Barnett has played many roles in digital marketing and affiliate marketing. She spent the last eight years as digital marketing manager at Comair Limited, tackling digital display advertising, social media, and content marketing. Nowadays, she calls herself ‘chief digital enthusiast’ at her new business, Social Consultancy. 

media update’s Nikita Geldenhuys checked in with Barnett to hear how South African marketers can make the most of the opportunities that storytelling offers their brand.

Consumer attention span is getting shorter. How does storytelling help marketers address this challenge?

Customers are tired of being bombarded with messages. Consumers are exposed to, on average, about 5 000 forms of advertising a day. Most people are on their phones within the first five minutes of opening their eyes – I’m guilty of that – and according to Nielsen 2016, an incredible 66% trust the opinions of strangers online.

Storytelling helps brands cut through the clutter, appeal to emotions, and be more memorable.  Stories help to create an emotion and offer something that customers can identify with. They can help create a culture and a following of like-minded people who have the same values. 

Storytelling is a subtle way of making your brand part of a lifestyle. Digital magazines, video, and interactive social posts invite consumers to be part of the experience. A 360-degree video can literally place customers in the middle of the ocean and music can catch the imagination.

The Vodaphone campaign to increase Internet usage in Romania was an incredibly powerful story: Ghita, The Social Shepherd. They took a simple shepherd and showed how the Internet added value to his life. It showcased that anyone could use the product.

It entertained people as they fell in love with the character. It received incredible earned media and even the prime minister used the story in a speech. The brand saw a massive increase in the use of its services.

You mentioned that subtle marketing and advertising will be the way forward as more consumers start to ignore adverts. Where should marketers start when they want to implement this strategy?

Changing a strategy is never easy, but it should be looked at and tweaked at least every six months. That’s how fast things change. Marketers can start a story by looking at their audiences. Do you understand what is important for them and where can your brand make a difference?

Storytelling will never replace your standard advertising. It must, however, compliment it. By telling a story, you won’t immediately get millions of people to hear it. You need to promote it, so your audience can see it.

Brand pulsing works because people are drawn into the human message. Their interest is peaked with a story. By cleverly weaving a brand into the content, the association is memorable and customers don’t feel like they are being dictated to. They don’t block it out straight away as a piece of advertising.

Which South African brands are applying subtle marketing tactics well, in your opinion?

Locally, Vodacom did a great job of ‘brand pulsing’ with their ‘Play every day’ campaign and the travelling grannies. They told a fun road-trip story that resembled Thelma and Louise with a Driving Miss Daisy twist.

The Vodacom product and app benefits were woven into the storyline seamlessly and played a vital role in the story. It appealed to a variety of demographics, was very South African, and did not push the product, but the experience that the product can add to.

This ad was very effective for the brand; the song is memorable and upbeat, the characters were believable, and the setting was real. Even non-Vodacom audiences paid attention.

The power of social capital has been highlighted as an alternative to “in-your-face” social media advertising. How can brands leverage social capital?

Social capital is about what you can give your audience that makes them feel empowered, smart, and entertained and have the overwhelming need to share your story or content.

Social capital can be made of a good laugh, education on something new, or emotional connections. Brands have struck gold when someone shares their content. It’s when consumers say: “I want to be associated with the brands values, they relate to my story, and I want to be part of your distribution channel.” 

You recently made a career move towards running your own consultancy. Why did you decide to take this leap?

Digital is effective and measurable, but can be very scary if you don’t know how. Social Consultancy was born to help make sense of it all.

Marketing has become increasingly difficult, with multiple platforms, a more diverse audience, and customers tightening their purse strings. Clients need nimble, innovative ways of spreading their message. I want to help small to medium businesses tell their story.

I’m looking to make a difference and help tell amazing stories for different brands to generate the conversations that make customers and brands happy.

Find out more about Social Consultancy at

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Get more insights from the Mobile & Content Marketing Conference in our articles, Three quotes about the future of marketing and Three questions about mobile that brands should ask themselves.