Telling stories, connectedly


Howzit MSN publisher Marcus Stephens has written the following opinion piece on storytelling in a world of connected media. Stephens writes: We make sense of life by telling stories. We tell our children stories so that they can better understand the world around them. We use stories as metaphors for opinions, ideas, and experiences. Brands, too, use stories as a way of communicating who they are and what they’re about.

Digital channels give us new and powerful ways to share these stories.Every brand has a story to tell but the way that we tell our brand stories will be shaped by the media we use to communicate them to our audience. In today’s world, marketers need to understand how to talk about their companies, products and brands in a way that straddles the interconnected media experiences of their customers’ day to day lives.

Today, our customers access their information, entertainment and content from TVs, PCs, game consoles and mobile devices, moving between them as is convenient and sometimes using more than one device at a time. With all these devices connected to the Internet, all media is becoming digital media and all consumers are becoming digital consumers.

With the rise of all these experiences and devices, there are more ways than ever for brands to reach and talk to their audiences. That means you must learn to tell your brand stories through creative and relevant experiences across consumer touch points using a wide range of advertising tools and platforms.

As a marketer, you have access to a wide range of new digital tools – better media content, better ad units through rich media and video, better targeting, and better measurement. You can tell more exciting brand stories through the channels mentioned above – and track your success in eliciting reactions from your customers in real time.

In this context, good storytelling enables experiences to flow seamlessly from channel to channel through live, real world interactions – a great spin on modern storytelling. Perhaps one good local example of this, is the way FNB has woven real-world and digital channels together, connecting consumers to its brand through iPads and smartphones, real-world branches, social networking, traditional advertising and more.

Your story is the way that your brand influences consumers across all the media they use and the complete picture they form of your product, company and brand from their interactions with you across channels, across touch points, and across devices.

So how do you move your story forward? Three elements are key: creativity, connection and relevance. Let’s briefly consider each of them in turn, before briefly exploring some of the existing technology that will help you to tell your stories in more impactful ways.

Creativity is the key to engagement – as well as impact – and the latest technology should serve to amplify your brand story in new ways. What do we mean by delivering creativity? This means using imaginative, personalised and engaging ways to reach consumers and bring your brand to life for them.

All marketers want to be creative and make a lasting impact on their customers. Luckily, the digital world has a broad set of tools for you to be creative with. You can use them to bring your story to life in the most inventive ways, creating engaging experiences and environments in the process.

Of course, we can’t tell our stories without the right vehicles. Digital enables you to pinpoint an audience, and deliver the right message in the right context – in other words to be relevant and to connect closely to your audience. Relevant content, insight, data, and technology all help brands to connect to the right audience.

We have powerful tools that allow us to combine consumer insights and data based on audience, content, motive, mindset, and location. We can then target by audience, profile, behaviour, custom database, CP keyword, intent-based, location, daypart, device and more.

A glimpse of the future

Many of the technologies that will transform storytelling already exist today, although not all of them are yet mature. Here’s just a few of the ones into which the likes of Microsoft are investing billions of dollars of R&D spending in the belief that they will drive the future consumer landscape.

• Natural user interfaces: New ways of interacting with technology are emerging at a rapid rate. These interfaces are more natural than the mouse and keyboard and are closing the gap between people and digital devices. These interfaces allow us to interact with computers, phones, TVs, consoles and other devices using touch, voice, vision and gestures. Think about the Kinect motion sensor that lets you browse content on your Xbox 360 game console with voice commands and hand gestures or smartphones and tablets with their intuitive touchscreens.

• Ubiquitous connectivity is already becoming reality and we will soon always be connected to people, information, services, and applications without requiring any specific action on our part. High speed wireless connections are everywhere, making it simple to access what we need using whatever device is at hand nearly anywhere we are.

• New display technologies will give rise to displays that are light, portable, flexible, and cheap. Think about how crisp, clear and large your smartphone’s screen is today and how the display size of TV screens and computer monitors has grown over the past 10 years even though the units are lighter and thinner.

• Social computing in the form of Facebook, Twitter and so on has already changed the way we create and maintain our connections with others. But the world of social computing remains highly fragmented.

Consider how inconsistent your experience is with Facebook across a PC and mobile device or the challenges of managing multiple personal and corporate accounts across Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and so on. Soon, the social world will knit together into an experience that is consistent regardless of whatever device we use to access it.

• Networks of sensors are becoming commonplace. Devices that monitor the environment and transmit data wirelessly are becoming so cheap that they can be placed wherever the capture of real-time information offers value. Up-to-the-second weather and traffic are just two examples of the sort of information we are starting to expect to receive straight to our devices wherever we are.

• Cloud computing, with massive data centres will deliver virtually infinite resources, providing the storage capacity and processing power to contain virtually the sum of human knowledge. A hub for all data and information, the cloud will allow us to capture, store, index, parse, and recall as much of our day-to-day lives as we choose to share. That may sound technical, but the bottom line is that you will have access to huge pools of low-cost computer power and data to drive your company strategies in the future.

• Location sensing will enable new experiences that can be driven by the context of where we are. When we choose to reveal our location, technology will deliver services and information tailored to our location and the mode we are in, whether it’s work, fun, or learning. A voucher sent electronically to someone near one of your stores when using your location-aware cell phone app is just one simple example.

Many of the world’s leading marketers are already starting to use these technologies with the latest digital media platforms and offerings for creative business solutions. Even if some of them sound like the stuff of science fiction, they loom nearer than many advertisers and marketers realise.

These scenarios are both frightening and exciting for brands wrestling with them. Consumers, faster and easier-to-use devices, and cheap broadband are leading the way to the new digital world, though many brands are still battling to understand the landscape.

There are a couple of points that are worth remembering as you try to transition to a more connected form of digital storytelling. Firstly, the audience is in control. If they’re dissatisfied with one experience, they simply switch to a new one. As far as advertising is concerned, they can often choose to opt in, or opt out. That means you need to offer value and creativity in your communications.

Secondly, digital allows you to collect reams and reams of digital data – and you might not feel that you have the tools to learn from that data, or use it to optimise your efforts. You may also feel that there are just too many options and too much data. Which channels should you use? Which devices and platforms should you focus on? Digital is still laborious and digital storytelling can seem difficult to string together.

Today, we still do digital piece by piece, not as a connected story, and making the transition to a more connected form of storytelling is far from easy. That’s why you need to work with partners who can help you to connect the dots and simplify the technology and media worlds across multiple screens.

Get this right, and you will amplify your story at every touch point. The results that you will see could be dramatic – better connections to customers, better reach, better engagements and better interest.


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