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Selling Stories in a Digital World

WVU Marketing Communications Today Selling Stories in a Digital World Featuring Sukhi Sahni,

The use of digital advertising has been on the rise and has seen continuous growth despite these unprecedented times. How do you stand out in a crowded digital space? Storytelling. Join Sukhi Sahni, head of corporate communications at Capital One as she discusses how to sell stories in a digital world.

Amy Teller: Could you start us off today by describing, in your own words, what is digital storytelling?

Sukhi Sahni: I think at the heart of storytelling is how humans connect, right? So, if you think about how you connect with your families, your friends, every conversation, if there's a story that's a part of it, we tend to remember that story. You might not remember the occasion, you might not remember the people in the room, but if there was a story that was told in an impactful way, you tend to relate to that. So, I think at the very essence of storytelling is just the way humans connect, and what's more important these days is that we are connecting in a lot of different ways and a lot of different channels.

It's really critical for us to be thoughtful about where are the people that you want to connect with. And a lot of them are on digital channels. Telling stories in an impactful way that creates a two-way conversation is what digital storytelling is, but also being thoughtful about what channels you're using and then how you're using them to get those stories across. I think the underpinning of this is a two-way conversation. We don't live in a world where you can share something with your key audiences and don't expect them to react. They actually engage with you in a conversation through these digital channels. But in short, I would say digital storytelling is all about connecting with people in an impactful way that creates a two-way conversation.

Amy Teller: Absolutely. It's really about the beauty and that dialogue, that back and forth dialogue, that makes it so impactful. There's so much information, and considering all the content that is available, how can brands identify what stories should and need to be told?

Sukhi Sahni: I don't know if there's any one brand that has found the perfect solution. I think that the beauty is that it continues to evolve, just given the changing landscape of media and the changing landscape of how people tend to consume the content that you put out. I think for brands, a couple of things are really critical. One, you have to stay true to your DNA, right? Really stay true to who you are as a company. And once you're staying true to your core, that story comes out in every conversation that you have with your audience. I think the other piece, which has become really relevant, especially in 2020, is leveraging our employees and their voices to tell those stories as well. They're honest, they're transparent. And they are usually real people. I think that is really critical, especially as we start getting comfortable with the post-COVID world as well, in terms of how we communicate.

I'm currently working with Capital One and we have a lot of products that are focused on really helping people with their financial lives, right? So really being thoughtful about what are the people looking for today. What solutions do we have to offer them? But then really focusing on helping them in their journey of life and telling those stories as well. In short, I would say brands just need to be very true to who they are and true to their DNA. Second is really leveraging their associates and their voices to tell a story and then focus on stories that truly show the impact.

Amy Teller: Absolutely. So how do you bring your personal stories? And I find I can relate and trust people on a deeper level when they tell stories that pull their own covers and it quickly builds on this idea of trust and connection.

Sukhi Sahni: I think the environment that you're living in, brands just have to be transparent. And I think it's harder to do that because if you're not true to who you are, our consumers are so smart that they can actually see through that. I think the other piece around storytelling, from that transparent lens, is to have a continuum. You can't just go out and focus on an area and tell stories and then completely forget about that. An example, I think diversity, inclusion and belonging is something that every brand and every company, not just in the United States, but worldwide, is thinking through. Diversity doesn't come along overnight, right? That's tied to your culture as an organization, all the different impact that you're making in society as a whole. You have to continually tell that story. It's part of who you, so transparency is really critical. It's also the mediums that you use. I think just being very thoughtful about being transparent, being open, but doing it in a way that it actually truly creates an engagement with your key audience.

Amy Teller: I love the point that you talk about transparency. What is the best way brands can measure the impact of their digital storytelling initiatives?

Sukhi Sahni: I think the biggest mistake a lot of communicators especially make is we don't think about the outcomes first, we just go directly into building a strategy. So, I think it's really critical to be thoughtful about what outcomes you want to drive. It is really critical for us to be very thoughtful about making sure that any communication strategy we put together has a PESO aspect to it, which is paid, earned, shared and owned. As I mentioned earlier, your audience is in a variety of different channels and you want to be very thoughtful about making sure that you're reaching to them through all of them. Now in some areas, you might put a lot more relevance versus the other as well. And each of these paid, earned, shared and owned have a different means of measuring impact. So for earned, for example, is about relationship building and being very thoughtful about which media and digital outlets your audience engaging with to make sure that you have a really good, deep relationship there. With owned media, it's really critical to be thoughtful about how you measuring impact. I think all of those are really critical from an owned perspective. When you think about paid and shared, there are so many different ways to measure impact. I think paid is usually the easier one because you actually are able to get the value of the dollars that are spent in a direct relationship with the impact that you see. Earned typically is the hardest.

At Capital One, we have moved from impressions. We've really focused on driving meaningful conversations with the people that we want to. We also take a look back and look at media outlets, for example, and think about where is our key audience engaging? And then being very thoughtful about building relationships with five or six media outlets that are really critical for us to get the word out versus trying to go for a larger impact as well.

Amy Teller: In your opinion, what are the critical digital media channels that businesses should be leveraging to reach their target consumers?

Sukhi Sahni: I think really comes down to, again, are you a small family owned business? Are you and large brand the size of BNG or Capital One? I think depending on what you're looking for, it is really critical to understand what do you stand for? What is your story? Second, I think it's really critical to understand what sort of channels do you already have existing that you can easily use? Are any of those internal channels? Because you also want to engage with associates and employees as well. What external-facing channels do you have? Do you have your own company website, and do you host content on that website as well? Is that more like an about us page or is it more around blog on relevant topics that might be really interesting to general audiences as well?

I think it always really starts with who is your audience? Who are you about as a brand? And then what's really the information that they're looking for and being thoughtful about that. But as I mentioned earlier, the PESO model is really, really critical, and not just for communicators, but I think for marketers, in general, to really assess the needs of their audience and then making sure you're telling those stories in all the right channels as well too.

Amy Teller: Today, as you know, consumers are bombarded with marketing messages. Sukhi, what tips could you offer brands to rise above the noise and avoid being ignored by consumers and an oversaturated market?

Sukhi Sahni: I think that the one thing to remember is that telling stories is probably one of the most powerful means that brands have to engage with their audience. So, it is really, really important, number one to know who your audience is and the behaviors of the audience and where are they engaging with that information? How do they take that information? Are they mostly in social channels? Are they engaging with you on your blog? So, let's be very thoughtful about what their behaviors are and understanding that psychology behind that is really critical.

I think the second thing is to really then understand is what are the business purposes that you're serving. What is your own story and stay true to who you are, your DNA, and your culture. Because, as I mentioned before, consumers are really smart and they can see through a brand if you don't stay true to who you are as well too. And I think the third, and the most important is, really understanding what is the story that you're trying to tell. Once you know all three of these, then the channel piece comes in terms of what channels do you use to reach out to them. If you can figure out the first three, I think it just makes the distribution of that content a lot easier for brands as well.

About Sukhi Sahni:

Sukhi is passionate about reframing relationships between brands and their customers and consumers, prizing purpose, authenticity, poignancy, and connected conversation above all things. She believes that powerful storytelling is at the heart of good communication and draws on her training as a broadcast journalist to extract truths, push boundaries and challenge the status quo. Sukhi deeply values the relationships she’s built and cultivated over the years with journalists, bloggers and influencers - relationships that are core to the storytelling process. Sukhi brings the energy of new practitioner with the finesse and fearlessness of a veteran to her daily practice. She currently holds the position of Senior Director of Communications at Capital One and was recently recognized by The Holmes Report a global communications leader through the “Global Innovator 25 Award” and a top woman in PR through the “Top Women in PR Award”. Connect with Sukhi on LinkedIn.


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