I had a bit of an epiphany when I read this superbly written post on Snapchat and the nuances of storytelling. In my last post on the utility of a brand, I had pretty much glossed over ‘delivery’ because it was one part of a larger framework. (and a post that kept getting longer after I began writing!) While determining the larger purpose of the brand and its ‘job’ in a consumer’s life is important, it is also equally necessary to ‘deliver’ this to the consumer in relevant contexts, especially because we live in a world which has not fully learnt to combat  ‘filter failure’. I think ‘content’ strategy has a large role to play in this.

The corporate narrative, referred to in the last post, is a constant work in progress and I fully agree that over a period of time, it will deliver all the advantages that the post mentions, but I do have a couple of different perspectives on the ‘narrative vs stories’ points in it. One, I think stories contribute to the larger narrative (either by collectively forming one or adding to an existing one) and probably don’t deserve to be separated from it. Two, I believe that stories are the devices which make the corporate narrative relevant to the consumer by adding context. This is even more pertinent because narratives are rarely linear in the way they are consumed now. Even not advertising is content that would influence perceptions.

The brand narrative

A brand’s narrative is no longer one that is broadcast to a user base that the brand considers its audience. In fact, thanks to the internet and then social, only a few contexts are now dictated by the brand, the rest of the narrative (in the consumer’s mind) is built by his/her ‘experiences and the best a brand can do is aim for cohesion. The consumer seeks/finds a need that the brand fills in his/her life. This need can be anything along Maslow’s hierarchy, and more. This, I think, is where stories play a crucial part, because the more the stories- from brands or other users – the more contexts a consumer finds to fit the brand into his/her life stream.

The narrative of a brand in a consumer’s life is fluid, and it is cohesive stories that will define its evolution. It has probably always been so, but the explosion of self publishing has meant that brands have to not just get heard above competitors, but the user’s stream on various platforms too. The fluid narrative also means that the big idea every quarter (or year) is no longer enough. (or necessary, though that is debatable) It takes a ton of stories to build a perception and get a community to interact with the brand. But when they do, there is potential for magic. (ask Ikea) It also, only takes a whiff of controversy for it to be forgotten. This calls for an adaptive, agile methodology and some solid content structures that the brand can use to frame user contexts.

Surprisingly, there is good news

The good news is that social platforms do offer a better way to customise delivery according to a user need. That we still use these to broadcast and target according to pre determined audience segments is the beginning of bad news. But at some point when the race to mould the day’s popular social platforms to the existing paradigms of marketing segmentation ends courtesy saturation, hopefully ad tech will move more solidly towards delivering content and experiences that are an answer to the user’s needs. IBM’s trait tattoo based on tweets is a start. Further good news is that thanks to Facebook and Twitter, brands are slowly realising the need to create content that goes beyond broadcast. They are being forced to balance business agendas with the user’s needs.

But, wait

The bad news for marketers is that platforms are exploding and each has its own milieu. The content objectives and strategy are essentially different because user contexts change between platforms and even within it according to time. Right now reach trumps relevance thanks to the measurement parameters of an earlier era, but I’m guessing that will change soon as everyone begins to do the same thing on Facebook and Twitter. Further bad news is that marketing is not really structured or resourced for the changed communication scenario.

Probably the worst news is the mindset and I have seen at least a few fundamental challenges to begin with, in addition to a few myths. One, brands still have the communication baggage of an earlier era. This manifests itself in a campaign based approach, the quest for perfection, the endless approval cycles, and a broadcast flavour to every piece of content, among other things. Two, thanks to Red Bull, everyone wants to get wings and start flying on the first day, as if there is a user waiting to hear the banality that is about to be uttered. It takes months to experiment and get a sense of the fitment of the content’s function (business needs with the objective to inform/entertain/inspire/persuade… the user), its form, (blog posts, tweet, FB post, videos, infographic, polls etc) flavour, (tonality) and frequency (timing) that will appeal to various users in various contexts – what is referred to as the ‘voice of the brand’. The last is the application of measurement parameters that were built for an earlier marketing framework.

(via)

However, all of this is part of the evolution, and given that the learning curve gets steeper by the day, brands will have no other choice but to catch up. The flip side is to be irrelevant, and no brand can afford it.

until next time, discontentment

P.S. function, form, flavour, frequency make 4 Fs. One more for F5. (refresh)