How is it already March 2022?

I’m still processing March 2020. Ouch.

Sure, COVID-19 has taken up most of the headlines for the past TWO YEARS, and for good reason. But let’s not forget that the pandemic isn’t the only once-in-a-lifetime crisis the world has seen lately.

Let’s think back a bit: There was election controversy. Nationwide uprisings against systemic racism like we haven’t seen since the ‘60s. Devastating wildfires! Murder hornets! And so, SO much more that is anything but over.

Oh, how we yearn for “precedented” times.

All of this chaos (naturally) breeds uncertainty. And uncertainty demands reevaluation.

The point is, things have felt … pretty chaotic for a while now. As people, we’re all trying to catch our breath. But as marketers, we don’t have time to take a breath—because it’s likely that people (i.e., consumers) will never see things the same way again.

All of this chaos (naturally) breeds uncertainty. And uncertainty demands reevaluation. Whether it’s who you vote for, where you work or where you choose to shop.

Whether they’re conscious of it or not, consumers will be reevaluating everything—this time with a post-COVID lens.

And so, it begs the question: When consumers encounter your brand after a series of traumatic, once-in-a-lifetime, unprecedented events, what will they see?

Or maybe the question is, who will they see? Because they’ll be looking for themselves. And they’ll be looking online.

The answer? Start with a story.

There’s no denying that COVID has changed consumer behavior.

According to a recent Numerator poll, 55% of consumers are shopping online more often than before COVID, and 50% are shopping in person less frequently. By all estimates, this behavior is expected to carry into a post-COVID reality.

And sure—that’s just one source about specific behaviors, but the takeaway is that we don’t just have a “new normal.” It’s that a core part of this new normal is an increased dependence on digital messaging and advertising.

Bring in Cardinal Marketing’s 2021 healthcare trends, which highlighted that patients (who are also consumers!) need help across a lot more channels than ever before. They posit that “you’ll need a deep catalog of marketing material that’s mapped to the entire funnel, from early consideration to ‘purchase ready.”’ Think social, think Web, think online ads, think video.

So now the challenge for brands is even greater: to appeal to customers old and new, (mostly) digitally.

But digital assets have to come from somewhere. They have to be grounded in some strategy.

And we don’t mean digital strategy. Data and analytics are invaluable, but they’re not why we make decisions—they’re how we rationalize decisions.

Data and analytics are invaluable, but they’re not why we make decisions they’re how we rationalize decisions.

FEELINGS are why we make decisions. And feelings are all about story, as our creative directors have asserted in the recent past. Humans are emotional creatures, hardwired for engaging with more than facts and figures.

OK, so what’s a story?

Well, here’s what a story isn’t: your business problem. Your clients, customers, target audiences, etc, don’t care.

That may seem glib, but clients (and many marketers) often confuse their business problem with their story. And it’s natural! They’re so focused on their brand’s needs and objectives that they forget to put themselves in their audience’s shoes.

Which is why, most of the time, clients come to us: to find the story. And what is it? A creative way of solving your business problem that’s relevant, memorable and differentiating to your audience. Good stories also turn into the essence of your campaigns, the fuel for your creative and a true north for your tactical executions.

Good stories turn into the essence of your campaigns, the fuel for your creative and a true north for your tactical executions.

Let’s play it out with an award-winning campaign as a case study. #HumbleBrag

Business problem: We’re the market leader in nerve repair surgery, but our target market of breast cancer survivors doesn’t even know it!

The temptation might be to say the story is “We’re the market leader in nerve repair!” But don’t do that. If people already aren’t listening, saying you’re the best won’t help.

Instead, get to the heart of the story–find where the emotion comes in. For example …

Story: Incisions and stitches heal with time. But numbness and lack of sensation can be permanent—a constant reminder of what you’ve been through.

Are you one of the many breast cancer survivors who have lost sensation in their chest after mastectomy? With the help of this procedure, it’s possible to feel more like yourself after a mastectomy—to surrender one less thing to cancer.

Of course, there’s more to this story. Take a look at the case study here.

Simple, but not easy. Like many things in life (and advertising).

The truth is, a lot of time and skill goes into crafting a good story. It’s built on industry expertise and deep insights into your target audience. On strong positioning that clearly differentiates and articulates your product’s value. On a strategy that gets at your customer’s wants and needs, and which sets the stage for the amazing creative necessary to bring it to life.

What’s the takeaway here?

Good marketing depends on more than ad buys–it depends on a great story. So when you’re planning for next year, budget the time and resources to find your killer story.