With three weeks to go until Christmas and Hanukkah in full swing, the holiday season is buzzing.  For brand marketeers, their favorite trend to spread the holiday spirit this year are Instagram and Facebook stories, research suggests. Why are story ads so popular – and how can they be carefully crafted and festively wrapped to make them a success?

The Christmas Stories craze

More than one-third of US brands include Facebook Stories and Instagram Stories in their holiday marketing plans, making them two of the most popular new advertising trends for the 2018 Christmas holiday season, reveals a new study by digital marketing platform ClickZ.  And it seems that once brands that get comfortable with the ‘story’ format of social media ads, they cannot get enough of it: More than 70% of brands who are investing in Facebook stories will also use Instagram stories for marketing, the study finds.

The reasons?  When asked about ‘break-through’ trends that brands see for their holiday marketing, their answers resonate extremely well with stories. Brands are eager to “humanize”, “make an emotional connection” and develop an “engaging narrative journey” for their brands’ stories in the digital field. In short, in the spirit of Christmas, creating a beautifully-wrapped authentic connection is paramount.

What makes a good holiday story?

Brands should be keep in mind that stories are just a tool, but still requires careful crafting of the message they want to convey. A poor social media communication campaign could actually harm the relationship with customers: A recent study found that more than  40% of consumers finding irrelevant content the most annoying aspect of brand marketing strategies. 

Telling a compelling story actually starts with listening. “It is easy to fall in the trap of placing too much importance on numbers, on quantity above quality”, says t Joe Carrozza, Co-founder of bidpin, a social media consulting firm specialized in advising brands on how to use Stories. “You shouldn’t be creating content for everyone, but rather define and understand your actual target audience.”

To  do this, social media analytics must go beyond counting reach, likes and shares. Clever brands dive in to the emotions and sentiments of user reactions; they look at what time their content performs best; and most importantly, trace the digital footprint of users back to their human profile.

A simple starter are demographics. For example, social media youngsters of Generation Z – born 1995 or later – trust influencers much more than other age groups. On the other hand, to reach the older generation of Millenials, a more direct brand-to consumer approach might be a better fit. Millenials love bargains – Generation Z want to express their individuality.  Differences like these matter in the tactics and tone that brands should draw on for their Christmas campaigns.

A festive wrapping your story

Once brands know what resonates with their audience, they can start thinking how they want to design their story. A simple way to think of a social media story is to compare it to a christmas present. Just like under the Christmas tree, the ‘wrapping’ matters a lot – anecdotally, social science research shows that people love gifts more if they are thoughtfully wrapped.

And in the world of story crafting, the toolbox of decorations is much more than hashtags and beautiful images. Playful Gifs have been the No.1 trend, but brands are also using interactive polls and sliders.  And many marketeers forget the ultimate red bow to finish off the perfect gift: Adding a clickable link to invite and direct users exactly where they want them to go – for example, the front page of their online shops.

The bells are ringing and the countdown to Christmas has begun. According to Gallup’s U.S. Mood Index, Christmas Day is one of the happiest days of the year for Americans. With this Christmas spirit in the air, it could not be a better season for brands to engage with their customers in a meaningful way – and just like traditions demand, by sharing a meaningful story.

Disclosure: This article includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company.