PA’s top marketers share challenge of brand storytelling

If you’re not engaging in brand storytelling, you’re missing out.

The opportunity to share and glean those insights and more with marketing leaders from across our region this week at the 2016 Pennsylvania Marketing Summit in Philadelphia was a refreshing experience. With nearly a dozen panels featuring marketers from a spectrum of industries, one might assume common themes would be tough to come by.

On the contrary: it quickly became clear that marketers across the board are grappling with many of the same challenges, and we want to share three of the ideas we heard from practically everyone. 

Leverage social media

Panelists agreed that focusing social media channels has become a central piece of their marketing efforts.

The allure of a communication line straight to customers continues to fascinate marketers, although it is fraught with challenges. This technology allows us to directly speak with key demographics and reinforce brands, but must be done authentically or we risk alienating our audiences.

“Strategy is essential, or you’re shooting blind,” said Allen Plummer, social media and content marketing strategist at Vanguard. “It’s not a matter of executing tactics for the sake of executing tactics, there needs to be a plan in place.”

Allen’s fellow panelists stressed the importance of creating a concise mission statement before investing in social media, whether you’re in financial, healthcare or higher education.

This sense of strategic thinking is steering marketers toward the most audience-relevant platforms.

“Focus on building the story and avoid chasing trends and platforms. Engage your audience in the right place, with the appropriate voice,” said Jeremy Moore, senior director of communications at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “There is more value in communicating effectively on the right platforms than having an insufficient voice on all of them.”

With added resources being devoted to the planning and execution of social efforts, it is increasingly important to measure return on investment (ROI). Panelists recommended setting clear goals and putting processes into place to monitor progress towards these ROI goals.

“Keep your finger on the pulse, always. Monitor your content, and let the user interaction guide you to what works,” said Linda Thomas, director of social media at Nutrisystem.

Brand storytelling lets you be bold

Another common thread throughout the panel discussions revolved around how companies have found success via brand storytelling, using culture as a way to stand out in crowded marketplaces.

Marketers are digging deep to identify what makes their company unique and developing a brand position that communicates it. They are looking to humanize their brand and they’re finding inspiration in customer, student or patient stories. Harnessing these experiences provides insight into the culture of a company and allows people to relate.

“Be relevant, authentic and bold,” said Janie Lucas, chief marketing officer at LaSalle University. “Every brand has a story, and it’s up to us to tell it.”

Panelists suggested directing efforts toward engaging with your audience, creating genuine connections and evoking emotions.

Content remains in high demand

You’ve heard it before and it’s still the case: the continuous development of content relevant and valuable to your audience is of the utmost importance. If only the execution was as simple as the statement.

The rapid growth of digital marketing tactics has placed a strain on many marketers, as they rely on more materials and less resources. Their audiences are hungry for content, and keeping it coming is a challenge.

Success in digital marketing with tools like marketing automation is determined by the availability of content. It’s a never-ending process and marketers are searching for internal and external resources to meet the rising demand.

Speakers placed a heavy importance on the quality of that content. Providing valued content engages audiences and develops the relationship between company and customer. Panelists achieving success with content sharing discussed focusing on informing and educating.

Additionally, optimizing content for each communication channel is crucial to success. Rob Johnson, vice president of business development for the Philadelphia Flyers said, “the silent movie has returned,” when discussing content for Facebook.

Johnson went on to describe how engagement with videos posted on the Flyers’ Facebook page skyrocketed when subtitles were added.

Ultimately, these three themes work hand-in-hand: you need to create good content, it should tell your unique brand story, and social media channels are the best way (for now…) to share this content.



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Ernie Thomas



Advertising is in Ernie’s DNA as he’s a third-generation family member to join the business his late grandfather founded. With that pedigree comes an almost six sense of identifying the “it factor” needed to create campaigns that spark customers to action. Ernie (or ET) uses his outgoing personality to connect with clients to build strong collaborative relationships. He digs deep to uncover new opportunities that will make a measurable difference for each client’s business. A graduate of Eastern University and Saint Joseph’s University (MBA), he has the book smarts and experience to elevate brand communications with strategies that challenge the status quo. He’s always guiding Team SWBR toward the correct target audiences, smartest campaign messages, right digital channels and best traditional tactics suited to boost sales.

When he’s not working, Ernie enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter. He’s also an avid golfer still searching for his first hole-in-one.