Social Media

Have Marketers Forgotten How to Be Good Storytellers?

March 14, 2013

Brand storytelling was a dominant theme at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference, with dozens of panels, workshops and presentations focused specifically on the elusive art of building captivating brand narratives through social media. Even where storytelling was not the primary focus, the conversation seemed to naturally (and rather consistently) drift to the need for brands to connect the dots in digital—in  a meaningful, coherent and authentic way.

At BBC’s “The Science of Storytelling” event, journalist Matt Danzico explored the neurological and evolutionary foundation of storytelling, building a case for the power of visual, truly interesting and relatable content as a way to elicit an emotional response from consumers, leaving them wanting more.

Similarly, during “Death of the Couch Potato: The Future of Social TV,” 360i clients, Jesse Redniss of USA Network and David Beck of Univision, joined Hermione Way of The Next Web to discuss how marketers can focus on building second-screen social experiences that expand original plots and provide immersive narratives for the viewers. In this way, social becomes a vehicle for telling a multidimensional story around a show’s primary narrative, as opposed to simply a place that generates buzz.

The sentiment was echoed at the “The Power of Microcontent and Marketing in the Moment” panel, with a discussion about real-time marketing, a concept popularized by Oreo’s recent “Dunk in the Dark” tweet. Gary Vaynerchuk of VaynerMedia pointed out that in the hunt for big, one-off successes in social, we are forgetting to pay attention to the day-to-day dialogue that we’re having with consumers.

While brands have traditionally focused on primarily creating content for the sake of driving impressions and building scale, they now have to put in a bit more effort to achieve sustainable results and build better relationships with consumers to remain top of mind. But to be most effective, brands require an integrated cross-platform content strategy and a damn good story to tell.

All this conversation about effective storytelling and the speakers’ fervent rally for cohesive narratives in digital got me thinking: As marketers, wasn’t it already our job to tell compelling stories? So why is it that we are adamant about reminding each other to do just what it is we really should have been doing all along?

Brand storytelling is not a novel concept. It was a prevalent theme at SXSWi 2012 as well. The difference this year is that the amount of channels through which these stories can be told has multiplied (consider the much buzzed-about Vine, for example). We’ve reached the point where a brand’s presence in digital can be so vast, and the message so decentralized, that effectively building an engaging narrative has become a real challenge.

Nevertheless, instead of dissecting channel-specific tactics, or toiling over microtrends, this year’s speakers reverted to fundamentals, stressing the need for a clear brand plotline and tangible end goals before we can even begin thinking about platform best practices and pretty content.

Which leads us to the question: what will next year’s big trend be? Hard to say, but I am certain that storytelling will continue to be a recurring theme because at its core, SXSW is a festival of storytelling. Musicians, filmmakers, actors, marketers, we are all in the business of telling stories. And once a year, we come together and get a chance to be even better at it.

After all, in the words of 360i’s own David Berkowitz, “no matter how polished we are and how strong our brands are, we can always benefit from becoming better storytellers.”

Cover Photo via Flickr