At this year’s FutureM, a conference dedicated to exploring the future of marketing, I convened a panel to talk about the future of storytelling. I was joined on the panel by representatives from a diverse set of perspectives including a brand, a public relations agency and an academic lecturer:
- Jenna Lebel, Director of Social Marketing at Liberty Mutual
- Mike Farber, Partner at LaunchSquad
- Chad O’Connor, Adjunct Professor at Northeastern University
Over the course of the panel, we discussed several major topics pertaining to current stature and future of storytelling for brands.
Technology & Storytelling
Stories, once limited to oral tradition, have now been transformed by an influx of easily accessible multimedia vehicles. Each panelist offered a point of view on how technology has impacted the stories they see brands telling, resulting in a few major trends:
- Speed to Story: With the ease of digital publishing brands enjoy today, there is an unprecedented ability for organizations to create and distribute stories at a faster pace than ever before. The panel agreed that this is an immensely valuable opportunity, when leveraged correctly by brands. But with that power also comes great responsibility – several brands have mis-stepped in damaging ways by failing to maintain a high strategic bar with their storytelling.
- Authenticity: With the rise of technology has come a broader pallet that brands can use to tell their stories, including social media platforms. These platforms, originally dominated by consumers, naturally lend an increased sense of authenticity to previously stodgy corporate voices. For the first time, brands are speaking to consumers on a one-to-one, human basis.
- Contextual Storytelling: While some marketers are decrying the limitations that are implicit in shrinking screen sizes associated with wearables, the panel sees opportunity on the horizon. The ability to tell more contextually relevant stories across devices and screens means that formats may be smaller, but the stories will be smarter. Further, growth in consumption of mid and long-form video content on sites like YouTube reflect a new consumer willingness to dwell for the most valuable content.
Voice of Storytellers
With new platforms to tell stories, the storyteller has changed as well. The panel explored who the voice of stories should be, what happens when brands get it right and what happens when they miss the mark.
- Corporate vs. Individual: One tension that has emerged as brands have adopted the role of publisher is whether stories are most effectively told through a corporate voice or individual’s voice from within the corporation. Broadly, the panel agreed that it depended on the organization, but that keeping branding of stories to a minimum helped consumers see more value in them and allowed them to appear less as advertising gimmicks.
- Consumer As Storyteller: The panel discussed the impact of user-generated stories or co-created content as part of the ongoing storytelling movement. It was agreed that consumers are most valuable when they are motivated by an outstanding brand experience – rather than incentivized to chime in. Cautionary tales like #McDStories remind brands of the risk of contrived calls for consumer voices.
- Brand As Curator of Stories: Liberty Mutual was recognized for the strength of its Rise campaign for the Sochi Olympics, which celebrated athletes that were able to come back from setbacks – a value shared by the brand. When brands can strike the right balance between its values and stories, they can effectively serve as curators that consumers rely upon.
Stories of the Future
Finally, the panel reflected on trends in storytelling and what the future could hold. The panel agreed that a taming of a storytelling ‘Wild West’ is in order as brands move forward, bringing a new level of sophistication and discipline to the way brands work with stories. Additionally, practical concerns pertaining to costs, value and a continuing evolving media landscape surfaced.
- Real-Time vs. Right Time: A high level of attention has been given in recent years to the idea of ‘real-time marketing’, leading brands to establish newsrooms and studios to publish on the brand’s behalf opportunistically. In the frenetic energy of catapulting posting to real-time, some brands (most recently DiGiornio, which posted a tweet in bad taste as an accidental part of a domestic violence movement) have lost a sense for when the right time is to tell stories. The panel expects brands to grow more calculated and less reactionary in their posting on an ongoing basis.
- Non-Linear Stories: With consumer attention continuing to fragment and move to an on-demand model in the future, the panel expects that brands will have to be more active – taking actions that create stories worth talking about across channels. These non-linear stories will be less controlled and will rely upon a diverse set of manifestations to get the message across.
- Scaling Stories: With brand investment in storytelling all over the place, ranging from Red Bull’s best-in-class content production to more conservative brands’ hesitance to do much at all, organizations will have to weigh the high cost of producing compelling story-based content on an ongoing basis with their ability to distribute that content and generate business results. While this journey will be ongoing, it will be a natural part of the maturation of the role of brands as storytellers.
How is your organization thinking about the way it will communicate its stories in the future? Is the brand you work on dynamic enough to create stories worth telling?