Friday, November 22, 2013

Effective Storytelling for Brands: How to Drive Discovery & Engagement

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At the dawn of Web 2.0 a couple of years after the collapse of the Internet bubble, a new type of business emerged that enabled real people to share experiences, ratings, reviews, and recommendations for products and services with the world. In local, there was Yelp. In travel TripAdvisor. In legal, Avvo. In retail, Amazon. That's just to name a few.

These companies, and others like them, made it possible for consumers to make faster and more informed choices about where to go, what to buy, and whom to buy it from. One of the key aspects of these businesses was, and still remains, the discoverability of hundreds of millions of consumer stories, ratings, and reviews through search.
Before Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, Google was already amplifying consumer word-of-mouth by retrieving and highly ranking user-generated media in organic search results.


As social media emerged, and Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest created massive platforms for sharing, the reach and impact of shared consumer stories grew exponentially. More and more relevant content came to them in the form of shared links in email, posts on message boards, Likes on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, pins on Pinterest, etc.
Today, billions of people around the world use Facebook and LinkedIn to connect, Twitter for breaking news and live events, and Pinterest to save and curate images. And what we do in each of these places is read, watch, and listen to the stories our friends, contacts, and influencers share with us. And many of us also share.
This reality combined with the fact that billions of us now carry with us media consumption and publishing devices (aka mobile phones), means we are continuously turned on, tuned in, and ready to share our story.
The stories we share the most are always personal on some level and usually contain some dimension of usefulness, sweetness, humor, inspiration, or surprise. Coming from someone we "know" through social media or in the real world, a story that has one of these dimensions to it will connect emotionally and leave a lasting impression. Exactly the effect advertisers spend hundreds of billions of dollars on each year to achieve in the form of commercials.
So what exists today is a massive platform for self-expression and sharing of stories that has no parallel in reach, immediacy, or impact in human history and yet brands haven't really taken advantage. Why? Because this platform is crowding out the reliable more and more of the reliable "top down" media channels advertisers relied upon for the better part of 100 years. The marketing paradigm has shifted and brands must adapt.

Only the Storytellers Will Survive

When Andy Grove, former Intel CEO, penned his best-selling business book "Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company," it was a call to action for CEOs and entrepreneurs to expect, prepare for, and succeed in response to massive change.
The marketing world is at just such a moment. The trends described above are rapidly eroding the effectiveness of the majority of the investments brands are making in traditional advertising and marketing programs.
In and of itself this disruption is not necessarily a bad thing provided there are available and obvious alternatives. The problem for marketers is that these alternatives require a mindset and capabilities that are fundamentally new, different, and in some cases in conflict with the "old way" of doing things.
  • The top down, broadcast advertising model is a relic of the past. The paid media that works best today is targeted at specific users who look and act in ways that make them strong candidates for the products or services that a brand has to offer. Targeting is better today than it ever has been before.
  • There are still only 24 hours in the day and consumers have far more choices of how they will invest those hours. Time shifting of media consumption is now mainstream with a few notable exceptions, namely live events. Likewise, cord-cutting is becoming increasing common, which further accelerates the time shifting trend. Content publishers no longer control how and when their audience will consumer their content or the ads they bundle with it.

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