Creating the Macro Story and Micro Episodes to tell your brand story in smartphones and other mobile devices. (3:51 mins. video)
THE SOCIAL MEDIA advertising industry has been built on the idea of Contagiousness. Social Media’s promised paradise was that of effortlessly making fans promote branded content until it went viral through word of mouth –ideally, at a global scale and for a very reasonable price. More than a decade later, has this promise been fulfilled? Is Contagiousness still the marketing god to worship?
After the demise of interruptive marketing, marketers collectively embraced Google’s advertising model where commercial messages target people already interested in a subject via search query, solving their needs trough content with the less friction possible. Marketing’s main functions became managing a brand’s PPC budget, SEO and SEM while constantly optimizing its digital properties. SEO agencies and Digital Media agencies boomed.
The second-wave, the ¨after Google Era¨ -we could say, appeared with the Social Media revolution. We marketers studied the meteoric penetration of Social Media. Even the most skeptical admitted its influence, as they watched how it could ignite political revolutions across countries and instant over night celebrities. Books like The Tipping Point, The Anatomy of a Trend and Made to Stick became mainstream in the marketing world. We admired the first truly global viral campaigns like Dove’s Evolution and Burger King’s Subservient Chicken.
We revisited traditional ideas from PR (networking, influence, listening, empathy, recommendation). We also learned that the promised Social Media paradise was very inclusive as even small businesses could join: you could launch a campaign for as little as 25 dollars. We got hooked on Social Media’s totally addictive analytics and comforting short-term metrics.
Social Media became CMO’s safest bet; they could show immediate results without the big investments required by traditional media. It was the perfect marketing tool to survive their ever-shrinking tenures. Digital ad agencies rejoiced in the belief that, thanks to Social Media, they would be back in the industry’s driving seat. Their belief being that crafting contagious campaigns was not supposed to be mainly about media investment but about creative talent.
By inoculating the right people with the right content, marketers could spread ultra-targeted campaigns. A robust and influential fan base would be in charge of doing the heavy lifting of the message distribution -practically for free. Contagious became the most influential magazine of that era. In 2013, the book Contagious, Why things catch on became a New York Times bestseller.
It’s author, Wharton’s professor Jonah Berger, synthesized his research in the acronym STEPPS. There are 6 major reasons why people share content in Social Media:
-The content has Social Currency value
-The content has Triggers that make it recurrently interesting
-The content awakes high arousal Emotions
-The content offers Public Practical value to the community
-The content has the shape of a Story
Three years later, Publicis’s digital creative agency DigitasLBi created the Contagious Index, together with Jonah Berger.
These are the top brands in the index on Facebook:
And these are the ones on Twitter:
This new Contagious Index improves the bland “engagement” metrics by being more demanding than the easy “likes” and “favorites”. When people share content, they are reflecting their identity and values.
“What we share is a signal of who we are”, Jonah Berger
The Contagious Index will help to improve the perception and efficacy of the entire social media industry, adding more value and respect to the notion of “engagement” and showing that having many followers and having true engagement don´t always go hand in hand. The question now is how to use it and if messaging´s contagiousness should be the top goal of the advertising agenda.
After almost two decades of Social Media history and brand’s having to fight with ninja cats, burping babies and barely-dressed celebrity photo memes for consumers’ attention, brands have learnt some things:
–Viral campaigns are usually paid campaigns, sometimes very expensively paid campaigns. You need PR and Digital Advertising to propel viral campaigns and to keep them alive.
–People don´t accept advertising in Social Media. Advertising was not part of the initial deal they signed up for when they joined so they abhor it.
-Social Media users are in an active, well…, social mood. They are not there to be entertained by brands, their ¨friends¨ are their entertainment. Any interruption while they navigate is rejected by any means possible, including ad blocking.
–People like their ¨friends¨ and what they have to say, not brands and what they want to say.
-People have started to distrust influencers’ and celebrity endorsements.
-It’s too expensive for brands to sustain a conversation with millions of people 24/7.
-People expect immediate answers when they raise a question or complain through social media and this is not always possible (see above).
-Recent studies show that brand growth happens not because of the frequent usage of loyal clients (the typical social media brand fan), but theoccasional usage of new customers or disloyal customers, as professor Byron Shapiro has proven, category by category, in his books How Brands Growth.
We are all guilty of having created over-expectations about Social media. Maybe in the future it will live closer to Customer Care, PR programs and Promotions than many Social Media agencies prefer to believe today. However, making messaging contagiousness the priority of advertising doesn’t seem like a smart decision, when the actual acceptance of advertising through social media isn’t clear and the correlation of social media with more sales or long-term brand building hasn’t been proven yet.
There is no denying that social media is here to stay. However, while we navigate towards the post Social Media era, maybe we can take a look back and learn a few things from what the ancient ¨interruptive¨ TV has been doing to survive. Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime and Apple TV have all walked the same harsh journey of brand marketing: consumer empowerment, UX improvement, technology upgrade and usage of big data.
-As Ian Leslie wrote in FT and Michael Wolff studied in his book, paradoxically, ¨the passive nature of TV turned out to be it’s hidden weapon¨. Consumer’s still tolerate advertising when watching TV.
-TV never gave it’s content for free. If viewers want ad-free content, they know that they will have to pay an extra for it.
–Original, premium-quality content has over-come any difficulty and is the foundational pillar of the business model.
–Data is always to service Storytelling, never the opposite. Netflix doesn’t produce pilot episodes or rely on focus groups to validate their shows’s storytelling. They know their customer’s needs and interest and cater to it.
While we try and learn about what the new marketing trend (the tandem of native advertising and programmatic advertising) can do to increase sales, brand loyalty and brand building, maybe, the next gods for brands to worship could be Storytelling and Data, in that order.
One thing is clear: Not only will marketers need to regain patience and long term vision, but also the marketing religion of the future will not be monotheistic any more, but polytheistic.
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YouTube influencer campaigns provide the authenticity, intimacy and trustworthiness that traditional brand-driven or celebrity-driven storytelling strategies can´t.
Since its origins, the platform’s micro-narratives have copied traditional storytelling genres (like the TV interview), reconfigured others (like the written diary versus the diary videoblog) and created new native categories from scratch.
It’s clear that YouTube native genres will help your brand create storytelling content that already enjoys a solid number of fans and even a certain audience seasonality that can reinforce your marketing plan. The question for marketers, however, is how to get that seemingly real connection with a regular joe that influencers provide, while still enjoying the control over the message and consistency that traditional brand-driven advertising used to offer.
Storytelling is the answer. Asking your influencers to use narrative genres in their videos will provide recognizable and regular patterns of communication for your brand while still allowing enough room for influencers’ creativity, as well as the freedom for their much-needed spontaneity.
Ten popular YouTube native genres that can be adapted for branded content success:
3. “What’s in my X?”: This genre plays to the curiosity of the audience. The influencer reveals his or her calculated “perfect imperfections” by showing what apps are in his o her iPhone, what’s items he or she carries around in their bag, what’s in their makeup collection or gives a room or house tour, etc. here and also following the influencer´s educational advice on how to organize your life. You need these apps in your iphone, this is what you should be carrying in your bag, copy me to make the most of your tiny bedroom etc.
4. “Draw my life”: The influencer sketches in high-speed the most relevant chapters of his or her life in a whiteboard while his or her voiceover narrates the story. The key ingredient here is the intimacy created by the voiceover and the gratitude the YouTuber expresses towards his audience for making his or her life so amazing.
5. “Haul”: The influencer displays items recently purchased and reviewsthem or gives ¨first impressions¨. The hauls can be thematic (makeup, household items, clothes etc.) or seasonal (Fall, Summer, Boxing Day, Black Friday etc.). The video saves the consumer from having to go see the items themselves and know whether they still want to purchase them or not.
6. Challenges: Being the Ice Bucket Challenge a planetary meme, this genre doesn’t need an introduction. The main attraction is watching someone´s journey through ridicule and suffering like drinking a bottle wasabi, or eating a jar of mayo… or getting soaked. The argh! moment is the hero. Here is what Tide did with this genre:
7. Fridge tours: Learning about people´s personal tastes and diet habits, from compulsive eaters to paleo fanatics, made this genre a YouTube classic.
8. What´s in my mouth?: two or more YouTubers make a collaboration in which one is blindfolded and the other puts things in his/her mouth to guess what they are. The point is to laugh and lightly torture whoever is blindfolded by putting disgusting and not-always-edible things in his/her mouth.
9. My boyfriend or girlfriend does my makeup: this is done by two YouTubers, usually a boy and a girl. The boy will try to do a full face of makeup for the girl to disastrous results. We all, including the girl and the boy, will laugh at the boy for his ignorance on how to apply makeup.
10. Trying candy from X: Influencers try sweets from foreign countries on-camera. Explaining the candy’s origin, comparing them with local brands and arggh! and mmm! flashes are the stellar moments.
These examples are no anecdotes or isolated memes, but fully consolidated storytelling genres that didn´t exist ten or even five years ago. They enjoy millions of views and loyal fans, have their own YouTube icons, traditional celebrities doing cameos and genre hybrids. There are plenty of opportunities for brands to grasp.
Do you know of more YouTube native genres?
Have a message to convey? Forget slide presentations and spreadsheets, advises consultant Antonio Núñez. Rather, he says, focus on telling a good story.
(Q&A originally published by GMAC´s GM News.)
The opening keynote speaker for GMAC’s European Conference, Núñez has a wealth of experience in helping corporations, nonprofit organizations, and individuals integrate storytelling into their marketing and branding. After earning his MBA at ESADE, he worked for several multinational communication companies, including Saatchi & Saatchi and SCPF, one of Spain’s leading advertising agencies. He is a founding partner of Story and Strategy, which applies communication strategies based on storytelling. Núñez shared some of his insights with GM News.
Q. You advocate the power of using stories in marketing and branding. Can you briefly describe that concept?
A. I have been interested in stories since I was a child. When I started to work with brands and consumer experiences, I realized that individual brand experiences are both experienced as stories and told as stories to other people. Thus, I discovered many parallels between what a fiction story could be and what a brand story could be.
What I do basically is to transform experiences into a story with conflict, archetypes, and beginnings and ends, to try to help consumers experience the brand as a story.
Q. Can you give one or two examples of successful storytelling in business?
A. One of the most successful examples is Coca-Cola. They collect every good story that consumers may have about their brand. In fact, they have a story-telling theater in Las Vegas where professional storytellers share stories that show how Coca-Cola is not only a brand but is also part of our lives and identity. The theater features several well-known true stories that happened around a bottle of Coke.
Apple, along with CEO Steve Jobs, represents another good example of how you can build both business leadership and brand leadership through the stories that your CEO and your employees can tell about your brand, company, and services. There are a lot of parallels here with educational institutions, where faculty members and others on campus also tell stories.
Q. In today’s business world, which obviously relies heavily on numbers and facts, how can storytelling compete as a means to convey a message?
A. We are learning that we are emotional animals—we are driven by emotions first and then by rationality. That is where stories are more powerful than PowerPoints and data. Stories contain emotions, conflicts, and many different senses. Stories are a faster way to capture an audience’s attention. Stories also have something that numbers do not have, which is that the audience gives sense to the stories that it hears. That has two advantages. First, a story involves you and demands that you decide what the story is trying to tell. Second, if you have a story, you want to share it. Stories are therefore a better way to help people remember what they need to remember about your brand, project, or presentation.
Also important is that stories come in their own words. In business today we are moving from a mass media environment to a one-to-one, online environment. That means that you have to respect how people tell their own stories. At the same time, you need to strive for brand reputation consistency, something that is very difficult. That is why stories are important.
Q. Can you give an example or two of how a business school might apply storytelling in its own marketing?
A. One thing to note concerns rankings. Sometimes is it very difficult to compete through rankings. Rankings can be very subjective and are sometimes not multidimensional but based on only two or three factors. Sometimes you want to play in a different arena. To help do that, your university or MBA program has to have a story—that is, something that has a conflict in it. Why should a university or brand embrace a conflict? Because it will become important for your target audience if that audience is interested in that conflict. By conflict, for example, we might mean “finding a job,” obviously a No. 1 concern of students but also a means to transform your family, or a means to learn and transform yourself into a better human being. Conflict is something that has to be connected to your brand.
Universities should work to spread their stories across their networks of alumni. By sharing stories within this network, you will be building your reputation and your relationship network.
Q. When you speak at the GMAC European Conference, what key messages do you hope your audience will take away from your talk?
A. The first message is that you cannot rely on traditional mass media to build your image and your reputation. Such channels are becoming less efficient and effective. You need to move to different social networks, both offline and online. In these networks, stories are a key tool. They can be supported in many media, such as video, podcasts, and websites, but the main tool is the story, and storytelling. I also plan to talk about what a true story is, which is not just about rational argument and a certain order and structure. The stories that you tell to describe your programs should have smell, texture, and many different conflicts so that they appeal to your prospective students.
Another topic will be how you can create a consistent story through the different channels available to educational institutions. There are many different stories within a university or an MBA program, and you have to create consistency while allowing people the freedom to tell their own stories. That balance is very important.
The GMAC European Conference took place 24-25 October 2010 at Ashridge Business School in the United Kingdom.
A version of this interview was originally published in GMAC-GM News
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Google’s Analytics, Trends, Console and the rest of their suite of tools, in combination with Google search engine´s simplicity, have made many brand planners believe that you can come up with a great strategy by simply burying your head in a computer screen. This is what I affectionally call “The Google Planning Plague”.
The negative results of understanding Google tools as the only source for creating brand strategies are many:
-1. Planners are not trained in social and observational abilities, like connecting with strangers through empathy or reading consumers’ non verbal communication.
-2. Planners are content detecting people´s surface behaviors, they forget to dig deeper to discover the ever-evolving cognitive insights that are based in attitudes and values.
-3. Brand strategies do not touch base with consumer´s lives beyond the digital.
-4. Strategies lack a coherent narrative. There is a shortage of the most wanted word in the digital world today: Context.
-5. Planners have stopped reading novels, comics, watching movies or trying to understand our cultural past and brand genealogies. Any research that takes more than a few hours or is not already pre-digested with the hit of a button is removed from the strategic planning process.
-6. Account people and Clients are getting used to having “Strategy Decks” ready within hours.
-7. Agency Financial people and Clients are loosing the habit to sign or pay for research budgets.
By over-using Google analytical tools, some young strategist are making the same mistakes that we, the more seasoned strategists, made in the past. For several years we relied solely on another kind of “new technology” research tool: focus groups. Yeah. Focus groups were more convenient, mess-free and affordable than the “old fashioned” long walks in the street, visiting malls or consumers´ homes or the in depth interviews with experts and influencers. Focus groups were the equivalent of going to the movies: you just had to sit and watch. By over using focus groups, planners realized the hard way that they were not learning about everything that was there. Observation and one-to-one interviews need also be part of the research equation.
Planners are forgetting the art of what the great Douglas B. Holt called cultural branding: understanding the cultural context, subcultures and the genealogy of consumption myths.
Conducting direct observation ethnos should still be key in any planning strategy. As Y&R´s Global CSO Sandy Thompson usually says: “If you want to understand how a lion hunts, don´t go to the zoo. Go to the jungle.”
Long live the trips to the jungle and long live Google´s suite of research tools.
Jon Steel, the legendary strategic planning guru and author of famous brand planning bibles like Trues, Lies and Advertising and Perfect Pitch was a guest speaker in Noisy Thinking. The event, organized by the Account Planning Group (APG) UK and held in London this past July (2015), was sponsored by Flamingo, the global insight and brand consultancy.
Steel´s conference was titled “Ten Reasons to be Grumpy“. In his hour-long presentation, he described what could be called his personal “State of the Planning Community” in ten ideas. I have tried to summarize them here:
-1. Planning is no longer the research-based discipline that it used to be. Planners are inundated with data and desk research but they are not doing the real-world research by themselves, other people are.
–2. Agencies are no longer training young planners. Junior planners will not become senior planners by osmosis or hazard.
–3. Agencies and clients are no longer partners. Steel was so integrated with a client that he once even temporarily covered for a product manager in that company while he was on leave. It was a true partnership where agencies worked on client´s businesses, not only on their communication.
–4. Pitch consultants are basing their offer to clients on efficiency and economy. They are promising clients more agency work for less.
–5. Cost cutting. Planners are working in way too many accounts simultaneously. While this may be the only exit for agencies to bear the financial cuts, the strategic work quality suffers; the planning departments tend to take the share of the lion when cuts are in fashion.
-6. In-House Planners and Out-House Researchers. Regarding the issue of objectivity, agency planners tend to be better than out-house researchers/planners at recommending how to improve the creative work as non-agency staff are usually disconnected from the creative process.
-7. The Efficiency Mindset. Doing the right thing versus doing the right way. Procurement teams tend to focus on avoiding doing things wrong, instead of doing the right thing.
-8. Short-termism. CMO´s career tenure in the same company shrank from 10 to 2 years. Therefore, client briefs tend to ask for quick wins rather than goals that might take longer to accomplish.
-9. Blue-thumb effectiveness. (Referring to Facebook´s “Like” thumb icon). Social media results are nothing if we fail to measure traditional real business results like margins or usage increases, sales, market shares, etc.
-10. Where is our Conscience? Agencies should invest in Good Citizenship and Sustainability projects to change the business world for the better, from the very inside. He mentioned WPP participation in the Why? WhyNot? climate campaign.
Some of the challenges described by Jon Steel are out of planner’s hands, even at agencies CSO levels. However, I think that Steel hit the jackpot. He reminded the planning community what we should never forget while we joyfully immerse ourselves in the oceanic potential of digital strategy: If we want to learn about consumer´s perceptions, motivations and digital behaviors, we cannot forget the universal human’s fundamental truths.
We need not forget what the great Douglas B. Holt called cultural branding: understanding cultural context, subcultures and the genealogy of consumption myths, our very basic cultural truths. This, at least, is still in planner’s hands and we should strive to make good use of it.
Brand Planners. User Experience Planners. Shopper Planners. Digital Planners. Social media planners. Content Planners. Channel Planners. You-name-it planners. Many big agencies´ strategic departments are said to resemble a scary Tower of Babel: flooded with data, confronted by hyper specialized jargons and unable to create unifying brand metrics. They are criticized for working at turtle pace and for being fragmented by narrow discipline-oriented points of view.
Many creative teams complain about having to pay the toll in this situation. They are forced to spend more time trying to find an overarching theme for campaigns, which means less time to craft their storytelling productions. Many marketers too. They are left to build their brands relying almost solely on brand personality and tone of voice consistency. Their brands can’t generate true meaningful conversations, relying on a collection of key visuals or on superficial anecdotes to influence consumers’ perceptions or behaviors. Those brands end-up lacking purpose and a distinctive point of view.
This Tower of Babel Syndrome is not a new thing. Different planning disciplines have always been at war. However, this “war” should not be viewed as a bad thing, it has been the necessary evil that has helped agencies confront the challenges of each communication era.
Creatives vs Researchers
The in-house researcher era: Agencies hired research practitioners tasked with infusing creativity with the rigor of public opinion research. And so, the tensions between art and science, between images and numbers and between creatives and pollsters were born. Kellogg’s cereal brand advertising, for example, was a result of the tensions of this era.
Researches vs Creative Planners
But then some pollsters became not only efficacy controllers but also a source of inspiration. The second chapter of the strategic planning evolution was the conflict between research practitioners and creative planners. The first having strong statistical and analytical skills, the latter armed with storytelling capabilities and intuition to find the intersection between insights and creative ideas. The planning role was not only about proving the ads to be efficient anymore; it was also about inspiring the creative teams. An agency’s goal became converting the right data into actionable insights. Nike brand advertising could be an example of the conflicts of this era.
Brand Planners vs Digital planners
The digital revolution created a third type of holly grail for the planning community: the “digital first” strategy. Traditional “brand planners” and the then called “digital planners” were meant to work together in harmony. The ideal was to marry the traditional “Push” culture of brand planners with the emerging “Pull” culture of digital planners. The resulting team needed to integrate “old” and “new” abilities: On one side, synthesis, single-minded messaging and perception analysis capabilities and on the other side, consumer behavior analysis, content creation and friction-less information architecture creation capabilities. The dream was to create grounded real-time brand storytelling through brand experiences. Apple communications could be an example of this chapter´s conflict.
Storytelling Planners vs Experience Planners
Consumer’s mantra nowadays seems to be “stop telling me stories and give me an amazing free app”. For brands to stay relevant they are required to be meaningful and entertaining and also to offer useful products and services that provide an added value. Planning teams need to merge their abilities to create pervasive storytelling with the ability to design new products and come up with original business ideas. They also have to work closer to advertiser’s business models, not only to their marketing plans. An example of brand communication from this era could be Uber or Airbnb.
Planning teams vs the future
As for the future, I suspect that, not too far from today, agencies will need to curb the gap between storytelling and story-doing. In an era of generalized skepticism, brands will need to make their brand stories tangible. Planners will be asked to deliver against the old Roman Emperor’s adagio “panem et circenses” (bread and circus): Brand utility and entertaining, meaningful storytelling.
In order to roll with the times and the new conflicts that await us, strategic planning departments will need to learn how to:
-1. Focus on what we strategists share in common, instead of trying to exacerbate the full nuances of our different strategy disciplines.
-2. Find integrative metaphors and vocabulary to function as one team.
-3. Work more iteratively and not sequentially.
-4. Assume with humbleness that the one million metrics that used to calm clients (and agency leaders) cannot replace our intuition or the scary trial and error system.
-5. Embrace that strategy today is much less glamorous, it is about making infinite small tweaks and not about the romantic eureka moment of the next Big Idea.
One thing I know for certain about the planning war is that Planners of all disciplines will need to embrace conflict and friction as part of our daily reality in order to finish the construction of the Tower, unlike what happened in Babel.
A version of this article originally appeared on WARC.com under the title “5 Tips on the future of Strategic Planning”.