Once upon a time…

Today marketing consists of both art and science. The art to marketing is to create emotional connections with an audience and inspire action. The science to marketing comes in the form of hard numbers – ROI, KPIs, Excel charts and PowerPoint slides delivered to heads of companies with a taste for profits.

One of the joys of working with digital platforms is that so much of what we do can be measured. We can find stats on how many people interacted with our campaign – likes, shares and favourites; how people’s feelings about the brand changed as a result of what we did; how many customers followed the journey from social media through the online shop to actually purchase the product. The challenge has changed from ‘I don’t have enough data’ to ‘I have too much data!’ Now we need to learn which data points are relevant and which can be ignored. But that’s a topic for another day.

Today we turn our attention back to the art of marketing, but it’s not art separated from science, it is art supported by science. I recently attended Sitecorp’s Art of Digital Storytelling conference and came away inspired by the keynote speakers and eager to put into practice what I’d learned.

So much of what I’ve been learning at my new job and reading lately is about telling a compelling story as a marketer. Tying in nicely with that, the Art of Digital Storytelling conference was centred around casting the customer as the hero in the story we tell, whether that’s brand work or specific campaigns. It’s all about putting the customer first.

Anders Sorman-Nilsson, @asormannilsson

The first keynote speaker was Anders Sorman-Nilsson, author of Digilogue: How to win digital hearts and analogue hearts of tomorrow’s customers. His whole speech was around connecting with consumers on two levels: with their digital minds and their analogue hearts. His point was that everything that can be digitised soon will be and that you have to be hitting people in both heart and mind to cut through and make an impact. Digitisation is driving personal stories and personalised experiences because of advances with technology. We need to use this information to tell a more compelling story and make our customer heroes in the journey. Collecting data at the right points along the way will help brands personalise the customer journey.

One of his final points really hit home with me. He said that most people can remember their first vinyl purchase, but not their first MP3 download. Buying vinyl is an experience. We need to find ways to make our customers’ experiences more memorable. This is where the emotional, heart connection is so important. We need to evoke an emotional response with our campaigns.

Panel discussion

There were two memorable statements from the first panel of the day. The first came from Tom Head, who works at Lab (@TomHeadLab). He said that traditional stories are linear. There is a beginning, middle and end. A captive audience is watching/reading/listening to a story told through a single medium. The stories move one way. Conversely, digital stories are all about interacting. They are non-linear with people dipping into the story in seemingly random places. Our audience is distracted and accessing the story via multiple channels. The story is two way; we’re craving conversation. Therefore clarity of message is essential. Regardless of how, where or when people dip into the story, they should grasp the key message of the brand and campaign.

The second memorable statement came as a result of the Q&A. Data and creativity are mutually dependent. Data allows us to increase relevance – think of it as moving from story-yelling to story-telling. Data informs, but it’s powerful creative that is going to cut through the clutter.

Nathalie Nahal, @TheWebPsych

The second keynote speaker was Nathalie Nahal, who has written a book called Webs of Influence. Her speech was entitled ‘Empathy is your secret weapon for persuasive marketing’ and the key points were to tell a story that people will relate to, emotionally engage with your audience and take your customers on the hero’s journey.

In order to tell a story people will relate to, you have to know who you’re talking to. Use the data you have to identify your audience and what makes them tick. Then you must communicate persuasively. You do this by tailoring your message and highlighting similar values, by mirroring the tone your audience uses and creating content that sounds like them.

I loved her description of the hero’s journey (taken from Joseph Campbell’s 1949 work A hero with a thousand faces) and described in context of the John Lewis snowman advert for Christmas, but that we all couldn’t help but read in context of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

  • Act One:

o   We open with our hero in their ordinary world

o   There is a call to adventure

o   The hero initially holds back, refuses

o   There is a meeting with a mentor who convinces them to take the journey

o   The hero crosses the threshold

o   There are tests, allies and enemies

  • Act Two:

o   There is an approach to inmost cave

o   This is where the hero faces the true ordeal

o   They are ultimately successful and claim their reward

  • Act Three

o   They take the road back home

o   There is a resurrection of sorts

o   They return with an elixir that fixes something back home

It’s a compelling story, and even if we don’t have the entire narrative arc in our campaigns, tying into a few core elements of the journey can help bring the story to life for our customers.

Dietmar Dahmen, @MrDahmen

The third keynote speaker was Dietmar Dahmen and I was blown away by his energy and enthusiasm for the subject. He encouraged everyone to change their frame of mind and move from ‘Why?’ to ‘Why not?’. ‘Why?’ is static. ‘Why not?’ is dynamic; it gives you power.

He made the point that we shouldn’t be approaching marketing as B2C or B2B. We should be approaching it as H2H – human to human. We need to bring back the human element that has been lost along the way to making a profit.

He said to forget good; forget great. Epic is all that matters. Aim for epic. I love this idea and want to always be inspired to raise the stakes, to bring something epic to the table.

He said that people don’t buy the product, they buy a story. As marketers, we invent stories that people want to talk about. The brand makes the product interesting. But customers are your biggest asset. This definitely tied in with the focus of bringing customers to the forefront of all our decisions and creating storylines around them.

He ended by saying that old advertising provides answers. But telling answers doesn’t start a conversation and a relationship. We need to start asking questions. Questions drive the world.

It was a great day, an inspiring day, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to attend. So many messages I want to start working into my daily life.

‘Once upon a time…’


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