provide direction on how and when to use these elements. When it comes to design, consistency is paramount.
Your Logo and Tagline: Depending on your narrative, you might be introducing a new tagline, or now have logo variations (such as a standalone logo vs. a logo-tagline lockup). You’ll need guidelines for when to use each, particularly when determining how prominent you want them to be in marketing throughout the year.
Current and Planned Imagery: What imagery do you currently have, and what imagery are you planning to acquire? Craft imagery guidelines around your answer. Feel free, for example, to create aspirational guidelines for imagery you don’t yet have, so long as you have a means of acquiring it. Otherwise, try to be realistic about the imagery at your disposal.
QUALITIES OF STRONG NARRATIVE EXECUTION
Now that you have a better idea about how to create guidelines for your narrative, let’s take a look at what a strongly executed narrative should look like.
- Entertaining: Getting your audience’s attention is always step one. Either through humor, aesthetics, an appeal to curiosity, or something else, your brand narrative and its content should capture your consumers’ attention in an entertaining way.
- Aspirational: You should aim to inspire customers with a higher purpose or goal. Maybe it’s motivating people to get the camping gear they need for their next adventure, inspiring people to be better stewards of the environment, or helping them live less cluttered lives with minimalist products (full disclosure: this Salty may have recently purchased a minimalist wallet). This is the “organizing principle” covered in our last post about e-commerce brand narratives.
- Actionable: Customers don’t just want to be inspired in the short term; something should come from that inspiration, and ideally your brand is facilitating that. That’s why your narrative and its communication strategy should include the creation of valuable content your consumers can act upon—such as a fly fishing company writing content that teaches you not only which rod is best, but how to use it, which conditions it’s ideal for, and where to go to use it.
- Joinable: A large part of what makes a narrative effective is that it makes consumers feel like they’re participating in a community when they use your products, rather than reaching a simple end point in a transaction. So it’s important to find ways to involve your consumers with the brand, whether it be through something big like supporting a shared mission or something small like creating a hashtag they identify with.
- Payoff: Whether it’s deals, giveaways, or freebies, consumers want incentives if they’re going to keep following your brand online. Educational and entertaining content may keep their attention for a while, but the more incentives you give customers to regularly check in, the better.
IS YOUR NARRATIVE READY?
The brand narrative has become a vital component of every e-tailer’s marketing strategy. It helps you stand out and resonate with customers, while also making it possible to coexist with Amazon (who may offer cheap prices and fast shipping, but can’t resonate with niche audiences like you can).
But execution is everything. So if you have a narrative you’re ready to share with the world, be sure to give its communication strategy the attention it needs.
And remember, we’re happy to help if you want guidance! Whether you want to talk about developing a brand narrative or communication strategy, feel free to drop us a line.