“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”

- Seth Godin

There’s no question that stories make a brand come to life, they engage an audience in a way that no other communication tool can. Storytelling is an art that marketing professionals must master in order to convey their brand in the most compelling way.

Social media is, arguably, all about telling stories. Users document and share their thoughts and experiences to build an online story of their life. More specifically, this format has been associated with the expiring content side of these applications. Snapchat was the first to market with expiring content: user generated videos and images that disappear after only 24 hours. A massive hit with the 13-24 age range, Snapchat was valued at $28 billion when it floated in March this year. Instagram was next to market, supplementing their image focused platform with Instagram Stories in January 2017. Next came Facebook launching Messenger Day followed with the same functionality made available in their main platform.

Whilst all versions of Stories offer advertising benefits to businesses, Instagram Stories offers the greatest opportunity to build brand awareness and attract new customers, both organically and through paid promotion.

But first… What is Instagram Stories?

Modelled on Snapchat, Instagram Stories works in much the same way. Users can take photographs or 15-second videos within the mobile version of the app, or upload existing content. The images or videos appear in a custom stories section at the top of their feed. This content disappears within 24 hours, just like Snapchat uploads. If a user’s account is set to private, this content is available only to their followers, or available to everyone if their account is public. And, of course, a range of text and graphic overlays are available for users to enhance their image or video.

This is no fledgeling addition to the Instagram portfolio. The impact and take up of this feature has been almost instantaneous. Of the 400 million users accessing Instagram every day, over 250 million are using Stories during their visit. Despite the clear acceptance of this new feature to the Instagram audience, businesses are trailing behind in seeing the potential of Instagram Stories as a part of their marketing mix. Whilst we’ve seen an increase in client requests for traditional Instagram advertising, most businesses are still reluctant to include Instagram Stories in their overall social media strategy.

Why should you be interested in Instagram Stories?

Firstly, Instagram Stories has a nifty feature that leads itself to organic promotion: the Explore functionality. Using an algorithm, Instagram displays a stream of relevant stories, including those from business profiles that are publicly available. This is particularly good news for businesses looking to grow their following and we suspect, as with most algorithms, that the greater the interest in each story the better it will rank.

Put simply, advertising doesn’t have to be the only way to talk to a new audience and grow your follower base. With Instagram Stories boasting a more diverse audience than Snapchat, 55% of the user base is 18-29 with 30-49-year-olds making up an additional 28% of users, the reach of organic content extends into older demographics.

The Live functionality is also a great way for businesses to engage with their audience using extended dialogue and a more personalised approach. It’s already proving to be a popular interactive channel, and the ‘top live’ functionality features in a very prominent position on the Explore page.

Although real-time insights can’t be seen on live Stories, the data can be viewed and analysed once the story has expired. Stories launched from a business profile can be tracked in terms of reach, impressions, replies and exits. The ‘swipe-up’ functionality enables businesses to link to a specific landing page and continue the user experience.

Instagram Stories provides an addition to your standard Instagram feed and advertising. Making use of this additional channel breaks up your content and avoids channel saturation. If you’re already promoting your business on Instagram, breaking into Instagram Stories is the obvious next step. If you’re not already using Instagram, then you should be engaging with this stream right from the start.

The success of Instagram Stories speaks for itself. Not yet a year since its launch, Instagram Stories now boasts 250 million users, 50% more than the 166 million figure that Snapchat released in May 2017.

And there’s proof that Stories are benefiting business. Carolyn Everson, Global Head of Sales for Facebook told CNBC: "Today on the platform, we not only have 250 million people using it, but actually a third (of the most viewed stories) are businesses using Instagram Stories and one million are advertisers."

So, how can you use Instagram Stories to promote your business?

The main premise behind Instagram Stories is that peek into someone’s life. It’s quick, it’s real and it’s for the moment. This genuine and revealing experience lends itself well to businesses who wish to be seen as more transparent in their offering and it is a powerful way to make brands more personable. If you’re thinking of adding Instagram Stories to your digital marketing strategy, then you need to approach it in this open and personal way.

Unlike other social platforms, Stories isn’t just for B2C businesses. B2B companies can access this platform in a powerful way too. Service-based industries can use Stories to demonstrate expertise and thought leadership by empowering employees to share their glimpses of their day. By enabling experts to share their knowledge and provide solutions to real problems they can build stronger relationships with customers. New product development and research are also highly compatible with this channel. If you can offer glimpses of innovation then customers will keep coming back to see more. And since each video or image is immersive and full screen, you can ensure complete focus on your message.

Use organic, expiring, Instagram Stories for:

24-hour competitions or promotions are perfect for this channel. Use aspirational images or video footage and collect potential customer details or encourage new follower sign-up. Although users aren’t able to like or publicly comment on your Story, they are able to use direct messages to communicate with you or supply personal details.

Event promotion:
Countdown to a store event, a talk or a conference by providing daily snippets of preparations, giveaways or previews.

Behind the scenes sneak peeks:
This taps into the more transparent and personal aspect of Stories. Provide exclusive content showing product creation or manufacturing, conduct interviews with staff, share selfies or get the CEO to answer customer questions.

Provide handy 15-second guides, demonstrate a technique, answer a question or tackle a misunderstanding about your brand head on.

Share images or videos of elements or features of new products before release, to build momentum and engage potential customers.

The immediacy of the channel is perfect for flash-sales promotion – if they don’t watch then they’ll miss it.

Instagram Stories are designed to be real, unpolished and captured in-the-moment on mobile phones. This removes the pressure of creating perfectly produced images or video. The more genuine the posts, the better they will integrate with user-generated content providing businesses with the opportunity to develop a real connection with the user. That said, originality is embraced on this media. There is a selection of creative tools to enhance posts including Instagram’s own Boomerang and Hyperlapse apps.

Don’t like the idea of your hard work disappearing after 24 hours?

Disruptive advertising could be the answer!

Instagram advertising is a tried and tested method of reaching loyal customers and prospects alike. 70% of Instagrammers follow a business on Instagram and 60% say that they have discovered new products on the platform. Users engage with, and welcome, businesses on Instagram and there has always been a clear reason to advertise in this space.

Our own data shows that 18-34-year-olds respond particularly well to Instagram adverts, outperforming the 35-54 demographic in every metric. Our aggregated client data shows the 18-34 demographic outperforming the older age group by 42% on full video views, with a lower cost per click (CPC) and cost per thousand impressions (CPM). So, if you’re thinking of reaching the younger end of Instagram’s audience, then Instagram advertisement is a sure win. Devices matter too. Our research shows that iPhone users outperform their Android counterparts both on the number of views and CPM.

Advertising in Stories is straightforward, employing the same tools used in standard Instagram and Facebook advertising and monitoring: Marketing API, Power Editor and Adverts Manager. And as you would expect, you can make use of the detailed targeted information available from linked Facebook accounts.

Adverts are seamlessly integrated into the story stream with a simple sponsored message appearing at the bottom of the video or image.

One of our favourite features of Instagram’s Stories adverts is the complete integration with standard Instagram and Facebook advertising. Intelligence is transferred to show Instagram Story adverts to those people who have already interacted with advertisements through these other channels, or vice versa. To this end, Instagram’s Stories ads make a useful addition to current Instagram ads, rather than a replacement. Instagram’s Stories ads are a great way to segment your message and avoid channel saturation.

Strike now, whilst it’s new

As with all new marketing channels, it’s best to strike whilst it’s hot and new. Few businesses are using the organic Stories or advertising routes just yet, so it’s an uncluttered channel. Less competition also means that your message will have a greater reach, both in terms of advertising placement within user Stories and the likelihood of your organic content being placed within the Explore feed.

You’ll be in good company. Instagram’s Stories adverts were initially rolled out to just a few exclusive brands including Capital One, Buick, Maybelline New York, Nike, Yoox, Netflix and Qantas. Airbnb is widely promoted to have embraced the new format to launch their new Trips product.

Instagram is definitely on an upward trend. An eMarketer report estimates that the number of larger US brands using Instagram will overtake Twitter soon, reaching 70.7% by the end of 2017, doubling the figures seen in 2015. These businesses are joining the conversation with the 700 million Instagram users active on the platform today.

If you’re serious about communicating with your customers in a new and compelling way, if you interested in being the first in an uncluttered channel, and if you want to tell an honest and revealing of your brand’s story, then the time to act is now. Find out more about our paid social service or get in touch.

Learn about our free, personalised insights club

More Paid Media

The impact of ad blockers on your digital marketing

09 December 2021

Bidding on competitor keywords on Google Ads

08 July 2021

Forget ROAS – Ecommerce Brands Should Focus on POAS

21 June 2021