I just spent the last 10 days or so at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Not to be confused with the very popular music festival, SXSW Interactive is a yearly pilgrimage of the Internet faithful to Austin Texas, that happens right before the music part of the festival. There are upwards of 72 000 registrants at the festival, not to mention all of the speakers, and all of the people who don’t actually register for the conference but who travel to Austin for the networking and business opportunities. Suffice it to say, it is packed!
The conference takes place in the giant Austin Convention Centre, and in every hotel in the downtown core, offering literally hundreds of possible sessions every day. It is, in a nutshell, barely controlled chaos. But it is also a unique opportunity to hear from some of the brightest minds in digital content, marketing, innovation, and forecasting.
Every year, there are themes: there is always a buzz, an undercurrent of new thinking. This year, there was one standout theme that will change the way I think about marketing my business. That theme is that what we think about marketing and branding, and even building our businesses, is broken.
Now, some things that were said were not new; things like:
- The customer is in charge: social media has meant that our customers often know more about our products than our sales staff, before we even know that they are interested in us. As a matter of fact, the average person is already 57% of the way down your sales funnel before you even know they exist, having gathered lots of information about your business and your products from friends, reviews, searches, and other touch points that you don’t control.
- Your brand is not something you can easily control: it exists as much (or more) in the minds of your customers as it does in your own marketing department. Consumers today interact with brands as if they are people: they want to trust them as much or more than they want to find their products or services competent.
- Our decisions are not rational, they are primarily emotional. We make decisions based on guts, feelings, intuitions, and connections. Think about buying a house (or in my case, a pair of shoes). The spreadsheet goes out the window when you get that signal from your emotional brain that says “I’m home”.
What was new was a different way of looking at how brands, businesses, and their marketing departments need to adjust to this new reality.
One of the most compelling cases I heard was from Darren McColl, the Global Chief Brand Strategist for Sapient Nitro. Sapient Nitro was the company responsible for the “Best Job in the World” campaign , an incredibly successful tourism campaign for Australia that was rolled out on a very low budget. McColl talked about how, contrary to popular wisdom, brands are not built by telling a great story. Rather, they are built by creating compelling experiences or worlds within which the company, the product or service, the employees and other stakeholders, AND the customers coexist, and interact with the brand. It is described in their blog and book as Storyscaping. Storyscaping is a move from advertising and storytelling, which they refer to as “Story Yelling”, to creating participatory storyscapes. He points out that brands need more than a great story: they need a storyworld that leaves room for the customer to integrate the brand into their life and their story.
Brands as Movements
John Hagel, Chairman of the Centre for the Edge at Deloitte, took this idea one step further. Hagel’s talk was all about brands and movements, and he made an important distinction between story and narratives. As Hagel points out, a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is told to a listener, and doesn’t really involve the listener. In contrast, a narrative is something different. A narrative is an idea, it is a story that doesn’t have an end, in which the listener is involved and in fact, is empowered to create the ending.
For example, a story might be told about an immigrant family who comes to Toronto and makes their life here. A narrative is “Ontario: the land of opportunity”. There is no ending to that narrative, it is dependant on the individual to create their own ending should they become involved in the narrative.
Narratives are Storyscapes. They are open ended, experience-based worlds that great brands create. Think about the Apple brand, and its devotees: the narrative is that the world can be a different, better place if we just “Think Different”, think outside the box, think creatively. Apple doesn’t really tell stories, rather, it invites customers to take part in what feels more like a movement and what has been referred to as a religion!
Making Change in my Business
The simple way that I bring this back to my own business is by asking these questions:
- What is the feeling I want my customers to have when they interact with my products or services?
- What is the experience I want them to share with their friends and colleagues?
- How can I invite them to participate in helping me make the world a better place with my business offering?
You don’t have to be Apple to create a narrative or storyscape around your business, you just have to think in a radically customer-centric, customer-experience, customer-first way.
For more resources and information on Content Strategy and to download a detailed description of what content strategy entails, go to analyticalengine.ca/resources or download a Content Strategy Info graphic at http://bit.ly/1qY9tYp.
Christine McGlade is a Business Analyst, Content Strategist, and Usability Consultant. With over 25 years experience in the media business, Christine helps small business, social enterprise, and Not for Profits how to leverage the power of the Internet to grow their business. Learn more about Christine at analyticalengine.ca