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We've seen a lot of social media trends emerge in 2012. Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram exploded, and Facebook reached one billion users. But one of the most noteworthy trends that occurred this year was branded storytelling.

Social media have provided brands with new ways to engage with consumers, while simultaneously raising their expectations of brands.

We're no longer satisfied with a product image. We want to be immersed in an experience, shown a lifestyle and attracted to a brand's personality.

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Here are four key elements that made 2012 the year of storytelling:

Content strategy

Brands must have a content strategy that can live across all their marketing campaigns. The content that brands create and distribute is what drives the feelings and experiences that consumers associate with them.

This can create authentic brand ambassadors who feel a connection to the brand and help to amplify brand content through social media and word-of-mouth marketing.

Red Bull is a brand we saw do this well in 2012. Red Bull is no longer associated just with an energy drink; it's about adventure, sportsmanship and reaching new heights, all communicated through an impressively ambitious content strategy.

The 2012 Red Bull Stratos campaign centred on the brand's mission to transcend human limits by having a man free fall at supersonic speed from a stratospheric balloon.

It broke world records and made international headlines, creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience for consumers.

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People around the world were glued to their televisions (and laptops, tablets, and smartphones) as they witnessed history being made. Red Bull told its story in a way that caused consumers to become emotionally invested with the brand.

Brand personality

Brand name is one thing; personality is another. This means avoiding canned responses and finding genuine ways to respond to consumers.

McDonald's Corp.'s Your Questions campaign used social media as a platform to engage with consumers in a personal way. The restaurant chain crafted unique responses to consumers who participated, resulting in one of the most notable marketing campaigns of 2012. Its success can be attributed to McDonald's efforts to connect with consumers through meaningful conversations, rather than scripted statements void of personality.

Creativity

With so much content directed at us every day, creativity is one of the most important elements of storytelling. Consumers appreciate original content, which means standing out should be a priority for all brands. Content can take many forms, limited only by the imagination (and daring) of companies themselves.

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Pizza Hut provided a great example of the power of creativity. The company caught our attention by creating a limited-edition pizza-scented perfume. Engaging with consumers on its Facebook page, the company offered to create a bottle for the first 100 people to send a direct message. More than 1,000 people responded within the first hour. Pizza Hut's creativity gave the brand a new personality in 2012 and far exceeded the campaign's goals.

Marketers as IT pros

With millions of Facebook updates, tweets and You Tube views every day, consumers are sharing their stories online more than ever before. With no sign of this slowing down, companies must integrate social media into their marketing plans, and do the same. We saw this happen in 2012, and there is no doubt it's a trend that will continue to grow.

According to a Gartner Report, chief marketing officers will spend more on IT than chief information officers by 2017. As marketers continue to invest in IT, they'll gain more insight into consumers' lives in a measurable way that will make branded storytelling online common practice.

In 2012, the feeling of what brands do became just as important as what they actually do.

As the online community continues to grow, branded storytelling will become increasingly more important, and a big trend to watch for in 2013.

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Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder ofNorth Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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