How brands are using new structures for storytelling

With the multiplication of platforms and formats, brands need to be able to adapt their content for multiple audiences.

It has only been a couple years since the advent of the Stories format that Snapchat made popular. These days, many brands are integrating this new format into their content marketing mix.

This is an example of how a brand adapts content and messaging for new formats and platforms.

What we are now seeing is brands using theses new vertical formats (for example) on more than social channels.

In a Forbes article by Paul Talbot, CEO and cofounder at Apester, Moti Cohen, explains how some marketers are leveraging these new storytelling structures with the goal to not only grab, but also keep attention from their audiences.

We know it, grabbing the attention of people is easy. Keeping their attention is much harder and this is where quality storytelling and high-value content come into play.

Anyone can create and publish content these days, but how many can really craft a story that keeps people glued to their screen.

At Toast we believe that we must all have the opportunity to be informed, educated and entertained in the best possible way. And this is why we work at developing and producing the best content to achieve this.

In the article, Cohen mentions brands that have embraced newer formats, on their own properties (not only social channels). Netflix with a story-like vertical format to promote its shows; Variety, Rolling Stone, and Marie Claire have developed native contextual Instagram-like stories within their content; and many more.

How is your brand leveraging these formats? How could they be integrated into your own properties, like your website or content hub?

At Toast we always keep our eyes open to new approaches, formats and structures, making sure we integrate them into our client’s and partner’s channels whenever it can create deeper engagement and better memory recall of the brand’s message.

Would you like to explore new ways for your brand to tell its story? Let us know and schedule a consultation with our experts at Toast today.

Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling

A look at the most important rules of storytelling, as set out by the masters of practice: Pixar.


Pixar is the organization that has been able to tell us excellent stories for several decades. Film after film, their ability to make us experience a range of emotions in 2 short hours is extraordinary.


Maxime at the office sent me an article this week saying, “Read this!”


The article from No Film School introduced me to the 22 rules of storytelling at Pixar, published on Twitter by Emma Coats in 2011.


These 22 rules have since become an excellent reference on the approaches we should all have in our storytelling development process. Whether intended for children or your brand’s audience, these rules are at the heart of what makes storytelling a powerful tool in our arsenal as content creators.


In the article Maxime recommends, Vanessa Reyes takes 5 of the 22 rules, which happen to be very well explained in a video of just under ten minutes from Insider, and analyzes them in order to understand what makes them the major pillars of an excellent story:


  • Rule #4: “Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”
  • Rule #13: “Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.”
  • Rule #19: “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.”
  • Rule #6: “What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?”
  • Rule #3: “Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.”



In content marketing, we don’t have toys that come to life, or monsters living in closets, but we have characters, stories, themes to address. All these elements make it possible to apply many of these storytelling rules to our work.


So why not put a little Pixar in your next content productions?


What do you think of your content strategy? What is your level of satisfaction of it? Let us know and schedule a consultation with our experts at Toast today.

35 content format prototypes, one year, and lots learned at the BBC

The BBC’s innovation laboratory publishes its results and presents the prototypes that had the greatest impact on audiences.

For the past year, the BBC News Lab has been testing a number of prototypes for presenting and structuring content (35 in total!) with the aim of discovering new ways to tell stories and structure the (sometimes complex) information that the public broadcaster wants to offer.

Tristan Ferne, head producer of the BBC’s R&D project, published a very detailed article on the prototypes that had a positive impact (and those that were not well received at all).

This article is a gold mine for any innovative content marketer or content designer wishing to explore new presentation or structure models that can be adapted to the needs of the reader/listener/etc.

I consider that many of these prototypes could be deployed by advertisers and brands.

In the projects that Ferne describes, there are several very interesting explorations on the notion of reader empathy, where the content can be adapted according to the desires of the person who consumes it.

Two of the objectives of the last few months were to:

  1. Tweaking the stories based on each reader’s information needs
  2. Breaking down the news into more digestible bits, helping readers grasp the complexity of various current events

In the article, you will find lots of details about their discoveries as well as about the prototypes that didn’t work.

An article to save, and to bring up during your brainstorming sessions when you would like your brand to innovate in the way it publishes and deploys its content.

A New Era of Brand Storytelling with Netflix

Traditionally, brands have taken a cue from entertainment and applied it to its own storytelling. Are we about to see another chapter of this?

Netflix has just released a new type of series that pretty much only them can do, as they are not intimately tied to cable or traditional television formats.

Puss in Book” is leveraging not only the popular character, but also integrating interactive storytelling elements to it, much like what we had in the 80s with the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books.

Why do this? Everyone can be pretty much certain that such an interaction between story and viewer will create deeper engagement, and that is something that will make brand marketers look up and see if they can also leverage this.

Interactive storytelling is not new, but seeing Netflix trying it out is very interesting on multiple levels.

Chris Wren from Branding Strategy Insider wrote a very interesting piece about the series and its implications for brands. It dives into the logic behind it, but also ethics about screen time and artificial intelligence.


Scientific secrets of storytelling

A couple weeks ago I attended the Inbound’16 conference in Boston, where close to 20,000 marketing experts and content marketers met for 4 days to talk about the power of content in the marketing and sales arsenal. Many of the presentations were extremely interesting, and I wanted to share one with you.


In this conference, Amina Moreau (psychologist, athlete and artist, no less) tells us about what makes storytelling work so well in our content and persuasion efforts. Many scientific studies exist and demonstrate the different factors that can influence our audience and Amina describes many action steps we can (and must) apply today in our content production.

Of course, I recommend you watch the entire presentation (about 50 minutes), but here are the main action steps she touches upon:

  • Find a unique angle
  • Choose one character
  • Highlight their desire
  • Explore conflicts that stand in the way
  • Take your audience on a journey

She also concludes by focusing on the importance of the 4 P’s of storytelling:

  1. People (a particular person – the heart of the story)
  2. Plot (creating a journey for the heart of the story)
  3. Place (4 elements: environment, object, time, and situation)
  4. Purpose (the opportunity to say something about an issue or to leave the viewer with a message)

We had already discussed the scientific angle for memorable content in a previous article. I consider both these articles to be a great source of insights and knowledge as they push the fact that it is possible, and even essential, to think about what will make a good story for our audience, while respecting the business objectives of the brands that work with us.

How to create memorable content: the brain science

Memorable content, the science behind producing content that will trigger a future action.

There is a lot of talk about getting your content to stand out in a sea of information and publishing coming from brands, friends, systems, etc. Content distribution is very important, getting your content in the right place at the right time. But that’s not the entire story.

And if you’ve heard anyone talk about content marketing and video marketing in a knowledgeable way in the past few years, you’ll know content is not a proper tactic to drive sales directly.

Content is used to build brand equity, trust, connection.

But how can you convince your C-level superior that they should invest in it if it won’t drive sales directly?

And most important, how can you make sure that your audience will actually remember seeing your content if you get them to consume it?

This is where the science of content marketing, memorable content, comes in. This is where prospective memory comes in.

For fun, here’s a little test. Answer these three questions as quickly as possible:

  1. What continent is Kenya in?
  2. What are the two opposing colours in the game of chess?
  3. Name any animal.

Did you know that in studies like these, roughly 20% of people answer zebra to the last sentence and about 50% respond with an animal from Africa?

Should you ask that third question without asking the first two, people will answer zebra in about only 1% of cases!

This is how you can approach content production, with the principles of prospective memory in mind. Thinking about that action you want your consumer to do at time B and scripting the content he will watch at time A accordingly.

This is all from a great article published at Branding Strategy Insider. Carmen Simon, PhD, author of “Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions” does an excellent job of giving us the basics on how to produce great, memorable content.

A must read.

Humans of New York and its capacity to adapt its storytelling

Humans of New York has consistently been able to adapt to how we consume its stories. 

Humans of New York started a small revolution in 2010 when photographer Brandon Stanton started his project. Initially, the objective was to interview 10,000 New York City’s inhabitants, creating a large catalogue of the people who make that great city what it is.

6 years later, Humans of New York has amassed 20 million followers on multiple social media platforms and has featured stories from over 20 countries.

The key to this project’s success is double:

  1. The simplicity of the format
  2. The capacity to adapt this format to the multiple platforms where content is published

An interesting article from Newscred covers a recent series Humans of New York did on pediatric cancer. A series that has raised over 3,8M$ in crowdfunding, in 14 days!

I invite you to take a couple minutes of your day to rediscover (or discover) this superb storytelling platform

Brand storytelling, the new king

A product or brand must have a better story to tell that its competitors.

In the 60s, Roser Reeves introduced the concept of USP (Unique Selling Proposal). At about the same time, around 1955, David Ogilvy was developing the importance of the image of a brand. Later, Bill Bernbach started talking about how advertising could have a lighter touch, be closer to entertainment.

This natural evolution all happened in media contexts that were very different from what we live in today. Technologies were different and the consumer’s experience at the moment they might be faced with advertising was also different.

This is why today, I wanted to share an article by Jack Trout, a veteran marketer that, in 2000, started hammering the importance of brand storytelling in the advertising process.

Trout, a specialist in the positioning theory, explains in his article how the evolution of advertising leads to an era of storytelling. An era where brands cannot interrupt anymore, but must rather integrate themselves into the consumer’s experience.

I’m not teaching you anything with this and I’ve had this discourse for a while now, but it is always interesting to read it from a veteran.

And this is where content becomes so relevant. A brand must be able to be integrated and relevant to its audience and currently, in 2016, we believe at Toast that video is an excellent way to do it. 

The science behind why stories sell and data doesn’t

“Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act.”

(Don’t worry, this is not a scientific post)

You’ve heard it, stories are an excellent way to get that emotional connection with an audience, or customers.

But why? We do believe it, but is there some science behind this?

Actually, there is.

Today’s article does an excellent job in linking our beliefs about storytelling to actual scientific findings as to why.

Clare Dodd published a summary of multiple research papers on storytelling and there are some great nuggets in there.

Keith Queensbury of Johns Hopkins conducted an analysis of 108 Super Bowl adverts. He found that, ‘regardless of the content of the ad, the structure of that content predicted its success.’ In other words, telling a story was better than listing features (or anything else for that matter).

She also dives into findings that show how the brain of a person telling a story and a person listening to that story can synchronise.

When [she] spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized.  When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too.  When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.

There are also links to Freytag’s pyramid, shown at the top of this post, on how stories should be built.

All this might sound really scientific and dry, but the article is well worth the read, as Clare Dodd really explains various aspects of storytelling (and links to the actual studies if you want to read even more).

Why taking the brand out of branded content works

With too much brand, you end up creating an ad. And your content ends up losing credibility.

A problem that seems easier said than resolved many might say.

Marketing, as we know it, has mostly focused on making sure selling is part of the message. And some marketers make sure it is sometimes a little too obvious.

In the content marketing field, this can often end up having the opposite effect. Seem like the brand is begging.

Creating independent content is key. But how to do it? How does a brand create content that is independent yet able to create a positive spin on the brand?

In today’s article, Carlijn Postma, looks at how the media industry does it, and does it well:

The media produces content the public wants: Content that gets read, viewed, or listened to. Content that’s not simply pushed into the faces of its target group but, rather, where the target group has made a conscious choice to engage in the content.

Once again, easier said than done for brands.

This is where brand journalism comes in. It means taking a different approach at communicating your brand’s values and core beliefs. Without overselling, without putting your logo and brand name on every frame or page.

Independent content transcends all egos and puts the audience in pole position, answering key questions like, “What is relevant, interesting, and entertaining for my audience?” and “What content can we offer to help them?”

In her article, Postma also shares some tips on how to create better independent content, how to find brand journalists, how to view your audience in light of creating powerful and effective branded content assets.