This article is part of CMO.com’s March/April series about emerging technology. Click here for more.
Michelob Ultra’s Instagram stream is a cascade of beauty shots of sweating bottles and bubbly pilsners interspersed with some videos featuring spokesman Chris Pratt—material tied into the brand’s Super Bowl ad this year.
Michelob Ultra’s Instagram Stories feed, is more a vehicle for the brand’s personal communication with fans. For instance, on Stories, every Monday is Motivation Monday. In the past, physical fitness guru Adam Rosante and former Bachelorette Brittany Farrar have taken over the feed for a day before it disappeared into the ether.
Instagram Stories has become an increasingly important way for brands to showcase what they’re up to. First rolled out in August 2016, the platform feature lets users share multiple photos and videos that appear together in slide show format and disappear after 24 hours. By mid-2017, Stories were drawing 250 million daily active users (versus 166 million for competitor Snapchat), according to SocialBakers.
What’s the draw? A September blog post from Instagram, which Facebook acquired six years ago, cited Stories’ ability to “connect more closely with the people, interests, and brands you care about most.”
For brands, Stories offers a unique way to market their offerings in an enjoyable, engaging way—an opportunity to let their hair down a bit, so to speak, according to Josh von Scheiner, founder of digital marketing firm Von Shine Industries.
“Anything that’s more temporal in nature you can do better through Stories than you can through the main feed,” he told CMO.com.
Brands have two primary methods to get the word out about their Stories: organic placement and advertising. Ads run in between stories and are comprised of up to three photos or videos that run up to 15 seconds.
Their options to creativity leverage the platform, however, are far and wide. Here’s a look at how more than a dozen well-known brands are experimenting with the ephemeral format in a variety of ways.
1. New Product Introductions
LG uses Instagram Stories primarily for new product introductions. For example, the brand has launched its V20, G5, and G6 smartphones on the platform.
“They use it only when they have something new or exclusive to share,” said Jordan Schneweiss, social strategist at Laundry Service, the agency that runs LG’s Instagram Stories efforts. “Whenever a new product comes out, Instagram Stories is really the first place where we want to showcase that product and give our viewers an inside look at the techs and specs and all the stuff they wouldn't see on another channel or from another publisher.”
In addition, Burt’s Bees used Instagram Stories to raise awareness for its Flavor Crystals lip balms. The campaign led to a 22-point lift in ad recall, according to Instagram.
2. Behind-The-Scenes Looks
According to von Schiener, Stories provides a contrast between brands’ slick Instagram feeds that let them show a more unvarnished version of themselves. This provides an entree for brands to offer behind-the-scenes looks at their offerings.
Nordstrom Rack, for instance, used Stories to provide a sneak peek at fashions for its holiday campaign last year. The brand’s Stories included a look at the shoot for the ad at one of the stores.
Similarly, suitcase brand Away has used Instagram Stories for behind-the-scenes shoots in Panama, Tokyo, and Jaipur, as well as to document a day in the life of staffers in product development or on the creative team.
“It’s snackable content that’s part of a larger approach to creating an authentic and accessible brand,” said chief brand officer Jen Rubio.
Luxury brand Bulgari also used Stories recently to show its more playful side. On Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog, the brand featured “a beautiful feed with dogs and jewelry” in its main feed, “but what was really fun was using the Stories to actually be on set with the shoot, capturing the photographer and capturing the atmosphere,” said Ashley Knight, associate strategic planner at AKQA, which worked with the brand on the effort. “I think people love to see a process that worked really nicely.”
Like other fashion brands, J. Crew’s emphasis on style makes it a natural fit for Instagram. But while the main feed is for glamour shots of clothes, J. Crew has used Stories to crowdsource its fans. Last year, for example, it asked followers to vote for one of three colors—Heather Grass, Light Mustard, and Heather Cosmos—for its $365 Chateau Parka.
Fashion brand Ayr uses Stories for polling. “It’s harder to do that on Instagram itself, and it’s a bit more immediate in the market,” said Max Bonbrest, co-founder of Ayr. “It’s much easier to respond to a story than it would be on our actual Instagram channel. It gives us a broader platform.”
Added Ayr brand director Nina Wheeler: “Stories are the easiest way to test content and get feedback in real time. With the short nature of the display, it’s also an opportunity to connect with people in a more playful manner. We find that our followers respond really positively to humor across channels.”
As the ad world continues to experiment with six-second ads, home improvement chain Lowe’s has taken advantage of Stories’ format to launch videos made up of one-second microvideos with one second or less jump cuts. One video, below, shows the transformation of a room, using Lowe’s goods, of course. As Adweek pointed out, the beauty of this approach is that users can more easily tap on the screen to inspect one part of the process more closely to deconstruct how that particular DIY project was done.
5. Direct Response
Stories doesn’t have to be used just for branding. OpenTable employed Stories to promote its reservation service. Short video ads were aimed at diners and featured a “book now” call to action. The marketer found the format to be efficient in gaining bookings. It also offered a 33% lower cost-per-reservation than competing formats.
Illustrating the further breadth of the platform, French NGO Care has used Instagram Stories to show slices of women’s everyday life in Madagascar, Ecuador, Thailand, and elsewhere. The organization sent documentary filmmakers out to record such interactions with their smartphones.
Some media organizations have also used Stories to reach a younger audience. The BBC has run infographics on Stories for this purpose. One BBC Instagram Story was an interactive graphic that helped readers calculate their alcohol consumption compared with citizens in other countries. Ladbible, the young male-skewing publication, also used Stories in 2017 for a documentary on the origins of house music.
Another notable Instagram Stories feature is that it lets brands respond in real time or close to real time. Allbirds, the footwear brand, recently leveraged this feature to offer a Q&A with Jad Finck, the brand’s VP of innovation, around the March 15 launch of its eco-friendly Tree Runner shoe.
“It was the first time we did something like that where it was more of a live story, and the response was incredible,” said Allbirds CMO Julie Channing.